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Personally Speaking: The Maccabees and Me

Another Hanukkah passes, and a secular new year begins. Watching the posts on my social media scroll by, I feel disconnected. There were all the usual inane song parodies, the latest lavish jelly donut photos, the US-based Christmas-Hanukkah debates, and similar Israeli Christmas-trees-in-Christian-Arab-and-FSU-areas tree debates, the Hanukkah bush quips and on and on.

And none of them scraped the surface of what Hanukkah means to me, up close and personal.

It means Maccabees; “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” as the old truism goes, “In those days and in this time.”

God in heaven, and how.

When the rubber meets the road, folks, Hanukkah isn’t about food, dreidels, or fried potato latkes recipes. Or celebrations as a reflection of Christmas. Or even, in my modest take, the sole cruse of oil that kept alight for eight days.

Yeah, I’m goin’ there; “hidden miracles,” OK, if the sages insist. But wrapped and enclosed within and enveloping the warriors who make it possible for the Nation of Israel to live – them and the Modern Day Maccabees – “MDM” who have willingly taken up the burden carried by our ancestors.

This time last year, IDF Air Force reservist, Lt. MDM, was lighting Hanukkah candles immediately after returning from the front with Hizbullahstan – aka – South Lebanon, not on some far off front in a foreign land, but one that is about 12 km (8 miles) from where he’s seen lighting, here, in Tzfat.

Throughout a freezing, alternately foggy and sleety 24-hrs over Shabbat, our MDM – my son – helped in the destruction of terror tunnels intended to be used to murder us: my wife, me, family, friends, neighbors, Israel’s northern residents.

Iran-backed Hezbollah thug-in-chief, Hassan Nasrallah, regularly, publicly gloats about these genocidal goals, as do his paymasters in Teheran. Look it up – it’s all out there, proudly online, under: “slay Jews for fun and profit.”

When MDM’s duty shift ended, he was supposed to have come home that Friday afternoon to stay over Shabbat eve by us… but – MDM didn’t show up.

Shabbat candle-lighting came and went… still no MDM. Being religiously observant, our phone is turned off on Shabbat, so we were left to wait and wonder…

I headed over to Bet Knesset (synagogue) for evening prayers… still no MDM.

I came back to Shabbat eve dinner with wife and guests… still no MDM.

Make kiddush (blessing over wine at dinner) … still no MDM.

Now me, being a parent, had him either flipped over in a ditch in one of the ravines common along that border, after veering off the two-lane road while trying to pass a tank-laden semi-trailer in the rain and pea-soup fog that night; kidnapped by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid (as they’ve done before); called on a secret mission; or – maybe, simply unable to get off base that night because he misplaced his car keys…

In any case, since we didn’t get the dreaded knock on the door by a senior IDF officer, psychologist, and medic during Shabbat dinner, we continued our meal (despite my dropping two platters of food from jangled nerves).

And so, we concluded dinner with our guests… but still no MDM.

We went to bed… still no MDM.

At 7:30 AM Shabbat morning, I awaken and head to the kitchen to make coffee…

MDM’s water bottle is on the kitchen counter.

My heart, uncomprehending, skips a beat.

After the intake of breath, and thanking God he was alive and unhurt, I go to his room and gently wake him.

“So what happened?”

As he was entering Tzfat just as Shabbat came in (hence no phone call, since our phones were already turned off for Shabbat) – he got an emergency call and was called back for an urgent security op (the nature of which I’ll likely never know).

Eventually, he concluded his part in the operation, and drove back to our house, arriving after midnight. Since – hoping against hope – we’d left the door unlocked, he let himself in and went straight to bed after what I can only assume was a brutally tense shift, eye-to-eye with our would-be marauders across a narrow, hostile border.

After sharing his tale over our now-prosaic morning coffee, he dressed and drove back to his post, to continue his unique role in – not metaphorically, not rhetorically, but literally – putting his life on the line to protect us, along with so many other MDMs, with parents similarly sleepless over their welfare.

Now, a year later, senior IDF officials have said that Iranian-backed Hezbollah is still trying to exploit presumably as-yet-hidden attack tunnels. MDM and his brothers-and-sisters-in-arm are still on call to yet again fulfill their mission. And when it won’t be tunnels it will be something else.

Having served two decades in the IDF as a conscript and reservist, during war, “the wars between the wars,” and through hundreds of terrorist attacks – and as a reporter covering the same when not in uniform – I have had my own share of missions which are all part of the same mission – protecting the people of Israel against all foes.

Which is perhaps a too-long-winded way of saying that the threats facing the House of Israel and its homeland, the sovereign State of Israel, are not exaggerated by an iota; trust me or not – I know from this.

Meanwhile, however, raw, vitriolic Jew hatred is on a steep rise around the world. The oldest hatred is again something acceptable to express and perpetrate publicly, viciously, gleefully, as roving mobs and so-called “lone wolves” set upon identifiable Jews and their institutions.

How should we, as a Jewish collective, respond to this frightening reality, which is, more and more being referred to as a slow-rolling pogrom?

Many are busy screaming back and forth over why/when/if/should/’nt US/UK Jews make Aliyah (emmigrate) to Israel over any/many and some antisemitic murders, attacks, harassment, and intimidation.

But consider this: putting all that righteous noise and chatter aside for a moment, allow yourself to imagine: my MDM could be you, or your son or grandson (and, yes, a daughter or granddaughter, too), defending our own nation and people, at any and all costs.

Instead of practically begging for attention by city, state, and federal officials, the general media, and even neighbors and passersby.

And please: don’t think for that moment that I’m some “armchair warrior,” naive, “Pollyanna”ish or unaware of the familial, financial, emotional, and psychological difficulties possibly inherent in making such a move; those who know me know I’ve survived and endured a lot in my four decades here, and don’t make such recommendations lightly.

But the key word here is, indeed, “our” and “we.”

Don’t argue for aliyah out of fear, incipient calamity, or a sense of “running away,” but rather as an opportunity for self-actualization. It may take a decade or more to get up steam. But it needs to happen, collectively. For your own sake; for all of our children’s, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren’s sake.

But it needs to begin and begin with you. Personally, directly, individually – with you.

If you’ve never visited, visit; If you’ve never “done” Shabbat,” whever you are – do it. If you’ve visited and never considered a sabbatical or studying or working here, consider it. If you’ve visited and wondered about Aliyah, wonder no more and simply contact Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Engage, learn, do.

Step up and be a Maccabee, to live out a noble, personal and national goal – to carve out your own place in our passionate, agonizingly beloved and genuine collective legend and living dream.

Add your chapter to the stories our grandparents and grandchildren once read and descendants will read, and set an example for others of our people uncertain of the joys, the threats, and the noble, yet achievable goal: “to be a free people in our own land.”

Our People have always needed Maccabees – in those days and in these times. Maccabees who dare to fight powers that are larger than themselves and, if necessary, do it alone.

But – “davka” – despite and against all odds, we do it.


Join us.

(with a special assist from Forest Rain )

US-born Dave Bender is a four-decade immigrant to Israel, a veteran cross-platform bureau – chief, reporter and editor in both countries, and is a long – term observer of the Israeli political and cultural scene. He now works as a photographer and videographer for clients worldwide

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