Chanukah – Why do we light those candles? Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il

This morning I was musing about Chanukah and the great unprecedented events of our time, the recent death of Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia and Kim Yong Il of North Korea with my Mormon trainer, Steven. Yes, my trainer Steven, is a committed and practicing Mormon. We train and we talk twice a week. This morning it was about the unexpected death of Kim Yong Il, the North Korean “Great Leader”, the starvation and virtual imprisonment of the North Korean people who are dominated by a well fed and well armed military. North Korea is the world’s most militarized nation, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. It is a nuclear-weapons state and has an active space program. (wikipedia) and this led us to think about how the few enslave the many via ideology all over the world.

Jonathon Kay writes, Kim Il-sung knew that the only way to legitimize his repressive, impoverished regime was to insulate subjects from the outside world (the dials on North Korean radios are soldered so as to lock them in permanently to the state propaganda network) and to turn himself into an ersatz deity. Over 500 statues of Kim Il-sung dot the North Korean landscape, and a revisionist history of his days as an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter have been embellished to the point that they seem like something out of a 1980s-era Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

It seems the pen is mightier than the sword and both sides know it.

So what does this have to do with Chanukah? I share with you this video that lays out the background of the Chanukah story.

Chanukah is the story of the weak and the few against the strong and the many. However there is another important lesson that we learn from this video and the Chanukah story. The lesson of knowing what to fight for. The Macabees were fighting the ideology of the Greeks which conflicted with the human rights articulated by the torah. This is what gave them the courage to fight because they understood that fighting for these principles was more important than life itself.

Vaclav Havel, who fought against the same kind of enslavement as in North Korea by the former Soviet Union, on the other side of the world, and won, understood both of these issues.

And after he succeeded in freeing his people, he is quoted by Irwin Cotler sharing this important truth, “those who would repress the human rights of their own citizens will threaten the rights of the citizens of other countries.” We are seeing this manifesting all over the world, in Syria, Iran, where tyrants are willing to fight to the death to buttress their own power, they endanger all of us with their power and their arsenals.

None of us have crystal balls regarding the future, but the story of Chanukah reminds us to light the candle, and not give up the struggle. Again I quote Vaclav Havel, the only lost cause is the one we give up on before we enter the struggle.

Let’s light those candles, remind ourselves why we are lighting them, and take courage from the victories of those who have shown the way.

North Korea and the Death of Kim Jong Il

Just as I was writing a post about North America and the Middle East, I heard the news that Kim Jong Il has died. Hallelujah!! was my first response. North Korea has long been a Gulag that few people know about, let alone talk about. I quote below from the wikipedia page for North Korea.

Many outside organizations describe North Korea as a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship with an elaborate cult of personality around the Kim family and one of the lowest-ranking human rights records of any country.[23]

This is equivalent for the North Koreans to the death of Stalin, a day of mourning for North Korea, a day of celebration for those who aspire to basic human rights for ordinary citizens wherever they might live.

The Jewish response to any death is, Baruch Dayan Emet. (Blessed is the True Judge). In most cases this rings with pain, but in this case it appears just.

Below is the testimony of a North Korean victim of the Kim Jong Il regime from the recent  Human rights Conference organized by UNwatch as a parallel to the Durban 3, UN human rights conference, dominated by human rights violators such as Syria and Iran. which took place  in New York City, September 2011.

 

 

Religion and Politics, Shmuely Boteach and Yehuda Amital

This morning, a Mormon friend shared with me a post by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, Are Mormons any weirder than the rest of us? The article artfully analyzes all religions and how to evaluate them. I quote from his article:

Hence, our concern need not be with a person’s faith in public office. It does not matter if he or she is Jewish, Evangelical, Mormon or Muslim. What does matter is whether the person’s faith is focused on relating to God and, by extension, caring for God’s children, or whether that person sees the purpose of his or her high station to promote a particular religion.

By their works ye shall know them.

 

I believe that is from the Christian scriptures but it is the essence of the Boteach article and the standard by which all people, religious or not, should be judged.

So is religion important or valuable. Can religions be judged? I would like to share with you in this context a review of the life of Rabbi Yehuda Amital. His biography was just published in Israel. BY FAITH ALONE: THE STORY OF RABBI YEHUDA AMITAL by Elyashiv Reichner, translated by Elli Fischer (Maggid/Koren Publishers, 377 pp, $29.95)

If you are not going to go out and read the book, this review by Yehudah Mirsky is a powerful description of the interplay between the Jewish religion and how it affected the life and thought of Rabbi Yehuda Amital and how he in turn educated a generation of religious Israelis.

By Faith Alone: The Story of Rabbi Yehuda Amital, Elyashiv Reichner’s newly translated biography, is an attempt to understand an extraordinary man and his long, arduous path from a simple Jewish life in prewar Hungary to a unique and controversial place in Israeli religious and political life.

 

Amital was born Yehuda Klein in 1924, in the Transylvanian city of Grosswardein (Oradea), home to Hasidim, acculturated and assimilated Jews, Jewish-Hungarian nationalists, and a large concentration of Hungary’s Religious Zionists. After rudimentary schooling, he spent his childhood and adolescence in yeshiva… His father was a tailor and he might well have become one too, had he not been forced to witness the murder of his culture. In May 1944, he was taken away to a brutal forced labor camp, but managed to sneak in an anthology of Kook’s writings with him. His family was sent to Auschwitz. Having twice sworn during his time in the camp that if he survived he would study Torah in Jerusalem, home to his grandparents and two uncles, he made his way there after his liberation. He threw himself into his studies at the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem, acquiring a reputation for fervent, independent-minded spirituality, and for his mastery of halakhic literature…The day after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, a Shabbat, Amital enlisted in the IDF. He fought in Latrun and in the Galilee in 1948, and founded a journal in which he published perhaps the first programmatic essay by anyone on being a Jewish soldier in a Jewish army. While savoring Jewish national self-defense in the wake of the Holocaust, he also projected Jewish law and values as a defense against the dehumanization and brutalization of wartime…

He went on to marry and to lead a Hesder Yeshiva in Israel for many years. Hesder is the term for Yeshivas (religious schools) that believe in Israeli army service along with Jewish religious study.

He was also major original political thinker, drawing on his religious study.

Even on the Left, he was as unconventional, unpredictable, and free of clichés as he had been on the Right. In December 1982, he addressed the founding meeting of Netivot Shalom, a religious peace movement (fledgling, then and now) and inveighed against what he said were the three false messianisms stalking the land: Gush Emunim, Peace Now, and that of  Ariel Sharon. Each, he said, presumed to solve complex questions with a single simple answer, respectively: faith, good intentions, and force. But, he said, we need all three, and the wisdom of balance….

 

The yearning for redemption is rooted not in the [Jewish] people’s terrible suffering, rather the desire to do good for humanity is the essence of its soul.

 

This, from a Holocaust survivor, was astounding. Promoting a universal ethical vision, he said, must be of the essence of Zionism, not only to save it from the moral hazards of violent chauvinism, but precisely because the ethical message is itself the divine word that Israel is charged with spreading. As he later explained to an interviewer, the difference between his vision of Israel as “a light unto the nations” and Ben-Gurion’s, was rooted in the fact that without a divine foundation, ethical universalism would not survive.

Natan Sharansky in Montreal, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Conscience

Here is a short video from the end of his talk to Hillel students in Montreal

 

Natan Anatoly Sharansky spoke to students at Hillel House and to the Jewish community a few days ago. Natan Sharansky is a Jewish activist for Jewish and Soviet human rights, a former prisoner in the Gulag, he was miraculously freed through the activism of Jews all over the world. After being liberated from the Soviet prison, he served in the Israeli government for nine years. He is now the head of the Jewish Agency of Israel (Sochnut). He spoke about his experiences.

He spoke about how and why he was arrested, what brought down the totalitarian Soviet Union. He explained that the human being has two needs which must be met, one is for freedom of expression, and the other is for identity and belonging. Identity is knowing who you are and what you stand for. This he received from his identity as a Jew. Jews were persecuted in Soviet Russia. Sharansky knew that he needed both his identity and his freedom:  If he were to acknowledge that he was a spy for Israel he could have gained his freedom. He refused. He was not willing to compromise on either front and he understood that all those who had an identity, i.e. who knew what they were fighting for, were his allies and friends in prison. His captors offered him his freedom if he would denounce Israel and his Jewish identity. He refused. The activist support of Jews in the US and Europe was what enabled his release and the release and exodus of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jews from the Soviet Union. (I was one of those social workers on the receiving end of Russian Jews escaping from tyranny in NYC.) The softening of the Soviet regime vis a vis the Jews led eventually to the downfall of the Soviet totalitarian system and an extension of human rights to all Soviet citizens.

He also spoke about the inevitability of the Arab spring – the need of the people to overthrow  totalitarian dictators in Egypt and Libya and elsewhere. He explained that Egyptians are rebelling against the totalitarianism of Mubarak, and fighting first for freedom of expression: “If their only choice is the Muslim brotherhood or Mubarak totalitarianism, they will choose the brotherhood.” The test will be whether the brotherhood will be able to deliver on the promise of freedom of expression and tolerance of identity. So far there is already a prisoner of conscience, in Egypt, who has been imprisoned for speaking out against the military, Michael Nabil. Here, he talks about the Arab spring while interviewed by Irwin Kotler. Sharansky

He also spoke about the conflicts experienced by Jewish students on campuses all over North America due to the fraudulent claims of the BDS – Boycott Divestment Sanctions  and IAW (Israel/apartheid) movements that have branded Israel with the sins of South African apartheid, and made the Palestinian cause the poster child for human rights activism on North American campuses. Here is what Israel and the Jewish Agency of Israel is doing about it. They are bringing Israeli fellows to campuses and also inviting students to come to Israel for internships and study to learn the truth for themselves.

 

Addendum: Dec. 24th. 2011

I just watched this Chanukah video in which Rabbi Jonathon Sacks speaks about lighting Chanukah candles with Mikhail Gorbachev. I think you will appreciate it.

Son of Hamas

Mosab Hassan Yousef spoke in Montreal at the invitation of Chabad Town of Mount Royal, May 2011. This video of him speaking in Germany encapsulates his message. As the eldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas, who was born and grew up in his father’s home in Gaza, Mosab Hassan Yousef has had an inside view of the deadly terrorist group Hamas. In his book and his talks he exposes his journey, his awareness of the hatred of Israel by Hamas,  his own conversion to Christianity, and his love of Israel. His mission he says  “is to save lives, the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. He states clearly that “Israel is not the problem, Israel is the solution.” (This is essentially the same talk that he gave here in Montreal. After his talk I videotaped some audience reactions.