Maccabees meet the Midwest

Indiana Hebrew T-Shirt

A Hillel t-shirt with the word Indiana in Hebrew.

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.  I love Hanukkah.  My annoyance at the over-commercialization of the holiday notwithstanding, I love pretty much everything about Hanukkah.  The food, the music, the historical story, the pyrophilia associated with it all.  Needless to say, I’d been singing holiday songs pretty much all morning. And then, early this afternoon, I heard that several Jewish campus organizations at Indiana University, in my hometown of Bloomington, had their community centers vandalized over the weekend.  Hebrew books at the IU library were found, befouled, in the toilets.  Boom.  Buzz over.

I immediately reached out to a family friend, founder of the newly-formed Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at the university.  I contacted the ADL’s regional office to make sure they were already involved (they were).  But mainly, I felt helpless and violated and outraged.  “We’re a resilient people,” a friend told me, trying to make me feel better.  Frankly, I didn’t find resilience to be a sufficient concept. Sure, Jews are great at getting back up after they’ve been kicked around.  However, our collective ability to stand and dust off wasn’t particularly comforting to me today.  I needed something more.

And then I thought about Hanukkah. I mean, really thought about it. Not about the frequently touted, God’s-always-there, eight-days-of-oil angle, but rather about the tough, self-reliant Maccabees angle.  I thought about a small band of smart Jews who not only used their wits to tactically overcome a much larger army, but did it all while insisting on keeping an overt and proud Jewish identity.  I thought about men who hid themselves physically so as to utilize guerilla tactics, but flaunted their embrace of Torah learning over Greek philosophy.  I went home and put on a Star-of-David necklace.  Were I male, I would have put on a yarmulke, too. I smiled when I read that IU’s Chabad house insists on still putting a twelve-foot-tall menorah out on their lawn.  That’s right.  We’ll see your hatemongering ignorance and raise you some holiday spirit.

So, Happy Hanukkah, everyone.  With a vengeance.

Editor’s note: Noa Levanon is a GTJ staff member and a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Noa Levanon.