We enter Hanukkah from a place of deep darkness. I write this as the remains of the city of Aleppo are reduced to rubble. The people are trapped inside, with death raining down on them from above. The similarity to the gas chambers of the Shoah is unmistakable.
We have watched as this modern mass murder has unfolded. I reluctantly refrain from using the word genocide, as it would ignite a conversation about the word, rather than a cold look at the harsh reality of the death and destruction that is occurring, where innocent civilians are being systematically destroyed. But the word resonates for me nonetheless. What are the lessons of the Shoah?
We must ask ourselves what is our role in the world. This question is for us as Americans and for us as Jews. It is too late for the remnants of Syria however.
The United States provided some support to the political opposition of the Syrian regime, and we have provided limited aid to those who have escaped. But we have failed to protect the innocents, permitting the most brutal weapons of mass murder to exterminate. Hundreds of thousands have been killed; the savage death machine indiscriminate, women, children and aid workers are victims, as well as political opponents. The opportunities for the United States to assert itself as a provider of sanctuary — either here or there — have been squandered. A modern holocaust has been occurring as we watched.
What did we learn from the Shoah? Was it merely a particular tragedy to befall the Jewish people? Wasn’t the Shoah also supposed to be a lesson to the world that “Never Again” was a cry to universal humanity? Sadly, in the face of the Syrian crisis we turned away, as the world turned away from the Jewish people in our time of greatest despair. I am overcome by the realization of all that we did not do, of all that I did not do.
Hanukkah is supposed to celebrate the light of freedom and God’s miracles — and they came in that order. The Jews wondrously won the improbable victory, and then the lights of the menorah miraculously lasted for eight days. The miracle of the oil could only have happened after the people fought to overcome the injustice of the world in which they lived. Sadly, I think we did not merit God’s miracle this time. Let us use this coming year to commit ourselves to that most basic Jewish value — that we will no longer stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is being shed.