What American and YU Politics Have to do with Chanukah Miracles, The 2017 Version
Thousands of years ago, the Maccabean Jews overcame all odds to fight off a Greek army that was much larger and far more powerful than they were. After the war, the second Jewish temple was in ruins, and the Jewish community faced the sad disappointment of being unable to fulfill their candle lighting tradition in the temple. You see, they had oil to light the Menorah, however, the Torah requires that the oil be especially pure for this service, and after the Greeks ransacked the temple, it was unclear if they had any in their possession. It wasn’t until a small jug of oil was found, that some hope was redeemed, so they decided to use the oil that they had with the expectation that it would last only one night. But through God’s doing, the candles miraculously remained lit for eight nights, and now the Jewish community, thousands of years later, lights candles for eight nights of Chanukah in commemoration of that auspicious time.
A lesser known fact of Jewish tradition, though, is that we believe that the miracles didn’t only happen in the past. Rather, Jewish tradition teaches that the seasons when good things happened to the people of our faith will continue to be times that bring good things for us. Similarly, in historically bad times for our people, the “spirits” of that time will continue to be bad for us throughout history.
An example of the latter is that historically, both the first and second Jewish temple were destroyed at the same time – not only in the same month, but on the same day. This is during the Jewish month of Av, in which Jews have the tradition to not do things that are unsafe because of our fragile past during that time of year.
This time of year – the broad season of Chanukah – is a miraculous time of year for us. And while Jewish history is full of Chanukah miracles, perhaps we need to look no further than this year, when, as far as I can tell, the Jews had almost as much blessing as the Maccabees thousands of years before us.
The first miracle I will discuss is the one that is, at this point, well-known around the world. About a week before Chanukah, President Trump defied all expectations and fulfilled a promise that many of his predecessors broke. He finally announced that Jerusalem will be officially known as the capital of Israel. Israel, which itself has so much of a resemblance to the Maccabees, as she herself is small yet resilient while surrounded by hostile enemies.
This move was largely praised by the Jewish community. Noted rabbinic and philosophical scholars have gone so far as to say that perhaps God had Donald Trump – one of the seemingly least qualified candidates to hold the office – win the presidency for this reason alone.
While I am not brazen (or learned) enough to decipher why God does what He does, I will point out that Nikki Haley’s actions last month, when she voted against a large majority of the world in supporting Israel, were a bold Maccabean move. In a picture that she would go on to tweet out, she proudly raised her hand to do what was right, instead of doing what the rest of the world was pressuring her to do. If that isn’t reminiscent of the Jewish holiday, I am not sure what is.
In line with my argument herein, take a look at the tweet by Jeremy Frankl of The Daily Wire and Resurgent who noted similar sentiment about Haley’s awe-inspiring resilience as she stood up against the rest of the world on Israel’s behalf (for those reading in print, he wrote: “The Maccabees would be proud. #Chanukah,” followed by a dreidel emoji).
To put the icing on the cake, President Trump then came out and said that any nation that voted against his decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would lose its funding. This was a bold, strong portrayal of leadership by a man who is proving himself to be a good friend of the Jewish community (but more on that later).
The second “win” that I will discuss here seems to be on a much smaller scale. But, I assure you, if you read this through to the end you will realize the significance of this mini-miracle and how it had a massive affect on America, college students, and our geopolitical relationship with Israel.
Over the past five years, Yeshiva University – a Jewish institution of which I am a student – has offered an elite political science course taught by former Israeli ambassador to America, Danny Ayalon.
In addition to being the ambassador, Ayalon served in the Israeli Knesset and is a contributor for The Wall Street Journal and The Jerusalem Post.
After the longtime political science department chair at YU retired, the new interim-chair decided to discredit Ambassador Ayalon. Further, in a document obtained by The Commentator – Yeshiva University’s student newspaper – the faculty member was credited as calling the course “too pro-Israel” and “too politically-biased.”
The students thought it was funny that this staff member was all of a sudden concerned about political bias in a classroom. As far as most are aware, he didn’t make any statements regarding the report published that noted that 99% of Yeshiva University professors who have given political donations have donated only to Democrats. Nor did he fight for unbiased classroom structure of the school when a student on campus claimed that his “most conservative” professor on campus was the former Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States of America, Senator Joe Lieberman (whose class I also took).
But, classic educational bias aside, there is a much bigger issue here. Over and over again, the typical college campus continues to be a place where anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment reigns supreme. Columbia University, for example, has an Israel Apartheid Week in which Israel is (ridiculously) accused of being a segregationist state. Just recently, the University of Michigan and University of Maryland’s student councils either took votes or discussed a vote on whether or not to join the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, another form of anti-Israel sentiment being shielded as a political movement. For goodness’ sake, the campus culture has gotten so bad that Hamas-supporter Linda Sarsour is being invited to the New School campus to criticize Israel. It is atrocious.
However, despite the unfortunate truths of these other campuses, Yeshiva University always stood proudly on the side of Israel and served as a contrast to those other academic institutions.
So why was the chairman’s proposition so dangerous?
In a recent conversation I had with an administrator at Yeshiva, he told me that YU and its opinions are representative of the orthodox Jewish community as a whole. If not overturned, this professor’s decision would’ve given other schools the ability to point to Yeshiva University and say, “if the Jewish and formerly pro-Israel school can turn their back on Israel then we definitely can too.” Despite being a horrendous and bigoted argument, it wouldn’t be an unfair one. This individual – intentionally or otherwise – tried to set a precedent that would make far worse the already dangerous situation regarding Israel and the Jews on the college campus.
Noting this unfathomably dangerous potential precedent, a small group of Yeshiva political science majors put their heads together and began circling a petition to stop this teacher in his tracks.
With nothing but a few eager voices and a well-worded essay, this small group of students made history, but most people will never know it. Between the petition, and some effective press in the student newspaper, the school reversed the decision that could’ve altered the way Israel is perceived on college campuses around the world. These students won’t be famous for their bravery as the Maccabees are, but their bravery to take on the academic bureaucracy and those who give them grades that eventually dictate their future is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
When asked for comment, David Aaronson, a spokesperson for Ayalon, responded by saying, "The Ambassador is very much relieved that his course will once again count towards a political science degree, just as it always did in the past. He thanks the university's president for the strong support and swift action on this matter."
The third miracle of note, which I will discuss now, was also carried out by President Trump. On the last day of Chanukah – which by Jewish tradition is considered the holiest day – he commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin.
Rubashkin was the owner of a meat packaging factory who – after a run-in with the law – was sentenced to 27 years in prison. I am not arguing about the legality of Rubashkin’s actions. But what many people argued for many years was the absurdity of a man who was convicted for fraud to be sentenced for the same amount of time as rapists and murderers. It just made no sense.
As The Washington Post reported, Rubashkin’s crime was a case where “justice fell far short” as a father of ten was serving 27 years for a crime that “ordinarily merits no more than three years.”
Well-known Democratic attorney and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz also came out in support of the bipartisan move, calling it “the right thing” to do.
If you believe in God and in miracles, then what I have written may impress you. If not, take it as a coincidence. But first, one last note on Jewish tradition: We say that numbers are extremely significant in understanding the way God works. How fitting then that Rubashkin was released on the eighth day of Chanukah after serving exactly eight years in jail? A coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe God leaving us a hint that this is just one more Chanukah miracle, but this time in 2017.