A Hanukkah for the United States

On the first night of Hanukkah last week, I attended a candle lighting celebration at Stanford University, my alma mater. The public event seemed muted this year: fewer people in the crowd, fewer children, and less energy. Even the ice menorah looked smaller (I first thought this a trick of the mind, but the rabbi confirmed it). I was surprised. I’d expected a bigger crowd than usual—and a defiant sort of energy—both because the event was held in a plaza simultaneously occupied by a pro-Palestine sit-in, and because it came on the heels of the viral congressional testimony from the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn. When I got home, a little deflated, I called my parents, who emigrated to Jerusalem in 2019. “So what’s the vibe there?” I asked. “Because here it’s a little depressing.” My father, who after four years living in Israel is something of a propagandist for the Zionist way of life, told me it was “very freylekh ” (a Yiddish word meaning merry or joyous). “We’re going about our lives,” he said. “People are having parties. Events are still happening in the city.” He informed me that a large indoor amusement park for kids, Magic Kass—which he likes to say quickly and as one word—is up and running. My mother, who generally has a more realist take, said the celebrations were notably muted, the streets emptier. She’d tried making dinner reservations at a popular restaurant but was told that it was closed “due to the situation,” which is the classy, understated way Israelis’ refer to the fact that their country is at war. But she also said that people seemed determined to celebrate no matter what. “The soldiers fighting in Gaza are our modern-day Maccabees,” she told me, referring to the Jewish warrior heroes […]

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By Donato