For months . . . Israel [has been] faced with a new terrorist phenomenon . . . violent uprisings by the Palestinians . . . its purpose was to drive [Israelis] from all of Eretz Yisrael—including Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv . . . Instead of focusing on the Palestinian aggressors . . . the media chose, from the outset, to focus on the Israeli response, thereby turning the victim into a villian.
The above words seem eerily current, and yet . . . they are not. They were written almost thirty years ago. Writing in this very column in 1988, then OU President Sidney Kwestel described the violent uprisings by the Palestinians in Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza.
Not much has changed in the past few decades. Then it was the PLO; today it is Hamas and the PA. Then it was Arafat; today it is Abbas.
The players may have changed, but their script is still the same: to maim and murder Jews; to eradicate the State of Israel. Israelis are living in a chronic state of terror and fear as they go about their daily lives. Terrorists can be lurking anywhere—at bus stops, in supermarkets. For our brothers and sisters in Israel, terror is a constant shadow.
As I write this, there are reports of more tragedies in Eretz Yisrael. Richard Lakin, an American who made aliyah had been shot in the head and stabbed multiple times while riding the number 78 bus in Jerusalem. I just read in the news that he succumbed to his wounds. Almost one year after he was severely injured in the Har Nof massacre, Chaim Yechiel Rothman succumbed to his wounds; Rothman had been in a coma for nearly a year following the attack. He too just passed away. Lakin, Rothman, Henkin—how many more thousands of pure neshamot will continue to die al kiddush Hashem?
The names change from year to year, from decade to decade, but the violence continues.
Years ago, during a particularly difficult time for Israel, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm offered the following insight: The Talmud teaches us that the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles begins when the sun sets. The Chanukah lights serve no function in the daytime. When the sun shines, there is no need for candles. “When things are going well,” he writes, “faith does not represent a particularly great achievement.” Thousands of years of Jewish history have taught us this, says Rabbi Lamm: in periods of darkness, we light candles.
Despite the terror and the fear, we will prevail. Our history is one long saga of perseverance, faith and endurance. Throughout the periods of darkness, we have always known how to create light, how to rise above the despair, how to fortify ourselves spiritually.
My own parents were fortunate to have arrived in this country well before the Holocaust devastated European Jewry. But many of us have known survivors who could have easily succumbed to despair. They didn’t. Thousands of survivors came to this country as penniless immigrants and rebuilt their lives, step by step. They, like Jews throughout history, knew how to light candles.
It is my fervent hope that by the time this magazine hits the stands, these words will no longer be necessary. But if, God forbid, the terror in Israel continues unabated—what should our response be? Let us take a lesson from Chanukah: let us create light in the darkness.
Halachah states that when lighting Chanukah candles, we proceed from least to most. In accordance with the ruling of Beit Hillel, we light one candle on the first night, two on the second, and so on. The number of candles increases each night, because as the Gemara states, “ma’alin be’kodesh,” one must rise, increase and progress in holiness. But this principle does not only apply to Chanukah candles—it applies to how we approach life in general: ma’alin be’kodesh. This is especially true in times of tragedy. Let us resolve to deepen our emunah during these frightening times and strengthen ourselves through tefillah and Torah—our genuine protection in this intifada.