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Showing posts with label Maccabees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maccabees. Show all posts

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Celebrating Chanukah: An Act of Jewish Resistance

On a Friday evening in December 1932 before the start of Shabbat, the Posner family prepared to light the 8th candle on their Chanukiah as they had done on each of the preceding nights. Across the street from their home stood the town hall, a large and imposing work of old-world German architecture. A Nazi flag prominently hung from the side of the building, flapping in the cold December wind.

Already a powerful political party in 1932, the Nazis did not shy away from using anti-semitism as the driving force behind their politics; Rachel Posner considered this as she looked at the menorah prominently displayed in her window in juxtaposition to the flag. Committing one of the earliest documented acts of Jewish resistance to Nazi oppression, she took this photograph, which was subsequently published in a local newspaper.
Rachel Posner was married to Rabbi Akiva Posner, a doctor of philosophy and the only rabbi for the small Jewish community in Kiel, a north German harbor city. Kiel’s congregation of around 500 was not particularly religious, according to Akiva and Rachel’s granddaughter Nava, but Shabbat services were well-attended by Jews and non-Jews alike who wanted to hear Rabbi Posner’s lectures. Though the Nazi party was gaining strength and routinely paraded through the streets, the Posners “were not afraid,” says Nava. It would take another year for that to change.

One year later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, marking the official start of the Third Reich’s twelve-year reign of terror and oppression. That night, the Nazis organized a torchlight parade; thousands poured into the streets to celebrate the appointment, cheering their new Chancellor and waving the flag bearing the Nazi Party’s dreaded emblem – the infamous black swastika.

Two Symbols
Though the swastika had been an ancient symbol of auspice and power1 in use throughout the entire world for well over ten thousand years, the Nazis co-opted it to symbolize Germany’s racial heritage, connecting with it the racial mythology of the ‘Aryans’ to their future destiny under the Third Reich as conquerors of the world. Nazi propaganda eventually went as far as to state that the swastika in the new German flag symbolized the “victory of the Aryan peoples over Jewry."

By contrast, the Chanukiah has a clear and unambiguous meaning. The miracle of the oil burning for eight days is one of the more popular stories in Jewish tradition, and continues to enjoy almost universal recognition today. The true miracle of Chanukah, however, is the act of defiance and the victorious struggle of a small band of Jewish warriors led by Judah Maccabee2 against Greco-Macedonian oppression. The Chanukiah should be proudly displayed in one's window to signify the miracle of the Maccabees' victory. However, this was difficult for Jewish communities in Europe, where the danger of anti-Semitic hostilities was a constant threat.

* * * *

Incorporating a line from a popular Nazi youth party anthem of the time, Rachel wrote the following lines on the back of the photo she took:

"Chanukah, 5692.
‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner.
‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”

(note that the actual Jewish year was 5693)

The Posners left Germany in 1933, not long after Hitler became Chancellor. In the prior spring, the murder of a local lawyer by a Nazi mob during a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses shocked the Posners. (Rabbi Posner had to personally see to it that the man was buried properly.) Shortly before he left, Akiva warned his congregation of the Nazi menace and of the ruin it would bring to the German nation, urging them to leave. After the speech, several congregants told him that he was already a marked man.

Kiel’s Jewish population heeded Posner’s advice – of the 500 Jews that lived in Kiel, only eight died in the concentration camps; the rest had emigrated. After leaving, the Posners eventually settled in Jerusalem, where Akiva helped build a synagogue and a library, and where their descendants live to this day.

The swastika symbol, heralding death to Judaea, is banned in many European countries, and its use is illegal in Germany. The Chanukiah that sat in the Posners’ window in Kiel is on year-round display at Yad Vashem – except for the eight days of Chanukah, when the family proudly displays its lights in the window of their home.

Akiva Baruch Mansbach, the great-grandchild of Rabbi Akiva Baruch Posner (z''l) and a soldier in the IDF, salutes the family Chanukiah.

The original photograph is featured in JPEF's Tactics of Resistance lesson plan and E-Learning module.

1. The origins of the swastika are shrouded in speculation – its twisted form is hypothesized to represent the sun, the seasons, the elements, or perhaps even the tail of a comet. To the Kuna people of Panama, it is the octopus that created the world. Though Hitler “personally” adopted the symbol in the 1920s, it was in use by German populist – or völkisch – movements long before that (including the quasi-occult Thule society, which had numerous ties with the Nazi party). The aforementioned Kuna – who assumed autonomy from the rest of Panama in 1930 – are the only ones who still use the swastika on their flag. In 1942, they added a nose ring to the center to distance themselves from the Nazis.
2. It is said that Judah received his surname, which may be interpreted as “hammer”, because of his ferocity in battle.

Monday, April 9, 2012

V’he Sheamda - The Promise To Take A Stand

In Jewish schools and homes everywhere, teachers and parents are preparing their children for the Passover holiday and the celebration of the Jewish people’s deliverance from the bondage of slavery. They are encouraging the youngest to recite the ma nishtana (the four questions) and engaging the older students in the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt. The celebration of Passover lends itself to one of the most significant learning experiences a Jewish child can have and one that is forever imprinted in his/her mind and heart.

On Passover, even while we celebrate our freedom from slavery thousands of years ago, we recite v’he sheamda and are reminded, “in every generation there are those who have risen against us to destroy us.” Last week we were brutally reminded of this declaration when Rabbi Jonathan Sandler (z’’l), his two sons Aryeh and Gavriel (z’’l), and a third student, Miriam Monsonego (z’’l) were gunned down as they entered Ozar Ha Torah Jewish Day School in Toulouse, France.

Rabbi Sandler was a devoted Jewish scholar who dedicated his life to instilling a passion for learning and a love for Judaism in every child. He spent several years studying and teaching in Israel and was a fervent advocate for bringing a quality Jewish education to children with learning disabilities. He returned to France a few years ago to teach in the same Jewish day school he attended as a child. In 2010, Rabbi Sandler participated in a seminar on Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem, where he asked penetrating questions and sought innovative ways to approach Holocaust education. Although, one of many participants, Rabbi Sandler left an indelible impression, declaring that his goal as a Jewish educator was to “educate the next generation to act as moral human beings.”

Sadly, there are three Jewish children who will never again ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and with the loss of Rabbi Sandler, thousands of others who will not learn the answer to this question under his gentle guidance. In the wake of this knowledge, our responsibility as Jews becomes increasingly clear. We are citizens of free countries and have the right, and therefore the obligation to speak out and to act. It is our duty to defend the vulnerable, challenge the aggressor and protect and promote human rights and human dignity everywhere. As we take up this charge, we draw courage from ancient Jewish heroes like the Maccabees and more recent inspiration from the Jewish partisans, who in the face of insurmountable odds, fought back against the Nazis to save thousands of lives and help bring an end to the Holocaust. We are empowered by the rebellion of those in the Warsaw ghetto, who on the first day of Passover, April 19, 1943, launched an uprising against their attackers that lasted until September – longer than both France and Poland were able to stave off German occupation.

Interfaith rally after the shootings (credit: AFP)

As we begin our own holiday preparations, we mourn for Rabbi Sandler, a lover of our tradition and for his children and students who will never again gather around the Seder table, nor grow to adulthood and experience the fullness of life. We stand together, shaken by an act of hatred and with a renewed awareness that as Jews we must be vigilant in combating antisemitism and tyranny wherever it breeds.

The Exodus from Egypt is widely regarded as one of the most significant events in the history of the Jewish people and Exodus 13:8 commands us to tell the story to our children so that it is passed from generation to generation. In fact the word Haggadah is derived from the verb “to tell.” Recounting the Passover story is the basis for the education of children in each generation to acquire the social and ethical values of the Jewish people. On Friday night, when you sit down at your Seder table and begin to read from the Passover Haggadah not only will you perform a mitzvah (commandment) but you will take the first step in fulfilling Rabbi Sandler’s dream to educate the next generation to act as moral human beings.

Chag Sameach.

-Sheri Pearl

Sheri Pearl is JPEF's Director of Development and holds two degrees in Judaic Studies from UCLA and Brandeis University.