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On Fire

A haftorah of miracles and memory

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With Hanukkah upon us, and with Sen. Orrin Hatch writing a song in celebration, I decided to dress the column in festive garb for the holiday. This week, a poem:

Today, the Festival of Lights commences,
With gifts piled aplenty in every home.
But me, I’d rather forgo the expenses;
When you’ll be singing of Greece, I’ll be thinking of Rome.

Let me explain—I don’t mean to be rude!
Why Hanukkah causes me so much strife.
I’ll begin with the holiday’s favorite food:
The latke as metaphor for all Jewish life.

Take it out of the oil and it’s crispy and golden,
A delectable treat like none other you knew,
But two minutes later it’s rubbery and cold and
Without taste, just a menace to chew.

Like the latke, so did Judah’s uprising
Capture our hearts just as long as it was hot;
But three centuries passed and behold, unsurprising,
Another Jewish rebel turned the nation to rot.

For what was Bar Kokhba if not Judah’s disciple
A Jewish war hero, an empire’s scourge.
And yet, whereas Judah had been archetypal,
His student emerged as the subject of dirges.

Bar Kokhba, I think, had heard Hanukkah stories
Of passionate men standing up for their own,
And dreamt, as we do, of radiant glories,
And set out to recover Israel’s throne.

But he should have read Amos, and this week’s haftorah,
And learned that the Lord looks closely at Jews.
It says so in every book of the Torah,
In each generation, the Chosen must choose.

Only you, says the Lord, did I love above all,
And therefore I’ll punish you for all of your sins,
Remember our covenant? As you may recall
Your commitment to me is marked in your skin.

So when you abandon my heavenly standard,
And think it’s your might that wins you the day,
Then I, the Almighty, feel rather slandered,
And then, let me tell you, there’ll be hell to pay.

So when we commemorate taking up arms
Against Greece, let us only recall,
That although rebellion does have its charms,
Three hundred years after Judah came the Great Fall.

It happened, alas, under the same circumstances
That made the Maccabees’ surge a success:
A threatened empire putting up its defenses
Against an ancient religion it had to suppress.

But the second time around wasn’t so thrilling,
No miracles happened, God didn’t provide,
The Romans had armies that were well-trained at killing
And most of the Jews gave up, scattered, or died.

So while we defend our right to survive
May we be vigilant but never upstarts
It was never big swords that kept us alive
It’s not what’s in our quivers, but what’s in our hearts.

Spin, then, the dreidel, and light the menorah
The gifts you receive—may they abound
But remember Amos and this week’s haftorah,
It’s right that makes might, not the other way around.

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On Fire

A haftorah of miracles and memory

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