The story of Chanukah is a fairly simple one. A typical “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” Torah story. The most controversial part of it is in fact the spelling of the name of this chag (Chanukah, Hanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukka etc). However, I feel more drawn to the Chanukah story than others due to the rebellious nature of its tale and the message of bringing light into the darkness which aligns beautifully with our Habonim Dror values, so let’s delve into that.

In the Chanukah story, we did not merely get lucky in our survival; our survival was a result of sheer determination and rebellion of a small group of people. In short, in 168 BCE, under the reign of Antiochus, the Second Temple was looted, Jews were massacred and Judaism was out-lawed. The brave Matisyahu and his five sons led a rebellion against Antiochus which they end up winning and this leads to the creation of the autonomous Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom which lasted until 63 BCE. This was one of the only times we have ever had Jewish autonomy in all our 2000 years of existing as a nation. It reminds me of the quote ‘Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’

Recently, being a Jew feels like a rebellion in itself. Simple acts such as wearing a magen dovid out in public, going to shul, talking to your non-Jewish friends about the rising anti-semitism and choosing to identify with your Jewish identity has become something that we now feel as though we ought to think twice about. The rise in anti-semitism is in some ways unsuprising, but always as terrifying and unsettling as ever. With the recent election it feels as though Jewish people, especially left-wing Jews, are having to fight their corner from every end. With the anti-semtisim running rife in the Labour party and the racism from the Conservatives, it feels very difficult to know where we belong. The main point that I want to put across here is that Jewish rebellion cannot only consist of fighting for ourselves, because essentially Jewish liberation is tied in the liberation of all people. I do not believe that we will ever find a world where Islamophobia occurs and anti-semitism does not; hateful people will always find another group to project onto. Habonim Dror fights for the equality of all people, and although the threat of Corbyn towards Jewish people seems to have greatly lessened for us, there has already been a significant increase in Islamophobia since the election results, almost certainly stemming from the racist remarks of our Prime Minister calling Muslim women ‘letter boxes’ and Islam ‘a problem’. Seeing the way in which our community has come together to fight the anti-semitism we have faced in these past few years has been beautiful and empowering and Corbyn not being our Prime Minister has been a massive relief for the majority of Jewish people. But if we think that we are now safe whilst our Muslim siblings are not, then we are both living in a fantasy and have still failed in our attempts to make the world a safer place for people who simply wish to carry out their religious practices in peace.

Take the idea of the Shamash. The Shamash is the first candle that we light on our Menorah and it is the same candle used every night to light the other eight candles. I believe that we can take inspiration from the Shamash and embody it ourselves. If we look at ourselves as simply the first step, the beacon of light that is able to spread onto others, then we are able to make a real change in the world. It is not enough for us to feel safe in our own community, we must also actively fight for the safety of all other minorities like ourselves. You may have read the recent story of the incredible Muslim woman who stood up for the religious Jewish family who were being hurled abuse at on the tram. This is the kind of partnership and activism that we need in order to combat racism all together. If you have been sharing news articles on the rising anti-semitism or calling it out when you have seen it yourself, please act just as quickly to do the same for any other racism you may unfortunately encounter. It is not enough for us to only look out from ourselves. We must suppress this idea that we are alone in this world and must only fend for ourselves because this idea will only isolate us and bring us further from the truth. It is far easier to live in fear than it is to live in hope and so this is the rebellion that I want us all to choose to fight. If we all choose hope, love and partnership instead of hate and fear, this world will certainly become a better place for us all.

I am sure many of you have read this poem before. I think it epitomises my message and so I would ask you to read it again whilst thinking of the message I am trying to convey to you.

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist


Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist


Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew


Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

– Martin Niemoller


I hope you all have a beautiful Chanukah, eat lots of good food, enjoy time with the ones you love, celebrate our past rebellions and begin to plan for our next one.


Ale Ve’Hagshem. (Arise and Actualise)

Katie Felstein, Bogeret