Tuesday, April 7, 2020 -
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As far as the eye can see

When I think of Chanukah in Jerusalem, I think of the fiery winter sunsets.

Like a perfect magical signal that it’s time for kindling the Chanukah lamps, comes twilight as the sun seems to illuminate the entire city with precisely this message. A message of fire and light.

The synchronicity of nature and of the mitzvah to kindle menorahs is striking.

Every single sunrise or sunset is so beautiful. In Colorado in particular we are blessed with some of nature’s most beautiful of all.

Nonetheless, there is something so eye-catching and breathtaking about Jerusalem Chanukah twilights and sunsets.

The vivid colors of gold, fiery orange and red, glow with incredible brilliance.

The bumpy gray clouds fill out the colors with incredible texture and a bursting sense of motion.

It’s like The City of Gold is bathed and transformed by Chanukah’s essence: fiery light itself.

When we think of light, we think of the charge for the Jewish People to “be a light unto the nations.”

This past week there was illumination, but also some darkness, that stemmed from Jerusalem.

It’s a tall order and responsibility, to model light and shine outward with values and morals that can illuminate the world.

I am proud that, predominantly, Israel rises to this challenge and responsibility.

But no one is perfect, and this past week Israel certainly wasn’t.

I was disappointed this week when the Israeli Parliament voted down a bill to recognize the Yazidi genocide by ISIS.

I understand the reason was a petty political one, due to the bill being introduced by the opposition. In the past, apparently even bills centering on the centrality of Jerusalem have at times been turned down for due merely to its political source.

But still. As a nation that was a persecuted minority for millennia and still faces so many threats. As a people who endured the Holocaust and is still in “living memory” of it. The State of Israel has an added responsibility to stand with their neighbors the Yazidis, and call out the frightful injustice foisted upon them.

Hopefully the bill will eventually pass. But I feel a bill with such crucial and moral content ought to have pierced petty politics and enjoyed consensus from the get go.

We know a version of the pain of the Yazidis. But the reason we must stand with them is simply because they are vulnerable and it is the right and just thing to do.

While in time, light will hopefully outshine the crack of this dark error of this past week, overall there was much light emanating from Jerusalem this week.

Israel’s famous national Biblical Contest has reached Africa!

With the leadership of the Israeli Embassy in Nigeria and Angola, and namely at the initiative of Ambassador Nadav Goren, an African Biblical Contest was launched.

Thousands of enthusiastic competitors signed up. Hananel Malka, chair of the national Israeli contest,chaired the African event as well.

In his words, “Once in Africa, I witnessed and internalized how much the Tanach unlocks doors and hearts.”

It’s gratifying to see Israel “export” her most defining asset, which makes Israel who she is. It’s inspiring that Israel is seeking common ground by utilizing none other than the source of what makes the nation of Israel who it is, since its inception.

Hebrew songs were sung, psalms were recited (in Hebrew), shofars were blown, and Israeli flags flown.

And the competition? It was fierce! In Nigeria, 1,000 youngsters signed up. In Angola, more than 1,600! The competitors hailed from across the country’s many provinces and municipalities.

Clearly the Africans carry an affection for studying The Bible, the Tanach, and responded in kind.

Distinguished leaders from the local African communities participated in the events as well.

All in all, it was an event imbued with strong pro-Israel sentiment that made history in Africa.

It brings to mind the phrase: “Ki mi-Tzion teitzei Torah, From Zion shall Torah go forth.”

I realize the irony of the Bible being studied in Africa on Chanukah. After all, the first translation of the Torah to a foreign language was into Greek, and this act of translation was not viewed positively by the sages. A literal translation did not retain the full meaning of the Torah text. One of the crucial battles in the Chanukah story was very much ideological, the battle between the Sadducees, who only adhered to the literal letter of the written fought to retain the interpretive oral Torah as part and parcel of Jewish tradition.

But that was that generation’s battle. That is not the battle of today. It’s been millennia since the Torah was translated to Greek. Today, it is translated into the lingua franca of English and so many other languages. In fact, most segments of the community view this as a positive, realistic way to make Torah study accessible to the masses of Jews across the world.

The battle for the Oral Law was won. It is in fact one with our Written Law. While the Bible is something we contributed to the world, and has become universal, the Oral Law is a more intimate language, one we share mostly only with one another in our tribe.

So although the irony of the timing of Israel in bringing the Bible context to Africa is not lost on me, neither is its beauty.

The Israel Bible Contest is one of its educational crown jewels. After all, we are the People of The Book! It is gratifying to see Israel pass on the love of this book to others Watching a video of the African Bible Contest winner from Angola truly was so emotional.

He can’t hold his tears back when his name, Lionel Baya, was announced as the first place winner. And neither could we.

Baya is an electrical engineering student who took on this Bible study in addition to his many other responsibilities.

You could sense what a labor of love it was for him.

His prize? A trip to Israel for Chanukah.

You see, the light is shining.

He’ll get to see those magical, winter, Jerusalem Chanukah sunsets, and all the kindled menorahs that dot the landscape of the Biblical Land of Israel, as far as the eye can see.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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