“And after the fire, a soft murmuring sound.”
This biblical verse from the Elijah-Eliyahu narrative in the book of Kings is one among many of competing thoughts that popped into my head after hearing of the infuriatingly tragic news of Eliyahu (Eli) Kay’s cold-blooded murder in Jerusalem this past week.
He was shot by fire in the Old City of Jerusalem, for being a Jew, as he was on his way to pray at the Wailing Wall.
In the aftermath of this tragic cold-blooded murder of this precious and young 26-year-old man, there has clearly emerged a picture of an inspiring and idealistic former “lone soldier” who a number of years ago had come from South Africa to Israel on his own, joining the IDF to fight for the dream and safety of the Jewish people in Israel.
The initial shock left a painful pause of near silence in the air, before the whispered murmurs of pain quickly swelled into a collective response of grief from an entire people.
It’s hard to stomach such horror at any time. But in a month permeated by the sense of build up of light and illumination that will culminate in a holiday dedicated to light — Chanukah — it feels like a collision, a slap in the face to the motif of cultivated for the Jewish month of Kislev.
The medium that was used to murder Eli indeed involves a form of combustion, overlapping with properties of kindling fires for the purpose of being a beacon of light in the world.
Gunpowder, if used to randomly arbitrarily murder an innocent human being, is in a sense a dark form of light. For the chemistry of gunpowder boils down to heat, sulfur, nitrate molecules and released oxygen. In short, the same properties of combustion that can kindle and light a flame, thereby shining light unto the world.
Leading up to this holiday of Chanukah, as we are preparing and polishing our menorahs to be kindled with light, this tragedy almost poses the question: Which one will it be? How will you use combustion? Shall it be channeled to randomly maim and murder innocents walking down a street, or to sanctify and kindle healing light?
In the Hebrew language, the words for a fighter and a dreamer are very similar. They are formed of the identical letters, just in a different order. A “lochem” is a fighter. A “chalom” is a dreamer.
Eli Kay dreamed of the land of Israel and fought for the land of Israel. He joined the IDF to fight for the Jewish people’s safety. Since his death, much has emerged about this gentle soul, who expressed himself in poetry and guitar music, among many other qualities.
Indeed, Eli seems to have been a dreamer, a chalom, leaving behind his native South Africa and voluntarily joining the IDF forces, as a lochem, a fighter, to protect his people.
Here was a dreamer who risked and fought to manifest his dreams into reality, to guard and protect them. Clearly, this is valuable only when one’s dreams are good and kind and right and noble. Fighting for its own sake, with the goal to hurt, maim and kill, this is not the Jewish way. That is why the Israeli army is called the Israel Defense Forces.
On Chanukah, we celebrate the legend of the miracle of the single unbroken flask of oil used to rededicate and kindle the menorah. This one flask of oil extended beyond its natural limitation; the menorah surprisingly glowed bright not for one but for eight days.
Fighting for what the Jewish people dreamed and believe in is a key element of our Festival of Lights holiday — beyond our natural capacity. And prevailing. The few prevailing over the many. The Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks.
The triumph in war was not a celebration of valor for its own sake, but for religious freedom and Jewish survival. Hence, it is the commemoration of the rededication of the Temple with kindling lights that takes prominence in how we celebrate this holiday
It’s a holiday where the lochem is a means to the chalom, the dream of Jewish survival.
It’s a holiday where instead of shooting cannons in the air, and celebrating the destructive aspect of combustion, the chemistry of combustion for its own sake — even as sometimes it’s painfully and morally necessary to use this aspect of fire and combustion — it’s the kindling of candles that bring light to the world whose celebration of Chanukah endures until today.
I didn’t know Eli Kay. The murder of his young innocent life just because he was a Jew walking in Jerusalem is heartrending.
As blessed as we are to have returned to Israel and live in our land, a blessing generations before us could have only dreamed of, the legacy of the Hasmonean period — needing to fight for and protect our dream of Jewish survival and independence is ongoing. There is still so much darkness to banish.
The more I learn of the depth of this incredible young man, Eli Kay, the more I feel, something of him truly did embody both the Dream and the Fight — both aspects of Chanukah.
This year, as we kindle the menorah, I will think of Eli Kay. In his short life, he seems to have spread so much light. I hope that going forward, the flames of our dreams as a people can be distilled into a menorah, a beacon, illuminating our world.
Happy Chanukah, dear readers. May it be joyful and bright!
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