This year’s Jewish holiday of Hanukkah — which starts at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 12 and continues for eight days and nights through sundown on Wednesday, Dec. 20 — may be the best in recent memory.
The holiday commemorates the successful revolt by the Jews of ancient Israel against the Seleucid Greeks in the second century B.C., and the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where holy oil that should have lasted for one day miraculously burned for eight.
Jews observe the holiday by lighting an eight-branch candelabra, often called a menorah, adding one candle each night. (In recent years, the Chabad organization has popularized public menorah-lightings.) In addition, people exchange gifts; play with a top called a dreidel; and eat fried delicacies, such as potato pancakes (latkes) or jelly doughnuts (sufganiot). Here is why this year’s Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is among the best ever.
1. Jerusalem. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital made clear that Israeli sovereignty in the city, the center of the Jewish faith, is permanent. Of course, Israel had made Jerusalem its capital through hard work and military sacrifice. But like the original Hanukkah, the symbolic part of the victory is just as important. It was a decision that took great courage, and will ultimately make peace easier, not harder, to achieve.
2. Obama is out of office. Last year, just before Hanukkah, a lame-duck President Barack Obama stabbed Israel in the back at the United Nations Security Council by abstaining from, rather than vetoing, a resolution that declared Israel’s presence in the Old City of Jerusalem — where Jews have lived for millennia — a “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to … a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” Good riddance.
3. John Kerry is gone, too. After Obama’s “parting shot” at Israel, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry added insult to injury by delivering an address at the State Department in which he attacked the Israeli government and blamed Israel for the impasse in negotiations with Palestinians. The speech was staged in the middle of Hanukkah. It was largely ignored by Israelis but showed the depth of anti-Israel feeling at the top of the Obama administration.
4. New ties with the Arab world. In the past year, with President Trump in office, parts of the Arab world have been reaching out to Israel to build relations as the threat of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran looms over the region. In May, Air Force One completed the first-known flight directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel, a hopeful sign that the Muslim world might finally be reconciling itself to the existence of a small Jewish democracy in the Middle East.
5. Cool Jews. Jews continue to do interesting and important things in the world. There has never been a more Jewish First Family, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump proudly observing their faith and raising their children in a Jewish home. There is Alex Bregman, the Houston Astros player who became the first Jew to hit a walk-off hit in the World Series. We have our bad apples, like every group, but there is more to be proud of than ever.
6. Best White House Hanukkah party. Invitations to the party were notoriously difficult to find — but you can watch the proceedings on C-SPAN. What was particularly special was the fact that the ceremony stuck to the religious rules. Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik did not allow the recitations of the actual Hanukkah blessings, which would have been premature. Instead, he found a dignified substitute: the blessing upon meeting a head of state.
7. Introspection. Josh Block, a thoughtful liberal Democrat, has just published one of the most important essays on Jewish communal life in the last several years. He warns that the recent preoccupation with “social justice” by many Jewish institutions is undermining the community’s foundations by ignoring the continuity of Jewish life. It is a conservative critique that has finally entered the Jewish mainstream, meaning there is hope to turn things around.
8. Optimism. You might not know it, from the way the media tie themselves in knots over everything Trump does (or tweets), but the world is doing rather well. The U.S. economy is booming, and the global economy is looking good. The so-called “Islamic State” has been smashed. Technology is racing ahead, from blockchain to electric trucks. There are still big challenges — and new will to tackle them. That’s “good for the Jews,” and for everyone.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.