THE BLOG
12/16/2014 10:14 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

Have We Reached Our Maccabee Moment?

As Chanukah begins tomorrow eve, it is important to note that the story most of us know from Sunday school is a false narrative. We are taught that when the "Greeks" sought to impose their culture on the Jews, the Jews rebelled under the leadership of the Maccabees and restored both the ancient Temple and Jewish sovereignty in Israel.

As is the case with much of history, the truth is much more complicated. In 333 bce Alexander the Great conquered the Land of Israel, and brought Greek culture, known as Hellenism, to the land. Contrary to the simple Sunday school story, the majority of the Jews of the time embraced many of the aspects of Greek culture, including language, philosophical ideas, and even Greek names. There were those on different ends of a spectrum, however; those Jews who urged complete capitulation to Greek ideology, known as the Hellenists, and those who completely separated from what they considered an alien and false culture, known as the Hasidim or pious ones. The majority of Jews lived believing that they could reconcile both the culture and religion of their ancestors with the Greek culture that so dominated the ancient world.

It was only decades later, when rule had passed to the Hellenizing Syrians, that those in power sought to impose complete Greek hegemony and outlaw the practice of Judaism. The very character of the nation was in peril. Those actions radicalized the centrist Jews, pushing them into the arms of those who opposed Hellenism and forming the basis of the Maccabee revolution in the second century bce.

I see similar signs today that we may be reaching a "Maccabee Moment" in American society. For decades, many of us have watched as inequality has increased between the wealthy and the disappearing middle class, corruption and money has completely taken over our Congress and political system, and racism has emerged once again in all its ugliness and hate. There are signs, in the continuing protests across the nation, in the few political leaders who have seemingly found their voice, and in the rising disgust of the American people that we may have reached a point when we finally see that the basic character of our nation is in peril. Will this lead to a genuine call for change and renewal-a call for equality, integrity and justice in our society? Only time will tell if we have the courage as a nation to light candles to dispel the darkness.