As we reflect on the joyous holiday of Hanukkah, a commemoration of the notable and valiant fighting prowess of the Jewish people in ancient times, we also celebrate the unyielding resilience and determination of the Jewish people and our homeland.
From Maccabees to modern miracles
For this year’s Festival of Lights, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) organized a “Live the Miracle” campaign. On each night of Hanukkah, Jewish celebrities and influencers welcomed soldiers from the IDF into their homes to light candles together in a symbolic act of solidarity with Israel and the never-ending fight against the darkness that is antisemitism.
The candle lighting took place at the homes of Lizzy Savetsky, a social media influencer, matchmaker and unabashed Zionist activist; Alexei and Loren Brovarnik, stars of the hit series 90 Day Fiancé; Modi Rosenfeld, a stand-up comedian and actor; Tova Friedman, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor and recent TikTok sensation; Ashley Waxman Bakshi, a beauty, travel and fashion creator; Cathy Heller, an author and podcast host; Kosha Dillz, a rapper; and Noa Tishby, an Israeli actress, writer and activist.
In the face of social media attacks, these nine brave individuals stood up for morality, for dignity and for the young men and young women who are literally at the front line of humanity.
Hanukkah is the celebration of miracles, of right over might: of the small yet fearless Maccabee army’s defeat over the formidable Greco-Syrian forces and a tiny vessel of oil, enough to light the menorah in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for 12 hours, that burned instead for eight days.
A group of educators, the Maccabees fought to defend the religious freedom and basic human rights of the Jewish people. Their victory over their imposing enemy ultimately emancipated the Jewish people so that they could live freely and exult each day in their fundamental humanity.
Israel’s very existence is itself a modern-day miracle, yet much of the world doesn’t seem to appreciate how precarious that survival is and how much it relies on the laudable bravery of the young men and women of the IDF to protect it.
The purpose of the IDF today is much the same as it was in the time of the Maccabees, 2,200 years ago—to protect and defend the homeland so that Jews can live with basic human freedoms, religious freedoms and dignity.
Who are the soldiers (young men and women) of the IDF?
They are Israel’s future, ages 18 to 21, spanning the full spectrum of Israel’s backgrounds, religions and ethnicities. They are the children of computer programmers, engineers, teachers, doctors, rabbis, bus drivers and cooks. They sacrifice their innocence and youth, putting themselves in harm’s way, to enable the Jewish people, as well as the Christians and Muslims of Israel, to have basic human freedoms and liberties.
And just like the Maccabees, the IDF is not only proudly valiant; it is also highly moral. The officers and commanders of the IDF are guided by a strict code of ethics—appropriately named “The Spirit of the IDF”—a code they instill in each and every member of the IDF from the very first moment of enlisting.
Around the world, the average country spends 2% of its GDP on its military. By contrast, Israel spends 15% of its GDP on defense, just to protect its citizens’ safety and freedom.
That’s why the leaders of the IDF and the Ministry of Defense come to us—American Jews and Christians—and ask not for any military equipment, but for transformational educational and humanitarian programs. The programs we help fund enable these young men and women during their service, and after they’ve sacrificed their innocence and the best years of their life, to have the opportunity to support their families and build up the nation of Israel, now as civilians.
In the case of more than 40,000 soldiers, that means helping more than 40,000 families get food on the table and pay the rent and utilities, while their children defend their country.
FIDF provides the equivalent of high school GED diplomas, university education and vocational training for tens of thousands of soldiers, as well as offering programs for wounded soldiers and bereaved families.
Above all, FIDF tells these young men and women that they’re not alone—that there are hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who appreciate them, look up to them and stand with them.
By lighting candles with the soldiers, our celebrity emissaries were sending the world a message: “We will not appease or capitulate to hate and terror, whether it’s terrorizing people on social media or by trying to annihilate them. Like the Maccabees of old, we are showing our gratitude to the IDF, the modern-day Maccabees.”
A hate that never dies
In a world of oppression, in a world of bigotry, in a world of misogyny, Israel stands up, not just for Jewish rights, but for Christian and Muslim rights—for human rights. Israel stands up for education, for the promise of a brighter future and for all that is wonderful and beautiful in the human spirit.
A country of immigrants from over 80 countries who came with nothing, Israel educates and embraces its citizens, undeterred by the constant reality of being surrounded by ongoing and increasing threats. Israel is a country on the cutting edge of education, cybertechnology, biotechnology and nanotechnology.
It’s a country with a 20% Muslim population, where 30% of the students in its medical schools are Muslim, and the only country in the world that has a female Muslim sitting on its Supreme Court.
In the face of rising antisemitism, the nine influencers in the FIDF “Live the Miracle” campaign, like the soldiers of the IDF, unwaveringly demonstrate their courage—proudly standing up for morality, human decency, and freedom.
Thanks to the IDF and all its supporters around the world, Israel will continue to be a beacon to the world, fighting for the sacred principles of freedom and humanity. We invite Americans to support FIDF and its mission to stand strong and proud with Israel’s protectors.
Rabbi Steven Weil is CEO of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).