JERUSALEM – The residents of one secular Israeli town here were shocked today to discover a menorah lit last night by a rabbi in a public ceremony was smashed to pieces by the community’s Jewish leader in protest of observant Judaism.
“He who disrupted the joy of the children and caused anguish to many of the residents here when he destroyed our menorah reminded us of the dark period of the Gestapo who found a Hanukkah Menorah hidden away in the Warsaw Ghetto and cracked the skull of a Jew with it,” said Etai Rappaport, a resident of Afek, a northern Israeli communal town or kibbutz.
Rappaport yesterday invited Moshe Shmuel Oirechman, a rabbi and emissary for the Chabad Lubavitch worldwide Jewish outreach movement, to light the menorah in his town of Afek for several religious Jewish families.
Afek is a kibbutz, an Israeli collective community funded by secular Jews prior to and in the years following the establishment of Israel in 1948. Kibbutz communities were set up to adhere to social libertarian principals of communal living and farming, but currently many here are privatized and resemble regular communities. Some kibbutz towns have significant religious communities.
This morning, Rappaport and other locals found their public menorah shattered to pieces. Tvzi Assaf, head of the kibbutz, took credit for the attack on Hanukkah, telling residents he was protesting any public display of religious Judaism in the mostly secular Israeli community.
Assaf was quoting telling town residents he was afraid of an “infiltration” of religious Jews into his community or that local secular Jews would become more observant.
Rappaport said he was stunned:
“I am ashamed that there are such people living in the same Kibbutz as my family. I also don’t know what to tell my young son when he will ask me ‘where is the menorah?’ Rappaport told Shturem.net, a Chabad news site that first reported on the incident.
Rappaport said he found it “astounding” Assaf would consider the lighting of the menorah an act of religious Judaism.
The Menorah is kindled for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, a festival to commemorate the Jewish Maccobean victory over the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century B.C. and the rededication thereafter of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. While other Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur or Sukkoth are considered religious, Hanukkah is regarded more as a nationalist holiday celebrated by both secular and religious Jews. Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah.
“Since when does a Menorah make one religious?” asked Rappaport. “I wonder what Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, would have to say about that. He encouraged the educational system to celebrate Hanukkah saying it symbolizes the courage of the Maccabbeas. It’s interesting to note that Ben-Gurion, who was known not to have a particular liking for religious Jews, declared that he considers Hanukkah as the most important holiday among the Jewish holidays.”
Oirechman, who lit the menorah last night, said the destruction of the menorah highlighted the growing tensions between secular and religious kibbutz members.
According to Israeli media reports here, the past few years have witnessed a growing trend of religious observance among the children and grandchildren of secular kibbutz founders.
Oirechman said it was not his place to fuel tensions in Israel by protesting the menorah destruction.
“I was shocked and angry about the entire thing. But I think the best way to counter what happened is with love and by continuing to spread light by teaching goodness and Torah values. Eventually our light will dispel the darkness,” he said.
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