I have an admission to make – For the past eight years, I have given the same exact drasha every Shabbos Chanukah.


And every year, the same person would come up to me and say, “Wow! That was the most incredible sermon I have ever heard in my life!”

And I’d be like, “Yeah, I know, you told me the same thing – last year…”

The first year the sermon was titled, I am a Jew/ I am a Greek. The next year it was, I am a Jew/ I am Greek Revisited. Then, I am a Jew/ I am a Greek Redux. You get the point. The basic gist of this sermon was that I felt conflicted about Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates the rejection of not just the Greek army, but everything Greece stood for. And Greece, led by Plato and Aristotle were the forefathers of Western culture. So how do I, as someone who is immersed in Western culture, celebrate this holiday?

To quote – myself (sorry, I know that’s weird, but there’s a point I am trying to make). This is how I described the tension I felt every Chanukah:

“There’s a part of me that’s Greek – a part of me that has no tolerance for any divisions made on racial or religious lines. And yet, there’s a part of me that’s Jewish – a part of me that believes that as Jews, we are a special people with a special role to play in this world.

There’s a part of me that’s Greek – a part of me that believes that every country should be totally democratic and not have any religious flavor. And yet, there’s a part of me that’s Jewish – a part of me that believes that G-d gave the Jewish People the land of Israel and I take great pride in a state that is distinctly Jewish.

There’s a part of me that’s Greek – a part of me that believes that quality of life is paramount, and a person is fully in charge of his or her own body. And there’s a part of me that’s Jewish that believes that our bodies are a gift from G-d and not ours and that every moment of life in this world is priceless.

There is a part of me that is Greek – a part of me that believes in a plurality of ideas, in everyone being entitled to their viewpoint, or as we like to say in our society, to their “truth.” And there’s a part of me that’s Jewish, that believes that Moshe Emes v’soroso emes, that the Torah is true. And while Judaism embraces some level of plurality, it believes in an objective right and wrong.

And lastly, there is a part of me that is Greek – a part of me that if I were to be totally honest, at times is troubled with miracles I did not witness, in authorship I cannot verify, and in a promised future that seems so distant and foreign. And yes, in the darkest of times, even struggles with the existence of a Being I have not heard from. And at the very same time, there is a part of me that is so powerfully Jewish – a part of me that is over-awed by the majesty of the world, the profundity of the Torah, the arc of history, and even if it cannot be articulated, just knows that there must be an Author. A part of me that is awakened during prayer and feels a presence that shatters those doubts into millions and millions of pieces.”

Those are just a few examples of the tension I felt and feel between Jewish values and philosophies and those of our culture. And then, I’d conclude every one of these sermons with the same idea, how I tip over to the side of identifying with Judaism, just barely, like the small Chanukah candle; that small flame that lights up the darkness. The end.

I will not be repeating that sermon this year. And not only because I just blew my cover.

I will not be repeating that sermon this year because I am no longer a Greek. I am no longer conflicted between my admiration of everything the Western world stands for and my love for Judaism.

When the presidents of the most prestigious universities in the world cannot acknowledge that genocide against Jews is hate speech, that is a philosophy I want to have nothing to do with.

When our local council men and women here in Baltimore cannot unanimously agree to condemn Hamas, that is a Western world that is morally bankrupt.

When the UN cannot speak out against rape and has to be forced to host a gathering 57 days after the atrocities, that is thought leadership that has stopped thinking entirely.

I learned these past few weeks, that the philosophy that every person is in charge of their body has a limitation that I was unaware of. You are in charge of your body unless you are a Jewish woman.

I learned these past few weeks that the philosophy of embracing all ideas has a caveat – unless those ideas defend the Jewish state.

I learned that these past few weeks that the philosophy that all people of all faiths and colors should be treated equally is true for every person – except Jewish People.

I learned these past few weeks that the Western culture I so admired has a viciously dark underbelly.

There is a reason Yeshiva University has seen a 65% rise in applications from students who want to transfer from other colleges. It’s not just the students’ lives that are at stake. Critical thinking has gone out the window. “Those who are weak are good, those who are strong are evil,” is the perverted philosophy of the day. It’s a direct outgrowth of the bizarre idea that “everyone’s view is valid.” There is no room for intellectually honest debate. No room for discussion. “This is how I feel.”  

For too long I have been seduced by the brilliance and the glamor of the West. But these past two months have reminded me of Jewish history. Not in a dark way; not a reminder of the Holocaust or pogroms. On the contrary, these past two months have awakened within me, and I know so many others, powerful Jewish pride in being on the right side of history. I don’t have answers to all the questions and challenges that I was bothered by a mere two months ago. But I am reminded now, that neither did the Chashmonaim know what to say to the Greeks who called circumcision barbaric. Neither did the Jews in Europe have such great answers to the priests who tried to lure them to the cross. Neither did the rabbis who were overwhelmed by Spinoza’s brilliance who were made to feel stuck in the dark ages have much to say. And neither did our grandparents know how to reply to the incredibly popular communists and nationalists who described us Jews as leeches.  

And yet, it was Aristotelean thought that gave birth to one of the most decadent societies in history. It was Christian fundamentalism that led to endless wars. The Enlightenment led to the bloody French Revolution. Communism led to the gulags and nationalism led to the Holocaust.

And Judaism, not just the Jewish People, but Jewish thought and Jewish practice prevailed. Circumcision is healthy. Unplugging for 24 hours – Shabbos – is the hottest fad. Torah study is hip. And to be clear, there are still Mitzvos and Aveiros that I have no good explanation for. There are Mitzvos and Aveiros that if you were to ask me to explain them, I would struggle to do so, and not that long ago, that would keep me up at night. But not now. I am reminded now, that as Jews, we play the long game. If a law or two or three may seem backward today, give it a few hundred years. As opposed to the world around us, Judaism has yet to disappoint.  

Watching the bastions of intellectual excellence show themselves to be bastions of confusion, of stupidity, and of unbridled hatred has reminded me that the litmus test for a meaningful way of life is not if it appeals to me today or if it’s trendy for a decade or even a century. The litmus test is if this way of life can still be meaningful, uplifting, and positive for centuries on end. In that respect, struggles, challenges, questions notwithstanding, I have never been so proud to be a Jew.


We are living through a time of incredible upheaval. That Hamas is evil is not unsettling. It’s the rejection of rational thought, it’s the appearance of misguided compassion, it’s the growing awareness that there is something deeply wrong with far too many people in our society. And as lonely and unsettling as it may feel, this gives me hope.

Because you see, in the aftermath of the Greek conflict with the Jews, the Oral Torah took off and flourished. In the aftermath of the expulsion from Spain, Kabbalah experienced a renaissance. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the State of Israel was born. There is a rhythm to Jewish history of horror followed by an explosion of creativity and rebirth. Rav Tzadok suggests that this rhythm traces its way back to this week’s parsha, in which two sons of Yehuda, Er and Onan, die, but their death is followed by the birth of Peretz, the child ‘who breaks through’ the darkness and is the forbearer of King David and ultimately, Mashiach.

I have never been so excited to celebrate Chanukah. My Menorah, not a small candle, but a brilliant light, reminds me of the rejuvenation of Jewish pride, of Jewish thought, and of Jewish practice that will surely follow this darkness.  

I am a Jew. Not a Greek. The Greek inside of me is dead.

I am a Jew; a faith-filled and confident Jew. And I have never been so proud.