Did you notice what a great day it was today? Rain or shine, there are lots of people out there who are so happy you are alive. Besides yourself, I mean. I bet you did some things today that added to that number.
I’m feeling pretty good myself, remembering stuff from my youth. In December, we light the candles marking Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, as it is called. I always liked this holiday as a kid, along with Rosh Hashanah, because there were good things to eat at the party we always had. And older people in the family gave you money, Chanukah gelt. I hope they still do that, although I haven’t heard much about it since the kids got big and left home to form their own households.
Many people – unless they have Jewish neighbours or notice the lights around Christmas time – don’t know about Chanukah because it is not in the Bible, and because the events surrounding it happened later. After the empire forged by Alexander the Great broke up, the piece in which Israel was included was under the rule of kings named Antiochus.
These kings liked to fancy themselves gods. One of them put a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple. This was just too much for the Israelites and they rose up under the leadership of the Maccabees – Mattathias and his five sons – and drove out their Greek rulers.
Chanukah is about renewal, because that’s what the holiday celebrates, the renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem after the land was freed. Current Israel is part of that same story, as the ingathered exiles renewed national life on their land. Our national renewal is an assertion that our past is merely prologue, with the full story yet to be written.
Jewish history of the recent two millennia may not illustrate it, but Jews can be fighters when roused. The self-rule reestablished back then was ultimately surrendered to Roman rule, when they lost their unity. But Jews kept on fighting to achieve independence until, finally, the Romans used their power to exile Jews from their land. We must remember that the Romans executed Jesus because they feared that he would lead such a revolt, but the Jews continued their opposition after his death.
It took 12 legions to pacify the Jews – Rome conquered the Britons with only two legions. The Romans exiled the survivors to secure their rule, but the power of the religious ideas spawned in Israel conquered Rome itself a hundred years later. Those ideas were borne into exile by Jews who proved to be among the first martyrs.
More recent Jewish military history, in Israel – leaving aside the resistance without weapons in the Warsaw Ghetto, holding off the Nazi soldiers for weeks – proves that Jews can be fierce fighters.
The whole idea of renewal excites the blood. Renewal can make you feel like you can cancel out all the ills of the past, as if they never really happened. One can turn a corner and start out fresh. It is an idea around which one can rally believers, as has been done in so many places at so many different times.
Many people have fought and died in defence of renewal. It is at the heart of every movement that seeks to channel people’s efforts for change. It can be local, regional, national or global. It can have a religious or patriotic motivation. Its beauty is that it can have its origin in the lives of each and every one of us.
Change is not easy. We may be very unhappy with important elements of our lives, but taking drastic action to materially transform our lives takes courage and, often, an acceptance of the risk of substantial loss. Some of us may have done this at some time in our lives and not even appreciated that we were risking all for renewal.
It may not have been on a battlefield, but I consciously sought to renew my life when I reached out at the age of 70. I reached out to seek a relationship with a person I had known only superficially more than 50 years earlier as a teenager. The object of my continued memory and attention, my future bride, mustered up the courage to take me on as an unknown quantity, and her courage has enriched both our lives.
Truth be told, the times that haunt us most in our lives are those when we did not “seize the bull by the horns” and do the thing we really wanted to do. But, in the end, failing to act for lack of courage, or for some other reason, we settled for less than we ached to reach for. We can count every one of those times in our mind’s eye. Don’t we agonize sometimes about those steps not taken? We can never know for sure what the ultimate outcome would have been.
Looking out through the windows of my eyes, seeing the young and not so young, I am filled with enthusiasm for the future. I see the possibilities we all face in our lives to reengineer what the future holds for us.
There is so much happening out there of which I may have no understanding. What I do know is, if we really put our minds to it and concentrate on this renewal business, we can be sure to make our tomorrows fantastic.
Happy renewal in whatever calendar you follow, wherever in the world you are!
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.