Doorstep Postings: The Festival of Fights and a review of what else happened on the Jewish side of Canadian politics in 2022

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at Hanukkah on the Hill, Dec. 5, 2022. (@thejagmeetsingh/Twitter)

This is a special year-end edition of the series of opinion columns written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Few holiday experiences are more awkward than having to explain Hanukkah to someone who isn’t Jewish. You quickly realize that there is a very good reason for the somewhat childish focus on candles, dreidel-spinning, greasy and sweet comfort food, and eight crazy nights. 

It’s out of keeping with the spirit of the season to start talking about bloody religious uprisings against pagans desecrating a temple, where Jews who compromised were slaughtered along with their overlords.

Rather, like many Canadians, our prime minister views the Jewish holidays as he does many other religious holidays—as some Star Wars-style fantasy tale of the triumph of light over darkness. 

As a result the best method I’ve found of explaining Hanukkah is to talk about it like the Jewish version of the movie 300, a completely ridiculous parallel which still makes the point that back in the olden days there was still something Jewish worth fighting and dying for.

It’s always advisable never to compare our present political circumstances to those of 300, or to the actual situation in Judea before the revolt. No matter how much you’re tempted to, and no matter how much the real world may suggest it, you’ll lose your audience every time. Especially here in Canada, where we solve problems by coming together around some table, reaching across some aisle, and always being respectful. Failing that, we simply don’t acknowledge the problem at all. 

There are a million reasons why, for example, that governments pursuing policy that actively harms Jews, Premiers dabbling in antisemitic memes, or the bureaucracy taking advice from consultants with decades of experience in the field of Jew-hatred shouldn’t give any Jew cause to channel their inner Judah Macabee. Instead of a glorious Hasmonean revolt, you get a trucker-convoy protest and the possibility of bumping into someone waving a swastika flag. 

Then there’s this whole “purifying the temple” subplot. A synagogue is nice, but it’s kind of too exclusive for Canadian tastes. Instead, the venerated and safe spaces have to be public, or at least that’s what we keep hearing even as school boards, medical schools, and political parties keep running into problems with their Jewish members. The Macabees had very definitive ideas about what antisemitism was and they weren’t afraid to let the ruling elite know. Today, in Canada, when those members of the community who are’t Jewish have ideas about what is and what isn’t antisemitism, they make sure to let us know! Such progress since 140 BCE!

Trying to explain that the Jews of old were oppressed to the point where violence was the only acceptable option is also getting a lot harder to explain. Somehow, the idea that Jews are the ones responsible for violence and bloodshed and that resisting Jewish influence is a form of “punching up” is becoming more popular. You can even do this if you yourself have a not inconsiderable amount of political power. 

And so we in Canada are treated to Conservative leadership races where candidates claim they are being railroaded by powerful Jewish interests because they are critical of Israel, or established MPPs lecturing possibly fictional Jewish families about Israel’s behaviour, or Green Party leaders declaring themselves to be soldiers in the fight against Israeli aggression. You might well wonder if things had gone differently had Antiochus claimed that the Jews were trying to cancel him. 

Things have also evolved in the arena of Jewish community dynamics over the centuries. Hellenizers thought they could get buy-in from the locals by promoting members of the community with names like “Menelaus” to positions of power, and that the Jews would see reason and fall in line. Today, there is no need to go to the trouble of trying to sow dissension amongst Jewish leadership to get the community to support you. All you have to do is send out a statement where you strongly condemn the outrage of the day and utter the magic words—“There is no place for antisemitism in our society”—and that should be enough to quiet concerns about the direction the NDP is heading in, or when Holocaust deniers party with parliamentarians on the Hill. 

Yes, we can be secure in the knowledge that the Hanukkah miracle could never happen in 2022. Judah and his brothers are heroes for a time long since past. Today, they’d be dismissed as promoting divisive rhetoric and conspiracy theories, and any conflict between them and the Greek overlords of the day would have been dismissed as culture-war nonsense. 

Or, we’re in the early stages of a modern-day Hasmonean revolt. One or the other.  

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.