Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.

Winston Churchill recognized the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as the turning point in efforts to beat back a Nazi regime that was spreading darkness and evil across Europe. Like so many of their generation, President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, who came to honor him this week, answered the call to defend their country and its ideals. Comrades who did not survive the war were not granted the same opportunity for sterling careers, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Veterans likely felt the need to be worthy of the blessing of life so many of their peers were not granted.

Whether we think of the Maccabees 2,179 years ago or Americans joining the Allied forces seventy-seven years ago, war takes a devastating toll. Later generations reap the rewards of victory, frequently not only taking those rewards for granted but often despising them. This year Chanukah and December 7th overlap and our focus has been drawn by the funeral of President Bush to the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Let us resolve to provide whatever light we can in what often seems like a dark world, as we keep in mind the greater vision and ask God to redeem us once again.


15 thoughts on “Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation”

  1. It is intriguing that George H.W. Bush would end up being honored and remembered during the week of Chanukkah, when one of his two most memorable and most quoted lines was about “a thousand points of light.”

    To LJ: Thank you for bringing this to our attention and mentioning the name of the book. I will include their story in our lessons on World War II.

  2. Thank you Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin for the amazing Jewish wisdom you share. I am a Christian that is learning so much from the profound Jewish wisdom. I am awestruck how the two of you make Jewish wisdom understandab and how it is applicable today. Rabbi Lapin, you are my Rabbi, thank you for your historical perspective I have always been amazed with the greatest generation that ever lived. After going thru the depression than a world war, what were they made of? Sadly, it appears that spirit of perseverance is fading if it hasn’t already. I was drafted August 1967 at a time when it was an excepted behavior to protest , burn draft cards and head to Canada. My sacrifice, if you can even call it that, will never be that of the greatest generation of the depression and WW2 era.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing, Bob,
      And we sure appreciate your encouraging words about our work. I am honored to be your rabbi! Even though we know we are not the match of many who preceded us, there is merit in seizing inspiration from them. Sadly, many of our contemporaries ignore such inspiration or worse, deride it. I hope you have a chance to listen to our weekly teachings here: It is a steady source of ancient Jewish wisdom that Susan and I make available.

  3. Thank you, Susan, for your wise comments and historical update that Chanukah coincides with the Pearl Harbor anniversary this year. As a Christian I am encouraged by stories of the brave ones of times past who wisely trusted God in times of unimaginable trial. The Scriptures are full of such examples. I also believe that God may still produce the “greatest generation” in us as we obediently trust Him in whatever trial may lay ahead.

  4. Chanukah and WWII were fights against oppression and evildoers. Freedom is typically taken for granted when we are most comfortable and not interested in “rocking the boat,” if you will.

    On this day in history, we do remember those who fight and died but we also remember those who were imprisoned mentally and physically. In my own family’s history, today marks our remembrance for the North China US Embassy Marine Corps and Navy Guards:

    “As Pearl Harbor was being attacked, 203 United States Marines in northern China were surrounded and captured by the Japanese. They spent from that day until mid September of 1945 as prisoners of war.” – Sourced online at: North China Marines Dot Com

    My own grandfather didn’t speak much about this event in his life. It’s remarkable to note that more than half of the survivors (~175) re-enlisted in the US Military. My grandfather was again sent to fight in the Korean War to help liberate South Korea from North Korea and its allies.

    I attended a reunion for these men in 2006 and another granddaughter I met had never met her own grandfather. He was home long enough to have his own children and then he died while fighting in Korea. This granddaughter’s grandfather was known to me from a book called “Behind the Barbed Wire,” – by Chester Biggs, Jr. Her grandfather was featured in the book because he was the “tallest” man in the POW Camp. Next to the Japanese he apparently towered over the prison guards.

    Sometimes, men or women cope by staying quiet about war. A Marine that I met at the 2006 reunion said that he and others were told by the military not to openly discuss their POW experience because it was important for them to get over it. Perhaps it was also important for the military to show an indifference to the suffering and painful realities of war.

    Good Shabbos!

  5. Let us spread the light to those whom satan has blinded with darkness. Those beacons of light who lived before us and among us must not be forgotten. Thank you for all you and Rabi Lapin do to spread the light.

  6. My father was 18 years old while aboard the battleship USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor. He never considered himself a hero. He struggled with those tragic memories and did not talk about it until much later in his life. I did not understand it as a child but the this day holds special meaning for me and my siblings. Our dad was a hero, as were many others that day. Remembering history is important in an age where for whatever reason our institutions of learning want to erase or change our history. This is where my appreciation for the Jewish people accurately holding history and scriptures as highly important. Thank you for the short lesson on the import of history.

    1. Mary, my uncles too, did not talk about their war service. Most men of that generation did not. I’m glad that he shared some of his experiences as he got older though I think not talking may have made carrying on with life easier in those early years.

    2. Mary,
      Those who are goodly people are pictures for us. The silence of their pain is understandable.
      I when young got an earful some stupid ideas spouted by some about who started WWI , and WWII. I did not know history at 8-10 yrs of age. Some tried to justify ,”Dolf”, as my grandfather called that nut.
      Later, A teacher gave me a book to read about Shoa, written be Achild who survived. PLUS,my mother asked her father to teach me.
      He spoke up against the Who’s Who of the Damnable. No justifiable cause for Mein Kampf., nor the Holocaust.
      Our voices are needed for protection.
      No more Soviet siberian Shoa’s either.

  7. Thank you so much! I am always so grateful to learn more about your religion. It brings so much light into my life. I appreciate your thoughtful insights, and how they relate to our modern life. The help me to step back and think more deeply about every day occurrences.

  8. You folks provide blessed light and rich food for thought each week to me and to many others. Thanks for your ministry. Have a blessed Chanukah indeed!

  9. Rubs it in. The memory of one whom I am named after spoke of
    ,” Pearl.” He survived by what appears to be deemed circumstance. Given ship leave befor Sun. 12/7/41
    Then reading Macc. , and recall Shoa. “Lest we forget.”

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