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Heroes keep light of hope burning

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By Judi Siegal

They were a ragtag group of Jewish farmers led by an aged priest and religious leader. They had no training in warfare and their religion promoted peace.

In the beginning of their struggle they refused to fight on the Sabbath, incurring many casualties as a result. They dared to take on the mightiest army of their day and for three years waged guerilla warfare against their foes, culminating in victory.

At the end the greatest spoils were the return and rededication of their Holy Temple and the right to worship God as they saw fit. And for the first time in history a people’s destiny was preserved and a candle for religious freedom was lit. They were the Maccabees, the fabled Jewish warriors whose story frames the backdrop for the Chanukah story – and they were heroes.

Even though the story of Chanukah took place more than 2,000 years ago, we still search for heroes. We really don’t need to look very far, for heroes are all among us. We find them in every day life, here in Florida and around the world, they are the brave men and women who step up to the plate when justice needs to be served, lives saved or when help is needed.

Real heroes jump into the thick of things doing their work unselfishly for the betterment of humankind.

We have heroes when four men and one woman, pulled anxious and terrified school children from a burning bus after it was hit by a truck last September in Marion County. Putting their own danger aside, they saved lives which might have been lost.

We have heroes when a professor at Virginia Tech put himself in harm’s way to save his students with the unfortunate loss of his own life.

Most recently, a servant who worked for the slain Chabad rabbi and his wife in Mumbai, India, saved their 2-year-old daughter in the midst of terrorist gunfire.

Our first responders are heroes. We have only to look back on those black days of 911 to recount their bravery and dedication to duty. Our firefighters and police put their lives on the line every day in their efforts to save lives. And our EMTs and ambulance attendees are often the difference between life and death in medical emergencies.

We have doctors who are heroes – not the ones portrayed on TV with their potpourri of personal problems but the ones truly dedicated to their profession who quietly go about repairing hearts, bringing forth new life and making bodies whole which were touched by cancer.

Our teachers are heroes. They give of themselves to train young minds for the future. Their “after school” hours are legendary, helping that child to read or do math.

Our soldiers are certainly heroes and so are our veterans who fought to preserve our freedoms whether here or abroad. From Revolutionary times to the present conflicts, our troops have stood fast in the struggle for liberty.

In times of war their bravery is the stuff old warhorses tell their grandkids about such as the story of the four chaplains aboard the torpedo-struck USS Dorchester who gave up their lifejackets to the sailors who had none. These four brave men, living the highest tenets of Judaism and Christianity, gave their lives for their country and perished in the waters of the icy Atlantic.

Rosa Parks was a heroine when she refused to sit in the back of the bus as are all those who strike out against prejudice, racism and hatred. Many of these heroes and heroines are lost in history but the impact of their deeds still lives on in the hearts and souls they have touched.

The Maccabees would be very surprised to see the way history played out. In preserving Judaism and its way of life, it also allowed the birth of Christianity and Islam.

At this special time of year, let us remember the heroism of the Maccabees and all those in our own time who are heroes and heroines. I know I will be thinking about this next time I hear Rock of Ages (a Jewish hymn sung at Chanukah and no relation to Protestant hymn of same name) played over the Muzak at Wal-Mart.

(Chanukah is observed Dec. 21 to 29, this year.)

Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.