Saratoga Springs

For rabbis, Jerusalem has always been capital

Hanukkah is 'another holiday to celebrate traditions and to be together'
“Mr. Mike Magic” Russo of Albany does magic tricks for children at a Hanukkah celebration Sunday at Congregation Shaara Tfille.
“Mr. Mike Magic” Russo of Albany does magic tricks for children at a Hanukkah celebration Sunday at Congregation Shaara Tfille.

To the rabbis at Congregation Shaara Tfille in Saratoga Springs, Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel.

“It’s been Jerusalem, it’s always been Jerusalem,” Rabbi Kenneth Blatt said Sunday after he led the congregation in song during its annual Hanukkah celebration.

That’s because Jerusalem has long been heralded in holy scripture and belief as the capital of the Jewish homeland.

“Jerusalem was the capital of Israel since the time of King David,” said Rabbi Joseph G. Solomon, who led the Saratoga congregation in the 1990s. “I don’t think it really changed — Jerusalem was always the capital.”

But the political question of peace is another situation. And the rabbis also see President Donald Trump’s decision last week to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and formally recognize the holy city as Israel’s capital as potentially complicating the peace process and stirring up violent responses.

“He had a wonderful bargaining chip, and he gave it away,” Solomon said. “It will make any progress harder.”

Solomon’s father was born in Jerusalem and his son and grandchildren currently live there. He said he hadn’t been in touch with family members since the president’s announcement last week. He said they were probably pleased with the decision but also unsure of what the consequences of it would be in the coming weeks and months.

He said the president’s decision makes it harder for America to serve as a peace mediator between Israel and Palestinians.

“They will feel America is no longer an honest broker because we took sides,” Solomon said.

Blatt, who said he doesn’t comment on political matters or how Israel should act, said he was worried that the decision — which he said was effectively “immaterial” to his religious views of Jerusalem’s place in the Israeli state — would inflame the region’s political tensions and give rise to violence.

“I just hope a lot of people don’t end up dying,” Blatt said.

A minor Jewish holiday’

Hanukkah doesn’t appear in the Torah or other Jewish holy books, Blatt said. But what the rabbi called a “minor Jewish holiday” has taken on elevated importance in American Jewish culture as a counterpoint to the season’s Christmas celebrations.

Blatt said the holiday’s history lends itself to be a celebration of military victory, a symbol of resilience and an echo of biblical miracles like the burning bush. After the Macabees defeated the Syrian-Greek armies and drove them from the holy sites in Jerusalem, the Israelites reclaimed the city’s Holy Temple. They found only enough oil to light the temple’s menorah for one night. But that oil ended up lasting eight nights, giving birth to the story that today underlies Hanukkah.

“It’s of course a symbol of freedom, of winning your freedom,” Solomon said. “It wasn’t a gift, you had to earn it.”

Hanukkah celebrations commence with the first lighting of the menorah on Tuesday night. Jewish families light the menorah each night and some celebrate by giving out gifts and eating traditional foods like potato latkes and sufganya, jelly-filled donuts.

“It’s another holiday to celebrate traditions and to be together with immediate family and the synagogue family,” said congregation member Pamela Polacsek.

On Sunday, members of the congregation gathered to sing Hanukkah songs, share a meal and enjoy a magic show for the kids.

“It brings out the child in everybody,” Polacsek said of the holiday.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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