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Jihadis, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving

from the November 26, 2013 eNews issue

Israeli authorities found guns and explosives in the vehicle of three Salafist jihadis killed after they shot at security forces in the southern Hevron Hills Tuesday evening. The three jihadis were identified as suspects wanted in relation to previous terror activity. Just days before Hanukkah, the incident offers Israelis one more cause for thanks to God for His provision and protection. One IDF spokesman called it a “Hanukkah miracle”, crediting the raid with protecting Samaria and Judea from attacks during the holiday.

Another Hanukkah greets us, and this year—for the first time since 1888—the first day of the celebration coincides with the American holiday of Thanksgiving. American Jews can embrace Thanksgiving with their traditional Hanukkah celebration, and the rare combo has been jokingly called Thansgivukkah.

Allison Kaplan Sommer writes in Haaretz, “Another reason Thanksgiving has always gone over big with the Jews? We are foodcentric—it’s all about the meal, fitting into the Jewish holiday tradition of ‘They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.’ Food has been at the center of much of the Thanksgivukkah hype.”

All kidding aside, Israel has every reason to give thanks to the God of the Universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Survival, Provision, Miracles

In 1942 an eight-year-old little boy named Leon Gersten hid with his mother, aunt, uncle and cousin in the barn in the countryside outside of Frystak, Poland. After Gersten’s mother found rejection at farmhouse after farmhouse, she finally knocked on the door of the Polziec family – Catholics – who agreed to shelter the escaping Jews. The other Jews of the town had already been slaughtered, the rest of Gersten’s family killed. The Polziecs hid the five survivors in their barn and fed them for two years.

When soldiers searched the property and barn, the Polziecs concealed the Jews in a small bunker, disguised under a grain bin. On cold winter nights, they invited their guests into the house to join the family and stay warm. The Polziec’s son Czeslaw let the bored young Leon Gersten help him with care of the farm animals. On one occasion, soldiers suspected Jews were on the property and severely beat Mr. Polziec, but despite danger and abuse and the added burden on their small food supply, the Polziec family faithfully kept the secret until the town was liberated in 1944.

Now, on Hanukkah / Thanksgiving, Leon Gersten will be able to meet with Czeslaw Polziec for the first time in nearly 70 years. The parents of both men have passed away, but Gersten credits Czeslaw Polziec for his part in his parents’ courageous generosity. When the two get to sit down for a meal this Thursday, Gersten wants to thank his long-ago friend for so carefully keeping the secret for two years, even as a boy.

“The question alone does not bear thinking about,” Polziec told The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which has reunited many Jews and their Holocaust rescuers. “They had every right to live. Nobody who has not lived through those desolate days will ever really understand what my parents did, and I am sure, were they still with us, they would be surprised that an honor has been bestowed upon them.”

Gersten will light the menorah on Wednesday night, as he was not able to light the candles in the barn those two cold, treacherous years as a little boy. He will be able to rejoice in God’s hand on His people throughout the centuries, always keeping a remnant safe from the destroyers. Then, on Thursday, Gersten will be able to sit down to a grand meal and enjoy the company of a gentile, a man who proved the truest sort of friend.

Israel This Hanukkah

The President of the United States clearly views Israel with disdain—after decades of U.S. support from both sides of the aisle. John Kerry recently made a “deal” with Iran that frees the Persian nation from sanctions without requiring it to give up its centrifuges or stockpiles of enriched uranium. Terrorists still cross the borders into Israel regularly with the goal of mass-slaughter of Israelis, and mortar attacks on Israel still originate in Gaza. Just last week the IDF confirmed it directly hit a weapons manufacturing site in Gaza in response to mortar attacks.

Yet, Israel thrives to this day—surrounded by incensed enemies.

Four years after the Nazi defeat, the nation of Israel sprouted up in the historic Jewish homeland, and Jews from across the world returned to the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After sixty-five years the tiny country continues to press on in its existence, surviving decade after decade despite the many who would destroy her. Like the Gerstens and so many survivors of the Holocaust, Israel has had friends who have come to her aid. Like the Gerstens, Israel has held on and struggled and refused to give up. And then… then… there are those times when miracles take place, when the God of the Universe Himself appears to take charge of the tiny nation, holding His hand over her and guarding her though all Hell should come against her.

On Thanksgiving, Americans celebrate the provision of God through friends who came to her aid, of two peoples coming together and enjoying bounty and survival after crushing times. On Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the cleansing and rededication of the Temple after its horrific defilement by Emperor Antiochus IV, with the accompanying miracle of one night’s worth of oil having burned and produced light for eight nights.

Survival, provision, and miracles. The two celebrations go well together.

”Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.” Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.”

— Psalm 122:6–9


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