Holiday

Today's Christian Hanukkah story

FILE -- The White House is in the background after the national menorah was lit during a ceremony marking the start of the celebration of Hanukkah, on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington.

FILE -- The White House is in the background after the national menorah was lit during a ceremony marking the start of the celebration of Hanukkah, on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington.  (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah started the evening of December 24. Jewish people around the world will be kindling the menorah until December 31. The story of Hanukkah isn't just an ancient fable from the 2nd century BCE where a handful of Jewish resistance fighters fended off religious persecution.  

This story repeats itself today where religious minority groups around the world face brutal persecution.

Last week in the United States the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act became law to counter religious persecution of “[a]ncient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria" that "are on the verge of extinction…” and to counter persecution of other religious groups around the world. 

In the Hanukkah story the Syrian-Greek dictator King Antiochus destroyed sacred artifacts in the Temple, outlawed circumcision, Sabbath observance, and Torah study in an attempt to destroy a people’s revered way of life. He massacred women and children that didn't comply.  

Islamic extremists are doing the same today. They are blowing up ancient Churches, including bombing a Coptic Church this month in Egypt, looting shrines, destroying priceless Christian artifacts, and murdering Christians that refuse to renounce their faith. The vast majority of Christians have been forced to flee Iraq, and hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of Syria since the civil war.

In a sadistic display ISIS tortured and murdered a group of Christians, including a 12-year-old boy, for the crime of refusing to renounce Jesus. The media reported how "Islamic extremists cut off the fingertips of the boy and severely beat him, telling his father they would stop the torture only if he, the father, returned to Islam..." These brave souls, like the Maccabees of ancient lore, sacrificed their lives, enduring extreme torture, to preserve their way of life.

This is chillingly reminiscent of a story in the book of Maccabees describing how Antiochus murdered Hannah and her sons for refusing to renounce Judaism. According to one account, the dictator “ordered the boy's tongue, hands and feet severed and placed in a fire.” These ancient stories of martyrdom are happening to Christians today in the same region of the world. 

And just like the Maccabees proudly fought back to restore the Israelites right to freely worship, Christians are doing the same today in Mosul and elsewhere. One example is a report of several dozen Iraqi Christians who took up arms to recapture their homes overrun by ISIS, proudly displaying “wooden crosses around their necks and others tattooed on their arms..."

As I kindle the light of the Menorah this Hanukkah, I'll be hoping and praying that the suffering for millions of Christians and other faith ends the same way the Hanukkah story ended for the Jewish people over two thousand years ago. 

Eliyahu Federman writes frequently on religion, culture, business and law. Follow him on Twitter @EliFederman and find him on Facebook.com/eli.federman. He is also an executive at the e-commerce company 1Sale.com. The opinions expressed here represent his personal views.

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