The standard statements posted on politician’s websites during holidays are usually rote and as generic as possible without sounding generic. This year, with the relationship with Israel at its first real crossroads in decades, the celebration of Hanukkah marks something particularly special since it represents freedom against oppressive forces. Looking at President Barack Obama’s and Senator Ted Cruz’s posts reveals a stark difference that calls out their ideological contrasts.
Both were timely and exceptional in their portrayal of the messages. The President used the opportunity to point to a mostly secular and at least partially agnostic view of the world in which Hanukkah is a symbol of all humanity’s plight against the forces of evil. He goes so far as to include a statement that betrays a skepticism towards the supernatural, calling for the world to “rededicate ourselves to being the engine of the miracles we seek.”
This, of course, goes completely against the story of the Maccabees themselves who utilized the power of their God to bring them victory.
For Cruz, it was a completely different message, one that appeals to religious Jews and Christians by leaning not on the abilities of the Maccabees but rather attributing their success, as they would, to a higher power. “The victory of the people of Israel is a testament to God’s providence.”
Washington Post columnist David Bernstein has an excellent breakdown of the two posts that reveals similar structures with completely opposite perspectives.
— JD Rucker (@0boy) December 7, 2015
It’s just a holiday greeting… or is it? Do the current and potentially future President have such opposing views that Jews need to notice? To me, it highlights two different directions for the United States and the whole world wrapped up in a few distinctly different paragraphs.
Here are the two posts…
From President Obama:
Tonight, Jews in America, Israel, and around the world come together to light the first candle of the Festival of Lights. At its heart, Hanukkah is about the struggle for justice in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It’s a chance to reflect on the triumph of liberty over tyranny, the rejection of persecution, and on the miracles that can happen even in our darkest hours. It renews our commitment as Americans – as people who live by faith and conscience – to lead the way and act as unyielding advocates for the fundamental dignity of every human being.
During these eight days, let us be inspired by the light that can overcome darkness. As we recall the Maccabees’ struggle to free a people from oppression, let us rededicate ourselves to being the engine of the miracles we seek. May the lights of the menorah brighten your home and warm your heart, and from my family to yours, Chag Sameach.
From Senator Cruz:
“Today Heidi and I wish the Jewish Community a very Happy Chanukah. On this holiday, we remember the miracle that enabled a freedom-loving people – led by the heroic Maccabees – to defeat the oppressive dictator Antiochus so that they could once again freely worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For the eight days of Chanukah, the Jewish people commemorate their liberation from oppression and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. As the Talmud teaches, God delivered ‘many into the hands of the few, strong into the hands of the weak, and evildoers into the hands of the righteous.’
“Today, the Jewish people, together with freedom-loving people around the world, once again find their religious faith and liberty under attack from radical forces of oppression and intolerance. Whether it is the BDS movement on college campuses, anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, or radical Islamic terror in Israel and around the world, we need modern-day Maccabees to stand together and push back against the forces of evil. As a nation founded by a people seeking religious liberty, America stands with the Jewish people both at home and abroad in protecting the light of faith and liberty.
“The victory of the people of Israel is a testament to God’s providence. On these nights when Jewish families around the country and the world celebrate with latkes, lighting the menorah, and playing dreidel, Heidi and I join with you to recognize, ‘Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,’ a great miracle happened there. We only need look at our nation’s heritage to know that great miracles have happened here too, ‘Nes Gadol Hayah Po,’ and will continue to happen with God’s blessing. We are grateful for the Divine tradition and we give thanks for the blessings of liberty. Happy Chanukah.”