view from central park

As far as eye can see


When I think of Chanukah in Jerusalem, I think of the fiery winter sunsets. Like a signal that it’s time to kindle the Chanukah lamps, the sun seems to illuminate the entire city, a message of fire and light. The synchronicity of nature and the mitzvah is striking.

There is something breathtaking about Jerusalem Chanukah twilights. The vivid colors of gold, fiery orange and red glow with incredible brilliance. The bumpy gray clouds fill out the colors with incredible texture and a bursting sense of motion. It’s like The City of Gold is bathed in Chanukah’s essence.

When we think of light, we think of our charge: to be a light unto the nations. It’s a tall order, to model light, to shine with values and morals that can illuminate the world. I am proud that Israel usually rises to the challenge and responsibility.

There was much light emanating from Jerusalem this week: Israel’s famous national Biblical Contest has reached Africa! Under the leadership of the Israeli Embassy in Nigeria and Angola, and namely at the initiative of Ambassador Nadav Goren, an African Biblical Contest was launched. Thousands of enthusiastic competitors signed up.

Hananel Malka, chair of the national Israeli contest, chaired the African event as well. In his words, “In Africa, I witnessed and internalized how much the Tanach unlocks doors and hearts.”

It’s gratifying to see Israel export its most defining asset, which makes us who we are. It’s inspiring that Israel is seeking common ground by utilizing the source that has made the nation who it is since its inception.

Hebrew songs were sung, psalms were recited in Hebrew, shofars were blown, and Israeli flags flown. And the competition was fierce. In Nigeria, 1,000 youngsters signed up. In Angola, more than 1,600. The competitors hailed from across the country’s many provinces and municipalities. Clearly, the African nations carried an affection for studying the Bible and responded in kind.

Distinguished leaders from the local communities participated as well. All in all, it was an event imbued with strong pro-Israel sentiment that made history in Africa.

It brings to mind the phrase: “Ki mi-Tzion teitzei Torah, from Zion shall Torah go forth.”

I realize the irony of the Bible being studied in Africa on Chanukah. After all, the first translation of the Torah to a foreign language was into Greek, and it was not viewed positively by the sages. A literal translation did not retain the full meaning of the Torah text. One of the crucial battles in the Chanukah story was an ideological one, the battle between the Sadducees who only adhered to the literal text, and those who fought to retain the traditional oral interpretation.

But that was another generation’s battle. It’s been millennia since the Torah was translated to Greek, and today it has been translated into the lingua franca of English and so many other languages. Most segments of the community view this as a positive, realistic way to make Torah study accessible to the masses of Jews across the world.

The battle for the Oral Law was won. It is in fact one with our Written Law. While the Bible is something we contributed to the world and has become universal, the Oral Law is a more intimate language, one we share with one another within our tribe.

So although the irony of the timing of Israel in bringing the Bible context to Africa is not lost on me, neither is its beauty. The Israel Bible Contest is one of our educational crown jewels. After all, we are the People of the Book! It is gratifying to see Israel pass on the love of this book to others.

Watching a video of the African Bible Contest winner from Angola was so emotional. When his name, Lionel Baya, was announced in first place, he couldn’t hold back his tears. And neither could we. Baya is an electrical engineering student who took on this Bible study in addition to his many other responsibilities. You could sense the labor of love.

His prize? A trip to Israel for Chanukah.

The light is shining. He’ll get to see those magical Jerusalem Chanukah sunsets, and all the kindled menorahs that dot the landscape of the Biblical Land of Israel, as far as the eye can see.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News