Miracle on Hilltop 219

Now that I am looking at the end of Hanukkah, I want to ask myself if there is something that I have learned.  Thank G-d, I guided several days in the days and weeks before and during Hanukkah, much of it centering around the holiday itself.  Also, stuck into my Hanukkah preparations, were 4 days of class and 2 days of preparation for my upcoming Birthright trip this winter.  The class I am currently attending is an enrichment course for becoming a Tour Educator for Birthright trips.  The Birthright organization is trying to improve the quality of their staff and will be requiring over the next few years, higher and higher percentages of their guides to go through this training.  (I wrote this “Mission Statement” as an exercise for the class.)

One of the tools that the course is teaching us is how to create a narrative.  Now, I can tell as good a story as the next guy, and I love spinning tales.  I grew up with my Grandmother telling us about the “fish that got away”, the waves that were “so big there was no water in between them”, and millions of stories about my dad “when he was a little boy”.  Telling stories is not challenging to me – creating narrative is, however, not always intuitive.  Creating narrative is about taking all those stories, all those facts, all those sites, all those activities and weaving them into a coherent goal.  Not only to make sense out of a day of touring, but to make sense out of a whole trip!  Creating narrative is challenging and hard.

And sometimes the narrative just comes to you, in the middle of guiding.  You say something and, if your mind is turned on, a connection comes to you – something you haven’t thought of before that moment.  This leads me to my take-away lesson from Hanukkah this year.

I developed a nice tour, the Life and Death of Yehuda Maccabee, which I gave several times over the last month.  I gave the tour to adults, new immigrants, mixed family groups.   The tour itself has a beautiful story arc, following Yehuda Maccabee through his life to his death.  There are many important lessons – the few vs. the many, religious freedom, state building, but it didn’t hit me until I gave the tour for the 5th time how to neatly tie in a story I tell at the end of the tour, a seemingly unrelated account from the Independence War, but taking place near one possible site of the tomb of Judah Maccabee.

Latzi Bettelheim grew up in Hungary.  He wanted to move to Israel, latzi bettelheimmake aliyah. He faced a dilemma – one that many young people who want to move to Israel face today.  Where should he get his education?  Familiar Hungary or later in Israel?  Either on his parents’ insistence or his own choice, he decided to attend school in Hungary first, becoming a Mechanical Engineer. He fulfilled his dream to make aliyah in 1933 at the age of 27. He goes to work in his field, marries, and lives the Zionist dream.  He is called up during the Arab riots of 1936-1939, and then returns to his regular life.  This is the Israeli reality where soldiers are businessmen, workers, scholars, fathers.  He is called up again as part of the Independence War and stationed on the hilltop across from my community.  It is there on September 24, 1948 that he is killed by the Arab Legion and villagers from the neighboring community as part of the battle for Hilltop 219. His body has never been recovered.  As I look at his picture, I see a 42 year old man with a receding hairline and glasses.  Not quite Rambo.  He could be any of my friends or neighbors.

How do I connect Latzi Bettelheim to the story of Judah Maccabee and Hanukkah?   We see in the story of Judah Maccabee and his brothers the different paths they take.  One is a leader in war; one is a general, one is a master statesman, one is a dynasty builder, one is not heard from.  Each is individual, just like Latzi Bettelheim, and has his own story to tell.   “We are all individuals!” in the words of a famous Monty Python scene.  But our power is in working together for the greater good, each bringing with us our individual strengths.

This is the narrative I discovered on Hilltop 219.  The message is for today – not something that just happened long ago.  The Hanukkah miracle “on those days at this time” can be seen in the Independence War as much as 2000 years ago.  It is the story of Latzi Bettelheim and the Hagana and the story of Judah Maccabee – that individuals working together can accomplish much more than the sum of their actions.  That’s our challenge – to add our strengths to the community in order to build a more just, free, flowering society.

Happy Hanukkah!

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