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The Light Of The World

This column was written by Emanuele Ottolenghi.
Let's embarrass Iran's evil regime. During this festive season, let's light some Hanukkah candles in front of their embassies.

In Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is the festival of lights, because it celebrates the survival of the Jewish people against the onslaught of a tyrannical regime that denied them the freedom to practice their faith freely. Under the leadership of a priestly family, the Jews rebelled and fought against their oppressors. Eventually, they managed to gain back control of Jerusalem's Holy Temple, which their enemies had turned into a pagan shrine where pigs — that most unholy of animals in Jewish tradition — were being sacrificed to pagan gods. Having smashed the idols, so the story goes, the revolt's leaders sought the oil necessary to light the Temple's candelabra, in order to re-consecrate the sanctuary. This they only found in small quantities, enough to last a day, but well short of the minimum eight days needed to prepare the oil in conformity with the needs of worship. And here's the miracle: The tiny oil quantity, meant to last for just a day, kept the lights on for the full eight days.

The Hanukkah lights thus symbolize the triumph of light over darkness, of hope over despair, and of freedom over tyranny. In remembrance, Jews light candles for eight days, starting from one candle the first night and adding one candle each day, to show how freedom's light, and the hopes it feeds, grows from strength to strength.

This symbol makes Hanukkah not only a Jewish holiday. The triumph of liberty over tyranny, through the resolve believers who refuse to bow to a brutal regime is the story of America's Founding Fathers and of their ethos of freedom. Their pursuit of religious freedom brought them to unwelcoming shores. There, despite the odds, they eventually built a free society, where belief, however outlandish and deviant from established church doctrine, would never again become ground for persecution. Americans should therefore find no difficulty identifying with Hanukkah lights. Though a Jewish tradition, their message is universal, a powerful reminder that tyranny can be defeated and freedom restored.

Americans fought for their freedom long ago. But freedom should know no boundaries; and tyranny should be given no quarter. A tyrant rules over Iran today and his mad quest for nuclear weapons is now matched by a murderous rhetoric against the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Despite placing its genocidal designs and its quest for the tools to achieve them in the plain light of day, the decent nations of the world have so far done little to dissuade Iran. With Iran so close to completing a nuclear fuel cycle and with its arsenals now acquiring new and longer-range missiles, the threats of its leaders may soon become more than just bellicose verbal abuse.

Yet, there is little sign that the international community will act. Forget military action, forget sanctions: Even the highly symbolic idea of launching a ban on Iran's soccer team from next year's world cup, though gaining momentum in Europe, has so far been dismissed by FIFA (the international football association in charge of the tournament).

So here's an idea that ordinary citizens can adopt as a reminder to governments that in the end, for any hope to survive, we need freedom to triumph over tyranny. This year, Hanukkah coincides with Christmas. On December 27, the third night of Hanukkah, Hanukkah candles should be lit in public ceremonies across the streets, in front of Iranian embassies around the world. Jewish communities should organize a lighting ceremony in all those capital cities where Iran has an embassy, and in New York it should be done in front of the U.N. building, right beside the Iranian flag. According to Jewish law, anyone can light the Shamash, the candle that is used to light all others. Prominent leaders with bipartisan support should be invited to perform this symbolic act to reaffirm the light of freedom over the darkness of tyranny. And other public figures should endorse this initiative as a message to the Iranian authorities.

The idea was recently launched by two London activists, and is already gaining support and sympathy elsewhere. Rome may soon follow, and so should other capitals of Europe and the Western world.

Since the free world's leaders remain unwilling to give a strong and decisive answer to Iran's tyranny, ordinary citizens should perform this simple gesture of defiance, which for centuries Jewish families and communities across the world have done. This is a reminder that in the end, despite the odds, the light of freedom must, and therefore can, triumph over the darkness of tyranny.

Emanuele Ottolenghi teaches Israel studies at Oxford University.
By Emanuele Ottolenghi
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online