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Illinois teen who fled Israel grateful to celebrate Hanukkah with family

Alexandra Kukulka, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Josh Jury, of Homewood, Illinois, said he was looking forward to celebrating Hanukkah in Israel this year while he was there for a study aboard program.

But the Israel Hamas war forced him to flee from Israel and finish his semester at URJ Heller High, a high school educational experience for Jewish sophomores, juniors and seniors to learn in Israel, remotely.

“I was just really excited to celebrate in Israel,” Jury said. “But now I’m with my family, and I think more than ever it’s important that we’re together.”

Thursday evening was the start of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday known as the festival of lights. It was also two months to the day when Hamas militants stormed through the blockaded Gaza strip into Israel, initiating a surprise land and air attack.

Jury also pointed out the war began on the Jewish holiday Simhat Torah. But the war has solidified for Jury the importance of continuing Jewish celebrations and traditions, he said.

“I remember when I was in Israel on Simhat Torah, someone said to me, ‘The whole point in these missiles being fired into Israel is to prevent us from celebrating a holiday, to prevent us from holding a Jewish space,’” Jury said. “We need to keep celebrating. We need to keep celebrating our identities.”

 

The story of Hanukkah is of the Maccabees, or Jewish soldiers, fighting and winning a war against the Greeks over Jerusalem, Jury said. During the war, a miracle occurred when one drop of oil lasted eight nights, said Rabbi Jenny Steinberg-Martinez, with Joliet Jewish Congregation.

Jury said it’s all about hope and miracles.

“Hanukkah is all about resisting hate, so it’s like fighting back oppression and having safe space for Jewish people and Jewish tradition,” Jury said. “I think there’s a lot of people hoping for a miracle with this war that it’s just going to end.”

Steinberg-Martinez said Hanukkah has become a bigger celebration in the United States, compared to Israel, because Hanukkah competes with Christmas. Hanukkah is a time for children to learn more about their Jewish heritage and traditions, she said.

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