Guns into Menorahs

Copyright Rabbi Eli Hecht
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              This week my family will celebrate  Chanukah.  It was approximately 2150 years ago that a small band of Jews ousted the Assyrian Greek regime in Israel. When the Jews entered Jerusalem they wished to rekindle the temple's candelabra called the menorah. When the Jewish fighters cleared the temple of idols and dirt, they discovered only a small amount of pure oil, enough for a day.  Miraculously, it burned continuously for eight days. Therefore, Chanukah is called "the festival of lights" commemorating the lights of the menorah. 

            In California there seem to be no respect for the holidays.  We are afflicted with daily drive-by shootings and gangs' activities.  Every day another innocent citizen is shot, maimed or killed in a senseless drive-by shooting. With the passing of Proposition 187, who knows what may happen next.

            The violent deaths by guns are frightening. Gun ownership has grown 43 percent. Nearly half to two-thirds of homicides and suicides are in homes that have guns. The latest tragedy was reported in Louisiana. Parents arrived home and discovered a noise in a closet. The father went for his .357 caliber pistol and mistakenly shot his 14 year-old daughter to death.

            I remember, some 35 years ago, living in a quiet, beautiful area of Brooklyn.  Holdups, robberies and rape were nonexistent.   Burglaries were rare, but, one year that came to an end.  It happened around Chanukah.

            A teenage cousin escaped from Europe during World War II. and joined the United States Navy.  He convinced the Navy recruiter of his willingness and readiness to fight the enemy.  "Hitler wasn't only the enemy of the Jews; he was the enemy of all democracy," he stated.

            After the war he manufactured buckles for belts used by the Armed Forces.  His favorite joke was, "Without me, men can't go to war; their pants would fall down."

            One of his sons decided to become involved in Jewish causes.  At night he worked in a drugstore, helping the pharmacist with deliveries and general upkeep.

            Late one night a hoodlum came into the shop demanding some drugs.  Before the pharmacist could get him the drugs, the hoodlum panicked and shot my cousin's son in cold blood.  The police in the area were completely dumbfounded; a senseless killing in their lily-white area; a place where no crime ever took place.  The neighbors were incensed. Imagine, someone coming into their quiet neighborhood and blowing away a young boy in his prime. 

            Activists from all over the city came to the funeral speaking on behalf of the family and demanding an investigation.  However, after all the noise died down, the murderer was never apprehended.

            I thought the family would never recover from this tremendous loss.  Years passed before I saw my cousin again. He was continuously working on mass production of ammunition for rifles, semi-automatic guns and other weapons of destruction.  After the senseless death of his child, his work was not rewarding and new avenues had to be explored.  I wondered what he would be doing and how he coped with his immense grief.

            On a recent shopping trip to New York I came across all kinds of menorahs.  Some were made of silver; others were ceramic and others were made out of tin.  Suddenly I saw a menorah I had never seen before.  It was a wide piece of metal on a unique stand with a place for the eight candles.  Taking a closer look at this menorah, I was struck with the mere fact that the candle holders were not made from the usual material.  They were made from a heavy copper.  Examining it further, I was extremely surprised to see that the candle holders were the shells of M14s.  The base of the menorah was one of those antiaircraft shells that are used to pierce armor.  Here, finally, was a menorah made from objects of weaponry transformed into an object of harmony and hope. I wondered, who could have produced such a menorah?  I was very determined to buy it, but it was not for sale. This menorah was to be a lesson for the gun dealers and the gang members. The very same machinery that produced weapons was now producing candle holders and menorahs, bringing light and happiness to the world. This menorah was created by my cousin. The father of the murdered boy!             

            If only we knew how to change guns into menorahs, what a miraculous and bright Chanukah we would all have.