Last June I contemplated one of history’s little ironies. It happened in Antioch. Today, Antioch is Antakya, a small and charming Turkish provincial town. But some two thousand years ago it was a Greek metropolis. In the second century B.C.E., Antioch was the capital of the mighty Syrian-Greek empire. It exercised a magnetic attraction over the elites of the east shore of the Mediterranean.
Take the Hellenizers of ancient Israel, for example – Jews who abandoned their faith for ancient Greek civilization. They looked to Antioch for inspiration and for muscle. Antioch was the capital city of King Antiochus IV, and his power flowed forth from there against the revolt of the Maccabees.
But the Maccabees triumphed. They saved Israel for the faith of their fathers.
Paganism died long ago in Antioch, but Judaism survives. To be sure, Antakya is an overwhelmingly Muslim town, and there is a small Christian community too. But consider this: in a city where Antiochus IV is just an antiquarian memory, Judaism survives.
Pictured in this photograph is the Antioch Synagogue. The sign celebrates the eightieth anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
This year we celebrate the 2167th anniversary of Chanukah.