The Hannukah Story: A Recipe for Startups?

This year, the story of Hannukah has taken on a new dimension for me. As a company founder, I see the story of Hannukah as one of persistence and triumph in the face of adversity. But also, a flawed one, as is the case with many startups and businesses.

The Maccabees are admirable in the respect that, very much like many startups today, they managed to define their vision and carry it out despite the fact that it seems that the world may not deem it favorable or plausible. Contrary to what ordinary people would expect, they win. The story is, at heart, one of revolutionary projects. However, in recent times, some have branded the Maccabees as religious fanatics who forcibly converted people to Judaism.

I don‘t deem Hannukah or a celebration of the Maccabean triumph as a problem, but rather a collection of lessons for creative minds and entrepreneurs today.

I am grateful that we live in a time in which virtually every Biblical hero is reckoned with in terms of his or her moral shortcomings (not to mention dozens upon dozens of secular heroes in the Jewish world and beyond). The Maccabees were military heroes, while the purveyors of Talmudic Culture, which evolved into contemporary Jewish practices, were distrustful of secular power, empire and brute strength.

I too, much like the Amoraim who compiled the Talmud, deem military might and worship of war heroes as something to keep my distance from (all this while I am grateful for military campaigns that have prevented ethnic cleansing and genocide or at least stopped it from happening further).

In the same way that we hold Biblical heroes accountable for their shortcomings, we must also hold CEOs, world leaders, and business managers accountable for their actions. Biblical characters, themselves, find that their misdeeds impact their life stories and reputations long after the fact. The reason why is telling: because figures with any sort of power had – and continue to have – the chance to bring healing change to the world or raze it to its foundation. While the Divine element in today’s world, the one that brings about judgment and justice, is more hidden, we, as the human race, have the power to make it apparent and judge those in power favorably or unfavorably in accordance with our morals.

Antiochus Continues to Exist in Our World

As a child in Jewish school, the forces of Antiochus, as well as the culture he represented, stood for something very clear. In a sense, the “Yavanim” were purveyors of a worldview that sought to deal away with differences, to unite an empire through cultural conformity. Antiochus‘ offer was tempting, given that people throughout history have given up their traditional cultural distinctions in favor of one that is associated with power, status, and acceptance (and this continues to be the case all over the world).

Despite all of that temptation of surrendering one‘s distinctions and uniqueness for security, there were the Maccabees who flew against the stream, and – contrary to all expectation – they won against a superior military power.

Starting one‘s own business takes extreme bravery, much like Judah the Maccabee and his family had. There is sacrifice of the routine as well as a significant amount of discouragement and temptation to give up from the outside and the inside. There are deep setbacks as well as moments that seem to require miracles.

In the contemporary world, there still is that path of least resistance, the one to constantly do the safer thing, to become more like everybody else, to give up one‘s culture or identity in exchange for a group‘s acceptance. Backed by media, advertisements, and multinational corporations, the temptation to follow the Antiochuses of today is stronger than anyone living in Judah the Maccabee‘s time could have ever thought possible.

One of the first things I ever remember hearing when I began designing my first video game was that “different always does better in the store”. Having investigated many fields of study and subcultures throughout the world, it is evident to me, if not all of us, that remaining personally as well as culturally distinct (while still acknowledging the good of other cultures and people) is the key to finding a fulfilling life, rather than surrendering it in the name of the “safe path”.

The Maccabees didn‘t take the safe path. The most successful entrepreneurs tend not to either.

When I light the candles this Hannukah, I will do so not only for the miracle that a culture was saved, but also for the many miracles that world-changing projects have experienced. Ones that made innovation possible and continue to make the world a place of constant surprise and betterment, despite the naysayers and challenges.