The air is full this week of freedom from oppression. Unfortunately it is not the result of newly won freedoms - quite the opposite, as the continuing brutality in Syria, the ever greater threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon and our analysis of Egypt all show. Rather it is because we are, at Chanucah, celebrating our own freedom; and because of the deaths of two men who, in very different ways, celebrated, promoted and fought for freedom.
Christopher Hitchens only found out as an adult that he was Jewish. But, his prodigious appetite for drink apart, he was so very Jewish that he could hardly have been anything else. There was his love of an argument; he seemed to regard intellectual sparring as nourishment of the soul. And there was his unshakeable belief in the promise that freedom held. As for Vaclav Havel; his life exemplified the good that one man can achieve.
The fact that he would not have regarded himself as being especially a friend of the Jews or Israel was what made him just that - because in re-establishing normal relations between the Czech Republic and Israel and in pushing for restitution for victims of the Nazis and Communists, he was, he believed, simply behaving as any normal person should.
Jews and Israel should be treated no differently from any others. As for the third major figure to die this week: Kim Jong-Il showed the levels of depravity to which man can sink when basic freedoms are ignored. So as we light the chanucah candles we should remember that although the story may be ancient, the message it sends is as relevant, and important, today as ever before.