(Compiled and edited by Steven Shamrak)
The name of Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, is derived from a Hebrew word – meaning “to dedicate.” It used to be a minor Jewish festival with no Biblical source.
The Chanukah story permeates Israel. It is not just the story of the miracle of the oil, or the reclamation and restoration of the Temple. It is the story of Jewish victory over oppressors, of defending our homeland against those who seek to delegitimize our connection to it and destroy our nation. It is a narrative that all Jews, Israelis and Zionists, can relate to very strongly, as it is a story that has played out many times throughout our history.
Hanukkah is one of the quintessentially Zionist holidays. It is a holiday of freedom, celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians. It reaffirms the centrality of Israel and of Jerusalem in Jewish cultural life. Without love of Israel and Jewish national existence, Hanukkah has no real meaning.
Hanukkah is a holiday of Jewish national liberation. Unfortunately, most of our current spiritual leaders are defining Hanukkah mainly as the Feast of Lights! They deliberately do not emphasize that this miracle was the reward for determination and courage exhibited by Jews in the fight for liberation of our land!
From the very beginnings of the Zionist movement, the story of the Maccabees would serve as an inspiration. As Theodore Herzl wrote, “The Maccabees will rise again.” Vladimir Jabotinsky similarly declared: “Yes, they have arisen – the children of those whose ancestor was Judah, lion of the Maccabees.” It is not surprising that Hanukkah is a major theme in proclamations by Zionist leaders and made its way into Zionist literature, Zionist poetry, and Israeli music.
The modern State of Israel came into being as a modern miracle. With inferior weaponry, little infrastructure, and a much smaller population, the day after declaring independence, the new country was forced to go to war against invading armies from the neighboring Arab states. The miracles that come to mind when one thinks of Israel’s history are numerous – the surprising victory of the War of Independence, the stunning victory of the Six Day War, as well as the Yom Kippur war.
The Maccabees faced a powerful enemy – the Syrian Greeks. They protected the traditions of the Jewish people and ensured the continuity of Jewish life in Israel. We must continue to follow this tradition. Israel is also facing powerful enemies, and not just Arab and Muslim countries. The task of liberation of Jewish land from enemy occupation is not completed!