For many in the American Jewish community, the lights of the Chanukah candles are their way to feel a part of the festivities of the holiday season. Though the lights of Christmas trees may beckon, the flickering lights of the candles give American Jews pride in their own holiday, their own heritage, their own history.
The story of Chanukah is one that is thoroughly Zionist in nature. It is the story of one of the earliest manifestations of Jewish nationalism, and is exemplary of the ongoing movement for Jewish independence and self-determination in the land of Israel. In the traditional Chanukah story, the Maccabees fight for the Jewish right to independence in their homeland. It is a story that has been replayed in the modern State of Israel, giving rise to the symbolism of the Maccabees in Israeli culture today. 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 of oppressors, of defending our homeland against those who seek to delegitimize our connection to it and destroy our nation. It is a narrative that Israelis and Zionists can relate to very strongly, as it is a story that has played out many times throughout our history. While a well-known joke about Jewish holidays is “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat,” this attitude fails to take into account the existential threat that Israel faces, even today.
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. Independence. The stunning victory of the Six Day War. The peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. The fact that Israel, the “start-up nation” has a thriving economy, even in the face of a global recession. The reality of being a vibrant, diverse, democratic nation in the Middle East. And so many others.
Today, as Jews around the world gather to light the Chanukah candles, it is imperative that we all remember that the true miracle of Chanukah is Jewish survival and self-determination. The Maccabees, when faced with a powerful enemy-the Syrian Greeks-protected the traditions of the Jewish people, and ensured the continuity of Jewish life in Israel. In 2011, we must continue to follow this example. Israel faces numerous threats, both on the physical front lines and in the hearts and minds of people around the world. The example of the Maccabees, of a group of people willing to fight for the safety and freedom of the people of Israel, is one that should be honored and appreciated as we enter the holiday season.
Image by scazon.