So, we are in the middle of the Jewish festival of Hannukkah, a minor Jewish festival that has perhaps gained prominence because of proximity to Christmas, allowing a festival alternative to Jews living in the West.

Hannukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BCE.

The story of the Maccabees is the sort to stir up a certain kind of soul.

The Syrians ruled Judea after the death of Alexander the Great but in 165 B.C., after a three-year struggle led by Yosef Matityahu and his sons, especially Judah Maccabee (Yehudah Hahmaccabee in Hebrew), the Jews in what is now Israel defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV (“Epiphanes”), who had insisted on the institution of state-sponsored paganism, forced Jews to bow down to idols, and desecrated the temple (Beyt Hamikdash in Hebrew) in Jerusalem. Antiochus dedicated a pagan altar in the temple, and had sacrifices made to an idol.

After hard fighting, the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and entered the temple that was the center of Jewish religious and national life, symbolizing national liberation. They removed the idol that had been set there for pagan worship, cleansed the temple of pagan sacrifice and rededicated it. The date of Hanukkah, the 25th day of Kislev, was chosen because it was the anniversary of the dedication of the pagan alter.

According to tradition, when the Jews cleaned the temple, they found only one small container of oil with which to light their holy lamps. Miraculously, the container provided enough oil for eight days, until new new oil could be made and purified.

As ever, we project the meaning we need onto our festivals. This from here;

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. Hanukah was was suppressed by the successors of the Maccabee dynasty, who were unfavorable to them, and remained a minor holiday for many years. Hanukkah, a celebration of national liberation and a military victory, did not fit well with the passive Diaspora culture of ultra-orthodox Jews. However, the holiday continued to be celebrated throughout the centuries and kept alive the embers of Jewish national feeling. With the rise of nationalism in the 19th century, and the rise of Zionism, Hanukkah assumed a new significance.

It is easy to see how the story of the Maccabees resonates with a particular kind of militant Zionism, intent on purifying modern Israel.

To celebrate a different kind of Hannukkah, I offer you a poem by the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amachai;


Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)

Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.

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