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Deborah Katchko-Gray talks Hanukkah and the Modern Maccabees

Hanukkah (spelled various ways, Chanukah is also popular) is a holiday of history, legend, miracles, and inspiration. In many ways, the modern state of Israel is a modern Maccabee.

Let me explain. After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split in two, later Babylon conquered half, destroyed the First Temple and the Babylonian exile pushed the kingdom of Judah (hence the word Judaism) out in 586 B.C.E. Slowly Jews returned and in 338 B.C.E. the Greeks arrived conquering lands including Egypt and Israel. King Alexander the Greek was a benevolent ruler and blended Greek religion and Eastern philosophy. This culture of Hellenism was embraced by many in the Jewish community. Some Jews felt the Hellenism and Green values were not consistent with Judaism. After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided and new government decrees limited the practice of Judaism. Violations were punishable by death. Greek symbols placed inside the Holy Temple. By 167 B.C.E. the Greek King, Antiochus banned the practice of Judaism, with the punishment of death to all who defied the orders. Mattathias and his five sons were known as the “Maccabees” (means men as strong as hammers)- Though much smaller in number, than the well-armed Greek armies, the Jewish forces under the command of Judah Maccabee ultimately recaptured the Temple Mount, purified the Temple once more and showed that there was victory for the oppressed.

The miracle of Hanukkah revolves around the rededication of the Temple Menorah- at the time there was only enough oil to last one day. The small quantity of oil burned for eight days. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil, not the political victory of the Maccabees who did not regain another land of political independence. The Maccabees, however, brought much-needed hope and renewal of faith which has remained with us to this day.

Hanukkah is a minor holiday. It’s not mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees, barely in the Mishna, and not until the first century of the Common Era when the Jewish historian Josephus retold the Hanukkah story, referring to it as “the feast of lights”.

The lighting of the menorah has become a powerful symbol of freedom and hope. It is of great significance that the Knesset, the seat of Israel’s government has a large menorah in the front courtyard. It is customary to place a menorah in a visible window. This year my husband and I donated 30 additional menorahs to be placed in store windows on our Main St of Ridgefield, Ct. There will be 39 Menorahs lining the windows of the street bringing the holiday into focus during the season of festive lights in our town.

We read during Hanukah from the prophet Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit says the Lord of Hosts”. The miracle of the small Maccabees against the mighty Greek army is a reminder of the daily struggle Israel faces surrounded by enemies seeking her destruction- today we hear Iran and ISIS boasting of murderous plans to destroy Israel, we must remain strong militarily and strong in spirit. The miracle of Hanukkah inspires us to believe in our future. 

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