Chanukah in Jerusalem, Israel

Last night was the first night of Chanukah here in Jerusalem and all over the world. This was my first time experiencing Chanukah in Jerusalem in Israel. Here as you can see from the above pictures, the practice is not only to light candles on the menorah – 8 candled candelabra – indoors but also to light outside one’s front door. The candles are placed inside a glass box which protects the flames from the elements on a raised platform outside the dwelling.

The second picture here is outside the door of my dear friend Judy Brodt in Nachlaot, Jerusalem. We lit the candles, recited the blessings, sang the songs and sat outside to appreciate the sight of the candles…By the way there was Judy and myself and Coco, a young woman from Venezuela, who was visiting Israel for the first time. Lots of people, tours, families were walking through the streets. One group of young girls who were actually tour guides to be, stopped and accepted our cookies and came inside. Then a woman, Jean Kidd and her personal tour guide stopped to speak with us. Jean Kidd is a sculptor from Knoxville Tennessee whose sculptures have been commissioned for Mamila Mall. One of her sculptures is called “Guardian” and it brought to mind “The guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps”. (Lo Yanum velo yishan Shomer Yisrael). A particularly appropriate phrase to describe one aspect of this Holiday.

After lighting Judy and I were invited for supper to her friend, Zahava’s home – thats where the second group of candles in the window are from.

She had a huge spread of dairy foods plus traditional latkes and dreidels and children from 1 yr old and up… all playing together. One of the guests asked the question how come we have. Mitzvah of having a seuda/holiday meal on Purim but no such commandment for Chanukah. A good question yes?

Anyhow my teacher, Yhudis golshevsky’s main teaching about Chanukah was the following: What is it about the candles that makes them so important?

Why is one of the first blessings after Shabbat about fire – “borei meorai haaish”?
Blessed iis the Creator of fires?

The era of the Maccabees was a period of Greek domination of the civilized world. Israel was a part of that world and “Hellenization” was very popular even among Jews? What was the domination of the Greeks all about? They were not into destroying the Temple, they simply wanted to insinuate their ideology and in order to do that Antiochus, the wicked King, forbade circumcision, temple sacrifice, and placed their God /Statues all over the country and even in the temple.

The uprising of The Maccabees which started with a family of high priests was illogical and certainly not guaranteed of success at the time against the might of Greece. In brief:
1 The Maccabees were a band of Jewish freedom fighters who freed Judea from the Syrian-Greek occupiers during the Second Temple period. The word Maccabee is an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Who is like You among all powers, G‑d.” Led by Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers, they trounced the Greek interlopers and restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the service of G‑d. Their victory is celebrated during the holiday of Chanukah.
• The Background
• More than 2,000 years ago there was a period of time when the Land of Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire, ruled by the dynasty of the Seleucids. In 174 BCE (3586), Antiochus IV ruled the region. He was called Epiphanes, meaning “the gods’ beloved,” but people called him Epimanes (“madman”), a title more suited to the character of this harsh and cruel king…
• The Maccabees Rule Judea
• The Maccabees and their descendants took the throne of Judea for themselves. This was a problem because they were priests, descendants of Aaron. Their job was to serve in the Holy Temple and guide the people in spiritual matters. It was the place of the descendants of King David, from the tribe of Judah, who were supposed to sit on the royal throne. Indeed, it did not take long until the monarchy of Judea was dragged down into a series of unending power grabs and bloody intrigue, with king after king trying to imitate the very same Greeks their ancestors had ousted from the land.
• Yet, for all their shortcomings, the Maccabees leave us with an empowering message that resonates in all times and all places: Never cower in the face of tyranny. Do your part, trust in G‑d, and success is sure to come.

The above is excerpted from:
This message resounds throughout the centuries as the core story of the Jewish people and their place in the world. And even today as the Israeli army announces the beginning of an operation on tis Northern border to eliminate all attack tunnels that Hezbollah has built at the northern border of Israel burrowing into Israel itself.

But what does this have to do with lighting candles? here is how my Teacher, Yehudis Golshevsky explained it this way: Fire can be destructive or constructive. Everyone knows that human civilization as we know it started with the discovery of fire by man. The Greeks attributed this discovery to man and man alone. Jews believe that everything in our physical world comes form G-d including man, the physical world and even the choice between Good and Evil, peace and war. Man was created by G-d to partner with Him to improve and watch over the physical world which he created for us: God created essential fire during the first days of creation: Man discovered fire and has the task to work with it. And mankind was given the free will to choose between good and evil in its use of fire as well as in its use of everything else that exists in the world. Now what does this have to do with Chanukah? Chanukah commemorates two things: one the victory of The Maccabees over the Greeks during the time of King Antiochus and two, the restoration of the Temple practice according to the laws laid done in the Torah. – i.e only using the oil set aside by the Kohanim/Priests of the Temple service. And here is where one of the miracles comes in – the oil that would have been sufficient for one day, burned for eight days until they could make fresh and pure/tahor oil – oil prepared according to Torah instructions. As one pundit put it – Its like finding that your mobile phone battery is at 10% and it lasts for eight days! What is the lesson? G-d can make anything happen! The lights burning on Chanukah for eight days in every family’s home reminds us of the jewish spiritual heritage laid down in the Torah and that we are not alone in this world.

The other part of Chanukah celebrates the unexpected and miraculous victory of the few over the many – the small band of Kohanim let by Mattityahu and his sons against the might Greek armies, at that time, rulers of the entire civilized world. The Chanukah victory celebrates not just the victory over the Greeks but also the jewish victories over the Babylonians, the Persions, the Greeks, and the current one – the Romans: The Roman exile has lasted since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel to our present day, with the restoration of sovereignty to the jewish people in their native land of Israel.

The simple four sided Chanukah dreidel that is the source of a game played on Chanukah commemorates these four exiles. And what binds them together? The axis on which the dreidel spins – the hand of G-d in the affairs of Man which is the core message of the Jewish people as laid down in the Torah.

And why do we not have a mandated feast on Chanukah as we have on Purim. The Greeks initially were not in destroying Jews physically but only spiritually, by imposing their Hellenistic ideology, and way of life on the Jews. And there was only a handful who recognized the inherent danger of this path and understood how the Greek way was diametrically opposed to the Jewish way. Greeks and Jews had much in common: both people revered science and learning about the physical world. But the Greeks held that the order of the world had no spiritual meaning over what can be seen and perceived by Man. Jews believe that the physical world is a manifestation of G-d’s power and that He continues to watch over the World. He chose the jewish people to transmit this wisdom to the rest of the world. So on Chanukah we not only celebrate the victory of battle victory but more importantly the spiritual victory which is symbolized by the holy light of the candles which are there for no functional reason but simply to remind us of the Hand of G-d in our physical human world.

So the difference between Greek ideology and Jewish ideology is that Greeks worship beauty and intellect and do not recognize the Hand of G-d in this world. Jews also love beauty and intellect but in addition, also believe in a G-d that is interested in the affairs of man and looks on lovingly as we, humans succeed and fail in our essential tasks of promoting goodness and care for our world, shared by G-d and man. The candles that we light are not to be used for any functional purpose. They simply allow us a moment to contemplate the whole story of fire, of its destructive and constructive potential, and the hidden Hand of G-d in our world – That is Chanukah.

Hag Chanukah Sameach! Lets enjoy the victory of light over darkness!

Abigail Hirsch

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