No other holiday truly brings Jews together in celebration like Hanukka.
Considered by the religious authorities to be a minor holiday, you wouldn’t know
it by the way Hanukka is celebrated enthusiastically by Jews of all descriptions
across the world. Perhaps uniquely, Jews of all hues mark Hanukka in almost
identical fashion. Whether religious or secular, Ashkenazi or Mizrachi or from
any other background you might imagine, you will be hard pushed to find a Jew
who can resist the temptation to light a candle, eat a doughnut or hum a
familiar Hanukka holiday tune. It is a magical time in which the light of the
hanukkia is elevated into a figurative glow upon the entire Jewish peopleAll of
which means that there is no better time to be mayor of Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut.
Our city is the cradle of the entire Hanukka story, the setting for the outbreak
of the famous Maccabean revolt which ultimately saw Matityahu and his five sons
reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, Modi’in is a city steeped in Hasmonean
history. The Mishnah indicates that Modi’in was home to the Maccabees, although
the Talmud suggests that the town was significant throughout the period in its
own right, specified as a landmark day’s walk from Jerusalem.
commuters can personally witness Modi’in’s Maccabean heritage as they travel
along the road which leads toward Latrun. On a nearby hilltop known as Umm
el-Umdan, an ancient synagogue has been uncovered.
Peeling away the
layers of this fascinating archaeological discovery has revealed evidence of
Jewish existence on this spot throughout every stage of antiquity.
site includes a three-room rectangular structure dating from the Hasmonean
period in which it is easy to stand and imagine Matityahu and his sons gathered
in prayer centuries ago. The rough hills and uneven valleys which surround it
would have provided perfect terrain for their band of Maccabean fighters to
escape the attentions of Antiochus’ forces and ultimately to plot their
Meanwhile, on the other side of Modi’in, the discovery of a
burial site dating back to the Hasmonean era halted construction on Route 443
several years ago. The whole area is quite simply historic Hanukka country.It
will therefore come as no surprise that Hanukka is a particularly thrilling time
of year in Modi’in. Like all major cities in Israel, special performances and
public events will take center stage. However, we will also observe two unique
Modi’in traditions, both filled with particularly powerful meaning. The annual
torch relay pays homage to the Hanukka story and the journey which our Maccabean
ancestors began in Modi’in, eventually fighting their way to victory in our
eternal capital Jerusalem.
Each year, runners pass a symbolic torch from
hand to hand over the 32 km. distance between the two cities until it is
eventually delivered to Israel’s chief rabbi to use in lighting the hanukkia at
the Western Wall.
In the years before 1967, the torch was received in
Jerusalem by the president of the state at his residence. This special tradition
has truly developed in tandem with our national history. Meanwhile in recent
years an equally meaningful ritual has been observed on the Shabbat of Hanukka.
Increasingly large numbers of local residents gather each year at the ancient
synagogue of Umm el-Umdan to pray in the exact same spot as our
With powerful symbolism, they cradle the Torah scroll in a
stone indentation forged in a wall facing Jerusalem, using it for the exact same
purpose for which it was evidently created centuries ago.
Of course, our
evocative traditions are simply a reminder, an expression of the true meaning of
And one of the beauties of the holiday is the plurality of
meanings behind it. Traditional religious interpretation has always regarded the
Hanukka tale as a parable of divine power, while the classic Zionist analysis
highlights the triumph of Jewish national endeavor. Some view Hanukka as the
victory of spirituality and faith over brute Hellenistic physicality. Others
take an opposing position pointing to Hanukka as the very model example of
Jewish military power.
We are told that such diametrically conflicting
views on Hanukka even extend to how we light the candles.
Hillel argued that we begin by kindling one light while Rabbi Shammai believed
that we should start by lighting all eight.
And yet despite the
contradictions of Hanukka, we have managed to preserve a rare moment in time in
which we celebrate together, as one nation united. Perhaps this encapsulates the
ultimate lesson of Hanukka – we can either let the fog of darkness envelop us or
we can instead light a candle to banish the gloom. At this one special time of
year, we are able to put aside the divisions in our society and our nation and
together celebrate a remarkable common heritage and shared future.
proud to be mayor of the city on which this extraordinary moment is
The author is mayor of the city of Modi’in Maccabim- Re’ut.