Across the long, winding and often painful sweep of Jewish history, the festival
of Hanukka has proven to be a reliable companion.
Despite the passage of
over two millennia, the heroism of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil,
together with the deliverance from foreign occupation and the liberation of the
Holy Temple, have been a faithful source of hope and determination under even
the most trying of circumstances.
But it is in our generation that
Hanukka has provided us with still another reason to rejoice, an additional
marvel to add to the list that we commemorate each and every year. For it was 38
years ago, on a cold and wet Hanukka day, that a small band of Jewish pioneers
closed a historical circle and healed a national wound that had lain open for
centuries by renewing Jewish life in the hills of Samaria. The drama began
shortly after the Yom Kippur War, when a group started by Rabbi Menachem Felix
and Benny Katzover sought to create a Jewish community in the area where the
prophets of old had once prophesied and the kings of Israel had ruled. Seven
times they clambered up hilltops, put up tents and tried to create a permanent
Jewish presence in Samaria, and seven times the government sent the army to
Finally, on Hanukka in December 1975, their eighth try
proved successful when thousands of Jews from across the country converged on an
abandoned Ottoman- era train station in Sebastia. The government, headed by
then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and defense minister Shimon Peres (of all
people!), relented and agreed to the establishment of a temporary community at
the site of the Kadum military base, 11 km west of Shechem (Nablus). Thirty
families moved in, and despite living under extremely difficult and primitive
conditions, they held firm.
Out of that fortitude later arose Jewish
cities, towns and villages such as Itamar, Kedumim, Shaarei Tikvah, Ariel and
Elon Moreh, with Samaria now home to tens of thousands of inhabitants in dozens
of thriving Jewish communities.
In 2005, during the expulsion from Gush
Katif, four communities in northern Samaria were also uprooted. But that setback
has not dented the continued growth of the Jewish presence in the region. Over
2,500 years ago, Jeremiah (31:4) foretold that, “You shall again plant vineyards
upon the mountains of Samaria,” and that verse has literally come to life, as
wineries in the region now produce award-winning Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs.
Samaria is home to prominent yeshivot, fine schools and even a newly-accredited
university, as well as large industrial parks and businesses. For the Jews of
Samaria to have accomplished so much in so little time, with so many daunting
diplomatic and political obstacles standing in their way, truly is a Hanukka
miracle worth celebrating.
And lest you think this would constitute
politicization of the holiday, think again. It is a historical fact that the
Maccabees were observant Jews who undertook construction projects in Judea and
Samaria and dreamt of asserting Jewish sovereignty over the entire Land of
They were religious-nationalists whose modern-day incarnations
are those much of the Western press and the international community just love to
bash and demonize. Consider the following: In the year 145 BCE, more than seven
centuries before Islam was founded, the Hasmonean king Jonathan, Judah the
Maccabee’s brother, attacked Gaza and forced its population to sue for peace, as
recounted in the First Book of Maccabees (11:62).
His brother Simon, who
succeeded him, later captured Gaza and pacified its population, which had been
agitating against the Judean kingdom. He sent Jews to settle Gaza, and even
built himself a home there, sending a clear message that the Jews were there to
stay. In Samaria, one can find the remains of fortresses that were erected by
the Hasmonean dynasty, such as the one on the Horn of Sarbata, a mountain
overlooking the Jordan Valley, where the Alexandrion fortress was built by King
Alexander Yanai. And Yochanan Hyrcanus, Judah the Maccabee’s nephew, is well
known for his military campaign against the Seleucids in Samaria, where he
liberated the city of Shechem and restored it to Jewish control.
Hanukka is about far more than just the victories of the past, which continue to
illuminate our present. It is also a sacred triumph, one that in the modern era
is embodied by the spirit of Samaria, which continues to breathe renewed life
and purpose into our national rebirth. As the heroes of Hanukka did long ago,
and their 20th-century heirs in Samaria have demonstrated, a little Jewish
fortitude can go a very long way.
The Maccabees loved and fought for the
entire Land of Israel. Shouldn’t we?
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