For too many, Hanukkah is about children’s festivals and donuts, and we have forgotten what the main story is really about.
The real story of Hanukkah is a brave military victory of the Hasmonean rebels against the occupying Greeks that culminated in the liberation of the Jewish Temple from foreign dominion.
We took a narrative of victory, not a parable or a literary story but a historical event that took place in reality, one of the most glorious of victories of the Jewish people for generations, and converted it into a narrative of fritters and donuts.
The miracle of the oil is not the main event of Hanukkah and the lighting of the Hanukkah candles is not the major symbol of it.
Victory should be the central symbol of this holiday in our Jewish tradition.
What happened to downplaying the victory element in the Hanukkah story?
This is largely a result of our 2,000 years of exile when Jews lived as a persecuted and frightened minority among foreigners.
Although the Jews contributed a lot to the development of the lands where they lived in the fields of economy, science and culture, in return they were oppressed, expelled and murdered. The more they tried to assimilate, the more they were punished. The more they wanted to be isolated, the more they were displaced.
During the long and difficult diaspora, there was no hope for self-defense by force of arms, certainly not in returning to their ancestral and indigenous homeland as a sovereign people. If they were celebrating a holiday about a military victory, especially against an ancient European superpower, they would expose themselves to mockery, and more hatred and violence. Thus over the years, the Hanukkah holiday became a holiday of lighting candles and oily foods.
The children are happy, the neighbors are calm.
Return to victory
The return to the victorious legacy of the Hasmoneans appeared again only with the development of the Zionist movement and the establishment of the Jewish underground in the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel, which would later become the Israel Defense Forces.
THE ZIONISTS began to give an expansive and heroic interpretation of the victories of the Hasmoneans and Maccabees. Sports events and clubs were named after them, broadcasting a sign of strength and bravery. It is symbolic and exciting that Israel’s leading basketball team, which plays all over Europe, is named after those Hanukkah heroes, the Maccabees.
A people that was scared for 2,000 years, cannot get used to power in 120 years of Zionism and 73 years of sovereignty.
This is evident not only in the field of collective memory and Israel’s holidays but it is also evident in our relations with other nations. We still invest excessively in an effort to please and reassure them, and to convince them that we pursue peace and justice - a nation with the most moral army in the world - even after they have proven to us countless times that it does not make an impression on them.
Some of them still try to convince us with lies that we have no place under the sun and this tiny slither of land that we have returned to does not belong to us.
Today, Israel is a world power militarily, politically, economically and technologically; however, our enemies still recognize weakness, complacency and fear in us. This is why they continue to fight against us. This is, first of all, because we lack a sense of victory and confidence in the righteousness of our past and present actions.
Even though during its 74 years of sovereignty, Israel won wars, being “the few against the many,” there is still a fear of celebrating our strength. The word “victory” is still seen as arrogant or extreme.
Why is there no Victory Day in Israel like there is in many other countries around the world? This Hanukkah, even while enjoying our donuts or songs, we should also proudly remember our victories and why we need to keep a sense of the need to defeat our enemies who threaten us close to our hearts. The spirit of the Maccabees should no longer be theoretical.
The Hanukkah holiday symbolizes, for us, the need to celebrate victories, and put an end to the exile in our minds and spirit. Only then will those who try to destroy us know that there is a people here who will not accept defeat and will celebrate victory.
The author is a member of the Israel Victory Project and was previously an adviser to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and a member of the Executive Board of the World Zionist Organization.