The Political Lesson of Hanukkah

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FILE PHOTO: Policemen guard as Jewish youths leave Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. September 22, 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Policemen guard as Jewish youths leave Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. September 22, 2015. Credit: Reuters

My dear grandson, happy holiday. I want to tell you a story about Hanukkah and why we celebrate it. It’s a story about Jews, knives, religious faith and good fanaticism.

Many years ago there was an occupier in the country. We had many occupiers, but we remember this one in particular. They didn’t have one God like ours and rabbis to tell them what is right and what is a total sin. They were “free thinkers.” At first they didn’t prevent us from continuing with the faith of our forefathers and we didn’t pay attention to their strange rituals. They even ate and sacrificed – oy vey – pig meat. My sweetie pie, we’re not allowed to say “yuck” about sacrifices, but it was “almost yucky.”

They believed in philosophy, worshipped a lot of idols, and were real pluralists. They were familiar with a lot of philosophies from all over the world and had a kind of malign tolerance – they called it Hellenism. Imagine: a nation that wasn’t fanatical about anything. Not willing to be killed to sanctify God’s name. Strange, isn’t it? Afterwards they had problems, their kings spilled each other’s blood until they had no money left and they began to plunder, even our beloved Temple. Never mind, we suffered in silence, because it’s only money. But one day one of them decided that he didn’t like our independence on the Temple Mount, in our private Temple, and decided to change the status quo.

Unbelievable, they wanted to be sovereigns in our Temple, with their gods and symbols and sacrifices. You don’t understand why they weren’t sensitive? After all, as opposed to them we didn’t have a country, an army or a government of our own. Only in the House of God, in our spiritual center, did we feel at home. That’s where we went on pilgrimages on festivals, prayed, brought sacrifices and were united. Suddenly they came and because of their own political problems, not ours, they wanted to take away that little bit and we were really angry.

I must explain to you who were the people were who “were angry,” in the plural. At the time we were a totally disintegrated society. Rich and poor were separate, the center of the country and the villages had no contact. Only faith made us unique and connected all of us, and the Temple was the center of all these separate crumbs. And then those terrible Greeks, the occupiers, declared a religious war against us. Determined to Hellenize us, they mixed up our language, placed checkpoints at all kinds of roads that were ours alone, entered our villages, our families and our souls. I think they really thought that there is no such thing as a Jewish nation.

And as though that weren’t enough, they nurtured all kinds of “Hellenizers” from among us. Who spoke Greek, engaged in sports, loved theater, traveled abroad and wore nice clothes like theirs. All the new aristocrats, the arrogant and well-connected, had it good. They traveled from place to place without any problems, they had money for life’s pleasures. And only we the poor, transparent, traditional ones paid all the price tags of both groups.

In the end we couldn’t stand it any longer. Enough already! To be poor, to pay all the taxes and the prices, and to lose the Temple too! They overdid it, so we rebelled. One man, Mattathias the Hasmonean, the priest, became a national hero. Courageously he stabbed the head officer of the Greeks in Modi’in. After that targeted assassination of the occupier and the despicable collaborators, knives ran rampant in the country for many years.

Mattathias’ descendants established a Jewish authority for us that ruled here for many years. And you know what’s funny, you know how it collapsed and fell? Because of knives. Those of the Jewish dagger men – the Sicarii – who carried on the legacy of knifing of Mattathias and his sons.

By then there were no longer Greeks here but rather other occupiers, the Romans. And in their language “sica” is a sharp and curved knife like the Arabs’ shibriya. They used it to stab anyone they didn’t like. They were religious fanatics like the old priest from Modi’in, and they stabbed and killed and murdered until the city was destroyed. But that’s already another story for another holiday. All I wanted to tell you is that stabbing is part of our heritage and our precious memories. Happy holiday.

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