The following blog post is by Family Council staff member Deborah Beuerman.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah this year received much more attention in the news than usual because Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlapped for the first time in over 100 years.
Like most non-Jews, I knew little about this festival. I knew it is called The Festival of Lights, that one more candle on a candle stand called a menorah is lighted each day for about a week, that the celebration somehow commemorates a battle, that potato pancakes and dreidels are involved, that it is a minor holiday, and that in this country many Jewish children are given gifts because their parents don’t want them to be envious of Christian children who receive Christmas gifts around the same time.
I was enlightened by a caller to a talk show who explained the meaning of Hanukkah and offered some very thought-provoking insight into the situation in our country today.
The story of Hanukkah began in the reign of Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, who had conquered many nations including the Holy Land. He allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain their own independence to a certain degree. Many Jews adopted much of the Hellenistic, or Greek, culture under this relatively benevolent rule.
A successor of Alexander more than a century later, Antiochus, began to oppress the Jews. He killed many of them, including the priests, installed a Hellenist priest in the temple, desecrated the temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs on the altar, erected a statue of Zeus in the temple, ordering Jews to worship Greek gods, and prohibited the practice of the Jewish religion including the reading of the Torah.
Rebellion broke out, and after three years of fighting the Jews succeeded in driving the government of Antiochus out of Jerusalem. The temple was rededicated, and the menorah was to be lighted, but there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously, it burned for 8 days—the time required to prepare a new supply of oil. And so an eight day festival was declared to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Foods cooked in oil, such as the potato pancakes, are part of remembering the miracle of the oil. It is not the military victory that is commemorated, but the oil. Dreidel was a gambling game. During the oppression when Jews gathered to read the forbidden Torah, a dreidel was quickly pulled out to disguise what they were doing when the soldiers came by, so it is part of the celebration too.
The enlightening caller commented that in the beginning, the Hellenist leaders did not want to get rid of the Jews. They just wanted the Jews to be like the Hellenists, and the Jews were, for the most part, adopting the Hellenist culture, but maintaining their own religion. When the meaner ruler Antiochus came to power, he didn’t want the Jews to retain any of their own identity. When the Jews refused to give up their religion, they were oppressed and suffered greatly. We might compare our current government—with rule by the progressives, the liberals, the left—to Antiochus and his gang. They want everyone to think like them, act like them, and accept their government. They, after all, think they know what is best for the people and the country. (Or is it that they just want power?) They speak of bipartisanship and compromise, but what they really mean is that conservatives and the “right” must capitulate and allow them to be in control.