As we lit the fifth candle of Chanukah in our home in Modiin yesterday, my mind was abuzz with images and emotions of having the fortune to celebrate Chanukah in Israel, in the city where the revolt actually started over two millennia ago!
Chanukah is so much more significant in Israel than in the Diaspora. There is a sense outside Israel that the minor rabbinic festival of Chanukah was given a new life in order to “compete” with Christmas. In Israel, by contrast, Chanukah was given a new lease of life by the nascent Zionist movement.
When one is in Israel during a religious or nationalistic Jewish holiday one feels what it is like, as a Jew, to be part of a majority culture in at least one country on earth. The whole country is literally lit up with Chanukiot (Menorahs) in both private homes and public places. Even the train stations have Chanukiot! Children are off school and many, including my family, are hiking all over the country connecting with our land, our home.
The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated with particular zeal by all the Jewish streams in Israel, albeit for different reasons. When lighting the candles and celebrating, the Ultra-Orthodox focus of the religious significance; “the miracle of the oil.” The secular Zionists emphasis the nationalistic significance; “the miracle of the return of the Jewish people to our land and the ability to defend ourselves,” and the National-Religious focus of a mixture of both the religious and nationalistic significance.
I vividly remember a few years ago during my Milluim (reserve IDF duty) lighting the chanukiah for my combat unit in the middle of the desert and singing together with my fellow IDF soldiers from all different backgrounds the Al Hanissim prayer and thinking of the significance of the words: “The few against the many…in those days and in these days.” As I light the Channukiah with my family and friends I thank God that we have a State that reminds us that we Jews are not just people of the Book but also people of the land. Chag Urim Sameach!