View from Netanya

Chanukah has arrived in Israel and with it all the joys of this midwinter festival. Chanukiot abound in all places, and the custom to light seems to be universal and not restricted to the observant.

The schools are off, more or less, although as with England not every school keeps to the same dates for holidays and parents have to cover the gap. All over the country, on all major public buildings, you can find a Menorah spreading a message of freedom and the defeat of enemies which resonates with the Israelis. It is not difficult to reset the defeat of the Hellenistic Syrians by the numerically inferior Maccabees into a modern context.

All Jewish festivals are a challenge to the waistline, but Chanukah particularly so! I can clearly remember as a child grating potatoes so that my Bobba (grandmother) could make latkes. I actually read somewhere the other day a theory that doughnuts were a popular meal in the time of the Maccabees but this really beggars belief!

And yet the story of Chanukah has a worldwide significance that goes far beyond Judaism. We all know how the Maccabees defeated their enemies who were numerically and militarily much stronger. We all know the story of the one day supply of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days. What we fail to consider is the important position that Chanukah holds in the history of Christianity and Islam, as well as Judaism.

If the Maccabees had not been victorious, then Judaism might well have disappeared. There was virtually no Jewish Diaspora in those days and the extinction of the Jewish community in the land of Israel would have been final. Christianity could not have developed as an offshoot of Judaism, nor would Islam have come into being. The world would be very different, a Hellenistic and possibly idolatrous society. Quite a lot to come from a little cruse of oil!