JERUSALEM, Israel – From the time they are old enough to spin a Hanukkah dreidel, Israeli children are taught “a great miracle happened here.”
Hannukah celebrates the victory of a small, vastly outnumbered Jewish fighting force, led by Judas Maccabee over the Syrian army, and the subsequent rededication of the Temple.
That great miracle, remembered with the lighting of the hanukkiot (Hannukah menorah or candelabra), happened right here, in Jerusalem, in 165 BC.
Two years earlier, the armies of the cruel Syrian king, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes, desecrated the Jewish Temple by erecting a statue of Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar there.
The pagan king also banned circumcision and other Jewish observances.
After defeating the Syrians, the Jews set to work cleansing the Holy Temple and rededicating the defiled altar.
According to the story, the Jews discovered only one day's supply of consecrated olive oil to light the menorah. But miraculously, it lasted for eight days until more could be prepared.
Nearly 2,200 years later, some things haven’t changed.
Today, Israel’s enemies, no less determined than those in the past, are amassing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to annihilate the Jews.
Earlier this week, Israeli military intelligence reported that Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip, has vastly increased its weapons arsenal, which includes Iranian-made long-range missiles, smuggled through hundreds of tunnels dug under the border with Egypt.
Iran, with cooperation from Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, continues to arm its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, now an official part of the government.
Last Monday, following meetings with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters he is “keen” on reconciling with Hamas.
Meanwhile, despite the facts on the ground, the Palestinian Authority has managed to gain backing by an increasing number of world leaders.
Last Wednesday evening, a cross-section of Israelis demonstrated against the government’s 10-month construction freeze on Jewish cities and towns in Judea and Samaria, the nation’s biblical heartland.
Many believe that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu capitulated to pressure from the Obama administration, which has aligned itself with similar calls by the European Union, United Nations and the Arab League. Netanyahu's decision may also be affected by Israel's most deadly current nemesis, an Iran pursuing nuclear weapons.
On the Israeli-Palestinian front, some say even a cursory understanding of Palestinian demands – such as Israel’s return to what experts say are the indefensible 1948 armistice lines; dividing its capital, including the Jewish Quarter in the Old City; flooding the Jewish state with Palestinian refugees – would effectively mean the end of the State of Israel.
But the same God who delivered the Jews from Antiochus Ephiphanes 2,200 years ago is still watching over this tiny nation.
The Jewish people comprise less than one percent of the world’s population. But God didn’t choose the nation of Israel because it was great among the nations.
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.” (Deut. 7:6-7)
While Israel has yet to fulfill its God-given calling, to be “a light to the nations,” Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, reminds us that one day, the Jewish people will fulfill its destiny.