Chanukkah – Christmas, 2016

In Israel, especially in Orthodox neighborhoods, there are candelabra at the balconies, protected by glass structures, illuminating the surroundings. For eight days, Israel is lit by light, laughter, play and song.

In Israel, freshly cut Arizona cypress trees are being distributed for a symbolic price for the Christian community (and foreign diplomats and the foreign press) to utilize and enjoy.

This year, terrorism hit with widespread forest fires. The headlines read, “Israel is burning.” Yet, all that terrorism achieved is to galvanize the spirit, reignite the determination and conviction and remind us what is really important.

As he called to wish Chag Samech (Happy Chanukkah), my friend Brad Greenberg said: “Be thankful there is Christmas; be grateful that you can celebrate Christmas!”

The joy of the season is magnified this year in light of what is happening all around us. The mere ability to worship, celebrate and enjoy the spirit of Christmas – something we take so readily for granted – is like the light of candles in the darkness: fragile, uncertain, yet with immense potential to conquer the darkness.

christmas chanukka 2016.In Europe, Christmas is being ushered by terrorist attacks (and if last year is any indication, women beware during New Year). There are entire areas under Sharia Law with no access to Christians, and there are countries where the name “Christ” is no longer allowed.

Europeans are dying, and their birthrate is approaching negative territory, whereas the immigrant Muslim population is exploding. Europe is being replaced by Eurabia.

In Israel, the birthplace of Christianity, any connection between the Temple Mount and the Holy Temple with Judaism and Christianity has been conveniently erased by a UN body: UNESCO declared the place to be a Muslim heritage site. It may seem inconsequential, but it is not. The poison is percolating the global mindset. Another victory has been achieved.

The process of erosion has accelerated: First, physical evidence has been destroyed when hundreds of truckloads of “dirt” from Solomon Stables on Temple Mount were removed by the Muslim Wakf that manages the place and dumped like trash to a ravine. Then, the spiritual connection is being destroyed, thus leaving humanity with a mere memory of what once were Judaism and Christianity.

Nine centuries before the appearance of Muhammad, Jews in Judea and Samaria fought the Greeks and prevailed. Today we are told these areas of Zion Jerusalem are “occupied” by “settlements,” and the UN is planning to send observers and to segregate any product from there by special markings. (Some eighty years ago, the Nazis used a Yellow Star to identify Jews. Today, the UN is marking Israel, in preparation to what may come next.)

We already hear the voices that call the Jews to pack their belongings and return to the places from where they came. Stripped of any connection to the land, Jews may once again become unwanted guests in lands-not-theirs. The craving of two millennia “for next year in Jerusalem,” the promise “If I forget you, Oh, Jerusalem,” praying toward Jerusalem and the fact that wherever Jews are buried, they always face Jerusalem, are all ignored, as is the Bible, archeology and any historical records.

Once before, the Nazis tried to do something similar. First they started burning books, then the burned the Jews, apparently refusing to acknowledge history: Empires rose and fell, and the Jewish people are still here. The Jews are not vermin or cockroaches; the Jews are a Light Unto the Nations.

The two centuries leading to the Common Era saw the rule of the Greeks. From 175 to 164 b.c., Antiochus IV (also known in Judaism as “Antiochus the Evil”) was in charge, and the Jews of Israel were being Hellenized. The Greeks did not want to eradicate the Jews or erase them off the map. Quite on the contrary, they had a great respect to the Jews. But they expected the Jews to become one of them, in behavior and thought.

God had to cease, so no circumcision, no Shabbat observance and no other acts unique to Judaism. The men were to join gymnasiums and dress like the Greeks, and God was to become one of many, reduced to non-being. Many Jews in Israel followed suit, fully assimilating, but a small group stood firm.

A Jewish high priest from Modi-im rebelled. Matityahu and his five sons, also known as the Hashmonaim or Maccabim prevailed and ruled until 32 b.c. (the Maccabiah Games are derived from the same word, that abbreviates four words from Moses Song, Exodus 15:11: “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the might?”).

It was that rebellion that is considered a miracle. A few against many led by Judea the Maccabi. Two millennia later, a handful rose again, in the Warsaw Ghetto, and for almost an entire month stood their ground against the Nazi war machine.

The miracle of God’s greatness – of a few against the many – is thus remembered and celebrated to this very day.

Another miracle is highlighted. When the Hashmonaim cleared the Temple (the one that is now controlled by the Muslim Wakf and has apparently no connection to Judaism), the olive oil there used to light the Menorah was not sanctified, and it would have taken time to prepare new olive oil suitable for worship.

Only a tiny tin was found with olive oil that could be used, enough to last for one day. Another miracle happened, and the olive oil lasted for eight full days (until new olive oil was available to continue the work of the Cohanim – priests – at the Temple).

Thus, to this very day, we light candles for eight days, starting with one on the first night and adding an additional one each night. These candles are to be watched and enjoyed but not used, so we are not allowed to use them to light one another. A separate candle is used, “The Server,” or Shamash.

Eight indicates transcendence from the orderly world (the seven days of creation) to the spiritual. (Circumcision, for example, takes place on the eight day.)

Thus came about Chanukkah, the holiday of miracles. It is also known as the Festival of Lights, or Festival of Inauguration (re-dedication of the Temple). We are told (Maccabim Book II) that it was really the Festival of Tabernacles postponed (as it could not be celebrated before the rebellion). For eight days, we eat potato pancakes (“levivot”) and doughnuts (“sufganiot”), all reminding us the miracle of the oil.

Chanukkah is not included in the Jewish Bible, but it is mentioned in the New Testament (John 10:22): It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. (New Living Translation)

Chanukkah is celebrated starting the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev for eight days: 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31st, 1st. While the Hebrew calendar is a lunar one, the fact that Christmas later evolved to be on the 25th of December, “in the middle of winter,” just eight days before New Year, is not a coincidence.

Nor is it a coincidence that this year, when the two calendars (Jewish and Gregorian) identically overlap, we celebrate Christmas Eve and the eve of the first night of Chanukkah at the same time.

It is a signal to all of us – Jews and Christians alike – that we are one; we must stand together lest “a house divided falls.” Our roots are one and the same, making us inseparable. Also, our enemies do not differentiate between us – to them, we are all one enemy, the army of non-believers, composed of “pigs and apes,” the Saturday and the Sunday people.

So let us celebrate Christmas; let us celebrate the eight days of Chanukkah, for miracles happened at that time so long ago and in these very days. Let us celebrate the Glory and Might of God, Lord of Hosts, for He is our Salvation, our past, our future and our present.

Here is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Christmas greetings (2016):

To all of our Christian friends around the world, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I send you these greetings from Jerusalem. I’m standing in the courtyard of this magnificent International Christian Embassy. I’m so proud of our relations with our Christian brothers and sisters. I wonder for many of you if you remember the experience you had when you first visited Israel, when you saw the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Via Dolorosa or the Sea of Galilee or Nazareth. I’m sure it moved you deeply.

And it moves us deeply to have this bond with you because we all know that this land of Israel is the land of our common heritage. It changed the story of humanity, it changed civilization. What a magnificent heritage it is. Yet, we also know that it is under attack these days, that the forces of intolerance, of barbarism that attack all religions attack Christians with particular vehemence. We stand with you and I’m proud of the fact that in Israel, this is the one place in the Middle East that the Christian community not only survives but thrives and it’s no accident. It’s because of our commitment to religious freedom; it’s because of our embrace of our heritage; it’s because of our embrace of our common future.

So please come to Israel. Come and visit me, I’m waiting for you. It will be a great experience for you. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.