The legacy of Chanukah – the centrality of liberty and morality, freedom of religion and defiance of immense odds – has played a major role in shaping the American ethos and state of mind from the Early Pilgrims, through the Founding Fathers’ War of Independence and their composition/ratification the US Constitution until today.
The Chanukah holiday sheds light on Judeo-Christian values, which have imbued the United States since the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620, including the unique and positive attitude, by most Americans, toward the Jewish State.
According to the Diary of Michael and Louisa Hart, George Washington was introduced to Chanukah in December 1777 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, when he challenged the much superior British military. A Jewish solider lit a Chanukah candle, explaining its significance: a conviction-driven, tactical victory against immense odds. Washington replied: “I rejoice in the Maccabees’ success, though it is long past… It pleases me to think that miracles still happen.” During June 19-28, 1778, Washington implemented the battle tactics of Judah the Maccabee, defeating the British troops.
“In God We Trust” is a derivative of the Maccabees’ battle cry, an adaptation of Moses’ battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf: “Whoever trusts God; join me!”
In 1921, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis stated: “As part of the eternal worldwide struggle for democracy, the struggle of the Maccabees is of eternal worldwide interest….”
On October 16, 2018, the US Postal Services issued the annual Chanukah stamp (since 1996), portraying a Menorah, which is a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day holiday of Chanukah, commemorating the 167 BCE rebellion of the very few, conviction-driven Jewish Maccabees against the most powerful and oppressive Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanies.
On December 8, 2017, President Trump stated, during a candle-lighting at the White House: “The miracle of Chanukah is the miracle of Israel…. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have endured unthinkable persecution and oppression, but no force has ever crushed [their] spirit and no evil has ever extinguished [their] faith….”
On December 14, 2016, President Obama held a candle-lighting at the White House, stating: “We take heart from the Maccabees’ struggle against tyranny, even in our darkest moments, a stubborn flame of hope flickers and miracles are possible…. George Washington was said to have been stirred by the lights of Chanukah after seeing a soldier with a Menorah in the snows of Valley Forge….”
On December 6, 2013, Ambassador Hank Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, wrote: “On this final day of Chanukah, as Jews complete their celebration of the Maccabee victory two millennia ago, all Americans should remember our common love of liberty, the heritage that has set the West apart, and the common enemy that threatens our very existence and freedom today. We need modern day Maccabees to preserve that heritage of liberty for our posterity….”
In December, 1993, a cinderblock was hurled through a window of a Jewish family in Billings, Montana, which displayed a Chanukah Menorah. The response by the 80,000 residents, including 50 Jewish families, was: “Not in our town!” Thus, the Billings Gazette published a full-page photograph of a Menorah, which was photocopied by local businesses, pasted on billboards and on windows of thousands of homes in Billings. In addition, scores of persons marched on Billings’ main street holding Menorahs. Since 1994, an annual Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony has been held at the State Capitol in Helena, Montana. Moreover, in April, 1994, a few hundred Billings residents joined the Jewish community for a Seder, the traditional Passover meal.
Founded in 1802, the West Point Military Academy has displayed a statue of Judah the Maccabee along with additional outstanding military leaders such as Joshua, King David, Alexander the Great, Hector, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon – “The Nine Worthies.”
“The modern day Maccabees” were the 18th century key leaders of the American revolution against the British Empire such as the “Father of his country” President George Washington, the “Colossus of Independence” President John Adams, the “Apostle of Democracy” President Thomas Jefferson, “Lightning Rod” Benjamin Franklin, “Give me liberty or give me death” Patrick Henry, “the British are coming” Paul Revere, “Common Sense” Thomas Paine, the organizers of the Boston Tea Party, etc.. Just like the Maccabees, so were the rebels against the British Crown, initially, a minority opposed by the “loyalists”/”pragmatists.”
In 2018, the US and Israel are the only two Western democracies, which adhere to the legacy of the Maccabees, displaying allegiance to liberty and morality, while refusing to retreat in the face of threats, pressure and seduction; unwilling to sacrifice long-term realism and conviction on the altar of short-term opportunism and gratification; demonstrating tenacity-at-any-price in face of ruthless and cunning rogue regimes, which benefit from the Western tailwinds of appeasement, vacillation, wishful-thinking and oversimplification (the modern day “loyalists”/’pragmatists”).