The legacy of Chanukah – faith, patriotism, defiance of extreme odds and tenacity in the battle of liberty against tyranny – has underlined the American spirit since the early Pilgrims, enhancing the unique foundation of the US-Israel covenant: shared values.
For instance, the statue of Judah the Maccabee, the hero of the Jewish rebellion against the Syrian-Seleucid Empire, is displayed at the West Point Military Academy, the most prestigious US military academy, founded in 1802. The statue of Judah the Maccabee, known for his principle-driven leadership and daring battle tactics, is displayed along with the statues of Joshua, David, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hector, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon – “the Nine Worthies.”
George Washington became acquainted with the spirit of the Maccabees, upon settling, in December (Chanukah) 1777, at his new headquarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, with ill-equipped, weary troops. Faced with a super-power, George III of Britain, Washington concluded that only a dramatic change could avoid a defeat. According to the diary entries of Louisa Hart, Washington told the Harts about a Jewish solider at Valley Forge who lit a Chanukah candle and explained its significance. Washington’s reaction was: “Perhaps we are not as lost as our enemies would have us believe. I rejoice in the Maccabees’ success, though it is long past…It pleases me to think that miracles still happen.” Six months later, on June 19, 1778, the Continental Army implemented the battle tactics of Judah the Maccabee, leaving Valley Forge in pursuit of the British, who were moving towards New York. Although the war would linger for five more years, Washington won a decisive victory.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were inspired by the Maccabees, proposing “Rebellion against Tyrants is obedience to God” as the American official seal. Just like the Founding Fathers, the Maccabees were a tiny minority of “rebels” – condemned by the “loyalist/pragmatist” Jewish establishment – rebelling against an oppressive super-power. They prevailed due to their conviction-driven determination. They knew that swimming against the stream gets one closer to the source. The Maccabees were a role-model for Paul Revere, who was referred to as “a modern day Maccabee” and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party, who realized that there were no free lunches for freedom-seeking nations.
“In God We Trust” was inspired, also, by the Maccabees’ battle cry, which adopted Moses’ battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf. A literal translation of the battle cry is “Whoever trusts God; join me!” The Maccabees’ sacrifice and political-incorrectness, also, inspired Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.”
In 2011, Chanukah is still a living experience in the US. For example, the residents of Billings, Montana celebrate Chanukah in solidarity with the Jewish community of forty families, and in protest of the 1993 vandals who broke windows of Jewish homes that displayed Chanukah menorahs. In response, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents put make-shift menorahs in their own windows. They persist, annually, in this ritual.
Chanukah and the Maccabees have become an integral part of the American way of life, culturally and politically. Americans respect the legacy of the Maccabees, who fought the Syrian-Seleucid super-power, mostly, in the mountains of Judea and Samaria, in the Judean Desert and in Jerusalem. Judah the Maccabee’s own Valley Forge was at Beit El; his capital was Jerusalem; he scored dramatic victories in Beit Horon (over Seron), Hadashah (over Nicanor), Beit Zur (over Lysias) and Ma’aleh Levona (over Apolonius); he was defeated at Elazar and killed at Ba’al Hatzor – all are located beyond the “1967 Lines.”
The descendants of the Maccabees are not “occupiers” in the cradle of their own history. Chanukah is not a holiday of “occupation,” but a holiday of deliverance. Chanukah is a holiday which highlights the moral-high-ground of Jews in their ancestral homeland.
Shimon the Maccabee – who succeeded Judah and Yonatan the Maccabees – articulated the Jewish territorial case, when responding to an ultimatum by Antiochus, who demanded an end to the Jewish “occupation” of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Gaza, Gezer and Ekron: “We have not occupied a foreign land; we have not ruled a foreign land; we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation.”
Pressuring the Jewish State to withdraw from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria defies the American story. Either you are with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and other defenders of liberty, or you provide – inadvertently – a tailwind to the forces of tyranny.