Hanukkah’s Legacy in America
The legacy of Hanukkah 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 and ratification of the US Constitution, all the way until today.
Hanukkah sheds light on Judeo-Christian values, which have imbued the United States since the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620. On October 16, 2018, the US Postal Services issued its annual Hanukkah stamp, portraying a menorah, which commemorates the 167 BCE rebellion of the Jewish Maccabees against the powerful and oppressive Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV.
On December 8, 2017, President Trump stated, during a candle-lighting at the White House, “The miracle of Hanukkah 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, where he stated, “We take heart from the Maccabees’ struggle against tyranny, [that] 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 Hanukkah after seeing a soldier with a menorah in the snows of Valley Forge.”
In December, 1993, a cinder block was hurled through a window of a Jewish family home in Billings, Montana, because the family had displayed a menorah. The response by the 80,000 residents of Billings was, “Not in our town.” The Billings Gazette published a full-page photograph of a menorah, which was photocopied by local businesses, and pasted on billboards and on windows of thousands of homes in Billings. In addition, scores of people marched on Billings’ main street, holding menorahs. And since 1994, an annual Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony has been held at the state capitol in Helena, Montana.
The West Point Military Academy displays a statue of Judah the Maccabee alongside other outstanding military leaders, such as Joshua, King David, Alexander the Great, Hector, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.
In 2018, the US and Israel are Western democracies that 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. Both are unwilling to sacrifice long-term realism and conviction on the altar of short-term opportunism and gratification. And they stand defiant in face of ruthless and cunning rogue regimes, which benefit from the Western tailwinds of appeasement, vacillation, wishful thinking, and oversimplification.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: a US-Israel initiative.