Hanukkah – Our Trust Deed to History
My grandson asked why we make such a big fuss about Hanukkah. By the tone of his voice, I could tell that a juicy recipe of latkes and donuts will not work this year, nor will another story of the miracle of the lonely oil vessel, nor even the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian army in 161 BC. After all, the Bible is full of miracles, miracle makers, wars and battles, winners and losers.
I told him honestly what Hanukkah means to me: “Hanukkah is our trust deed to the birth-place of our history, more solid even than the ancient synagogues they are excavating in Israel, or the arch of Titus in Rome, with the Temple ornaments carved in marble.”
“Stones can be faked,” I told him, “not so a continuous collective memory, passed on from father and mother to son and daughter, over 110 generations. An unassailable proof that no one can fake.”
Recollecting back, this was also the answer my mother gave me when I asked what Hanukkah meant to her. “I came to Israel in the eve of Hanukkah, 1935,” she said. “The first day after my arrival, I met a neighbor, a teacher who invited me to visit her kindergarten. There I experienced one of the happiest days in my life. Scores of children were standing there loudly singing Hanukkah songs, in Hebrew, as if this was the most natural thing to do, as if they were singing those songs for hundreds of years.”
“Why the wonder?” I asked. “Didn’t your family celebrate Hanukkah in Poland?”
“Not exactly,” she said. “Yes, we lit the candles, but it was in a dark corner, with my father whispering the blessings and mumbling Maoz Tzur quietly. You see, the neighbors were Gentile, and he did not feel comfortable advertising that we celebrated a Jewish holiday. And here I come and suddenly find these toddlers singing ‘Maccabee Gibbor!’ (Maccabee, my hero) in full volume, and in the open courtyard.”
Only those who have gone through the exhilarating experience of a people returning to its homeland could truly appreciate the gift that history has bestowed upon the Jews: singing “Maccabee Gibbor” in the language it was sung in Jerusalem 2,200 years ago. And only those whose homecoming saga has been undermined and distorted can understand the power of this historical connection.
Israel’s neighbors, lacking such biblical connection, have understood the power of trust deeds. This was apparent at the 2000 Camp David Summit, when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could not contain himself and whispered in President Clinton’s ear: “Everyone knows that Jews did not have a Temple in Jerusalem.”
At some point, Dr. Saeb Erekat (the chief Palestinian negotiator) had decided that the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanite tribes conquered by Joshua. This, he said later, prevents him and any Palestinian from ever accepting Israel as a Jewish state.
When I first heard about the Palestinian-Canaanite connection, I could not help but imagine how lonely it must be for a Palestinian boy not to be able to sing “Canaanite-Gibbor” in the language of his ancestors, not to have Canaanite role models after which to name songs, towns, and holidays, and, more lonely yet, to be taught by teachers who had never heard of his Canaanite ancestors when they went to kindergarten.
Just four days ago, December 18, 2019, the same Dr. Erekat tweeted a video titled “Merry Palestinian Christmas” saying: “Jesus was one of us. He didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, he wasn’t from Kentucky. He looked like DJ Khaled, minus 200 pounds. Mary too was a Palestinian, Mary’s grandmother – a Palestinian, John the Baptist, St. George, the apostles – all Palestinians. Palestine has so much history…” and on and on.
This is not a joke. It is in fact the cause, the root, and the essence of the Palestinian tragedy. The feeling of unworthy claimants has haunted their leadership since my grandfather arrived in 1924 to rebuild the Biblical town of Bnei Brak, and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem understood that these Jewish emigrants were no crusaders, nor Mongolian invaders, but the original owners of the place, with Biblical names to name a town and with kindergarten toddlers singing “Maccabee Gibbor.”
The tragedy is that, rather than accepting Ben Gurion’s plea, “You don’t need to build Temples to be equally indigenous; centuries of physical presence is your trust deed,” the Palestinians chose to reject mutual recognition and go for exclusive endogeneity status.
Unable to celebrate any holiday connected to the land to which they claim sole ownership, unable to chant a single hymn authored in the days of Jesus or Judas Maccabeus, lacking in fact any cultural connection to those days, the Palestinian leadership has been laboring relentlessly to fabricate such connection, and to seize, misappropriate, and distort the heritage of their neighbors.
The tragedy is that they are still hoping to be taken seriously and well-intentioned if and when they return to the negotiating table. If only Dr. Erekat understood what his circus is doing to Palestinian credibility.
Standing tall above this circus, Hanukkah remains the one unchallenged trust deed to the birthplace of our history. Let’s think about it this week when we sing the song “Maccabee Gibbor!” that my mother so loved.
Judea Pearl is Chancellor’s professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), which promotes press freedom and East-West understanding. This article was originally published at The Jewish Journal.