Jews young and old know the story of Chanukah – the persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Seleucid Syrian-Greek Hellenists, the dramatic uprising of a small Jewish group that took on the mightiest armies of the day, and the highlight of the holiday – the miracle of the oil and the reclamation of the Holy Temple.
Like so many of our holidays, Chanukah has a rich history. But unlike many of the holidays, Chanukah's history is easily accessible. That's because the miracles of the holiday – the weak defeating the strong, the righteous defeating the wicked, and the oil that lasted for eight days – all took place in the Land of Israel, mostly in Judea and Samaria. And while most of us know of the connection of the city of Modi'in to the Maccabees – it was in the Modi'in area where the Maccabee family lived and formed their resistance to the Hellenizing enemy that sought to tear the Jewish people away from their religion – there are many other sites in the Land of Israel where the Maccabees' story unfolded.
The sites where major battles and events took place have long been known to archaeologists and historians, and this year, the Yesha Council (Communities of Judea and Samaria -ed.) along with local authorities in Judea and Samaria, is sponsoring a Chanukah Candle Lighting Festival at sites throughout the area where important events in the history of Chanukah occurred.
Candle lighting ceremonies are scheduled to be held in the communities of Elazar, Karmei Tsur, Beit El, Beit Horon, and other modern-day towns built adjacent to the sites of historical events that took place in the Chanukah era on several nights of Chanukah. A map with details, locations, times and events can be downloaded from the Yesha website www.myesha.org.il.
On Wednesday night, the first night of Chanukah, candle lighting events will be held at Karmei Tsur in Judea, a modern-day town north of Hevron built on the site of the Maccabee-era town of Beit Tsur – the site of the final battle in which the Maccabees finally drove the Syrian army out of the country. It was from Beit Tsur that the Syrian army fled back to their homeland, and the event on Wednesday night will highlight that history, in a talk given there by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
Also on Wednesday night, a candle lighting ceremony will be held at Elazar, in Gush Etzion in Judea, the site of the Maccabee-era Beit Zecharia (a site now known as Hirbit Zecharia). At this site, the Maccabees suffered their first major losses – where Elazar Maccabee fell in a battle crushed by one of the Syrian army's elephants. Elazar, named for the fallen hero, is across the road from the city of Efrat.
On Thursday, the action moves to modern-day Beit El in Benjamin, the site of Judah Maccabee's last battle. Events next week will be held at Beit Horon (site of Judah Maccabee's victory over Syrian general Siron) right off route 443 between Jerusalem and Modiin, at the Hasmonean Palace at Sartava, near Jericho, and in Ateret, north of Jerusalem in Samaria, where Judah Maccabee established the resistance's center of operations after escaping from Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, December 8, the final night of Chanukah, a special candle-lighting event will be held at the Hulda Gate at the foot of the Temple Mount, where the miracle of the long-burning oil reached its apex.
The Yesha Council has extended an invitation to all residents and visitors in Israel to come and join the celebration, and to get in touch with the “living history” of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria.