Some 20,000 IDF soldiers are this week attending special tours of the country, based on the history and traditions of Hanukkah. The “In the Footsteps of the Maccabees” program has exposed many soldiers to history and traditions of which they may have not been aware, while showing others the places where the important events from Jewish history actually took place.
Among the sites the soldiers visit are Beit Guvrin, Modi'in, Latrun, Jerusalem, and Gush Etzion. All these places were key sites in the wars between the Maccabees and their supporters against the Greek occupying forces and their Hellenist compatriots.
Participating in the tours are soldiers from all communal and religious backgrounds. The highlight of the program is a candle lighting event in the amphitheater at Latrun, where a large memorial to the IDF Tank Corps is located. Also participating are families who have lost soldiers in combat. Leading the candle lighting service is Chief IDF Cantor Ofir Sobol. Joining the soldiers on Tuesday will be President Shimon Peres and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
Speaking at one of the events, IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz said that “the best part of these events is the feeling of unity that comes out of gathering everyone from many different locations – including towns, cities, and army bases. The hanukkiyah (Hanukkah menorah) is unique. It does not have one light, but 9, which shine brightly when they are all lit. There is a place for all the lights, and this is how the IDF sees things,” said Rabbi Peretz.