Chanukah: a celebration of light, freedom, heroism and courage, the spirit of the Maccabees and the miracle of the vessel of oil. Of all the Hebrew songs we sing at Chanukah, I cherish one above all others: “Anu Nosim Lapidim — We are Carrying Torches” by Aharon Zeev.
“We are carrying torches through dark nights” the song begins, sharing the story of the long challenging path of the Zionist movement — the path of the Jewish people gaining back their old land. “A miracle never happened to us. No vessel of oil did we find,” claims the lyricist. “We descended to the valley and we climbed the mountain … We quarried in the stone until we bled” and only then there was light! (Let there be light!) Zeev is telling us about the modern miracle of the Jewish democratic state of Israel, a miracle created by men and women who worked hard, shoulder to shoulder, making this dream come true.
It was not a simple task; many miracles “happened” along the way. Below is a glance at some of them:
Aug. 23, 1929: Palestinian Arabs attacked the Jewish community across the Land of Zion (controlled at the time by the British) causing at least 123 Jewish deaths and 339 Jewish wounded. As in a miracle this terrifying event did not weaken the Zionist movement. The following year was the beginning of the Fifth Aliyah in which approximately 280,000 Jews came to live in the land of Israel, the land of their fathers, despite tremendous efforts by the British to prevent them from doing so.
Nov. 29,1947: U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 created two states in the land of Israel, a Jewish state alongside an Arab one. The resolution was accepted by the Jewish people but rejected by the Arabs. On May 14, 1948 the local Palestinian Arabs joined their brothers from five Arab states — Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria — in a united attack on the young state of Israel. As in a miracle the Jewish state of Israel survived!
1948-1951: The massive aliyah of over 900,000 Jewish people tripled the number of Jewish people in the land of Israel. Among the new immigrants were over 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. As in a miracle the young Jewish state was able to surmount this unprecedented economic and social challenge.
1950-1956: Palestinian Fedayeen terrorists attacked Jewish towns at the southern border of Israel.
June 5, 1967: The Six Day War began.
Oct. 6, 1973: The Yom Kippur War began.
Through the years, the state and the people of Israel faced many more challenges, a list longer than the page can hold. Despite all the challenges as in a miracle the state of Israel not only survived but continues to thrive. Israel created an outstanding high-tech industry. Israel was the only western country to have more trees in the year 2000 than it had in 1900. Israel has more Nobel prize winners per capita than any other country in the world. Israel revived the Hebrew language and Jewish studies; it has generated more Hebrew articles in 63 years than were written in over 2,000 years. Israel is a world leader in the development of medicine and health care devices. Just recently Israel was accepted to the exclusive Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Israel was the only country to launch a massive operation to save people from starvation in Ethiopia, offering them a new home and full citizenship. Israel is one of the first to send aid and support to other countries in the world in times of need as was the case with the Haitian earthquake. It is a miracle.
Happy Chanukah, let there be light!
Guy Gelbart is Tucson’s shaliach (Israeli emissary) and director of the Israel Center.