In the footsteps of the Maccabees

In the footsteps of the Maccabees

Many Jewish holidays celebrate events that did not occur in the land of Israel. For example Purim originated from a Persian story, Pesach commemorates our exodus from Egypt, and Sukkot is about the time spent in the Sinai Desert.

Chanukah, a very Israeli holiday, commemorating events that occurred in Israel some ‘,100 years ago, is an exception, and I suggest an exceptional way of celebrating this holiday. The celebration I have in mind can only take place in Israel, but if you use your imagination, you can take a walk with me through the sites of the events, as our brave ancestors the Maccabees did centuries ago.


According to tradition, the Maccabees are buried at this site.

Much controversy remains regarding the exact location of the village of Modi’in, but most scholars agree it is close to the Arab village of Midia. The most accessible site to visit is just off Route 443 on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The sign says "The Macabees’ Graves" (Kivrot HaMakabim), and refers to a series of carved graves in the hard limestone, on top of a little hill.

On the eve of Chanukah in the year 1907, a group of 18 students from the Gymnasia Herzlia, a high school in Jaffa, went on a field trip in search of ancient Modi’in, and when they approached the area they met an Arab shepherd and asked him where they could find the Maccabees’ graves. The shepherd said that he knew of a site named "Kubur El Yahud," which means "the graves of the Jews" and led the group of students to the spot. They arrived just before dark, lit the first Chanukah candle, danced and sang half the night and then made their way to Ben Shemen.

So began a tradition, connecting this site to the Maccabees. Later excavations and research have dismissed this as the site. But tradition can become stronger than the truth.

The majority of Israelis know this site as that of the Maccabees’ graves. On Chanukah 1943, the Maccabi youth organization held its first torch relay from Modi’in to Jerusalem, and this site was chosen for the starting point. This tradition has continued, and every year on the eve of Chanukah hundreds of Maccabi youngsters gather at the site for the lighting of the torch.

Emmaus – Canada Park

Another site recommended for a Chanukah visit is in the heart of the magnificent Canada Park, near Latrun. In the middle of the park, near the water source and the little lake, are the remains of the ancient Hellenistic town of Emmaus. This is the site of one of the Maccabees’ most brilliant battles, when a few brave Jewish fighters defeated the mighty Greco-Syrian army. We read in Maccabi book "A," that the Maccabees fought eight battles against the Hellenistic armies. The third battle is the most famous because of Yehuda’s brilliant tactic of deceiving and outwitting the enemy.

The Greco-Syrian army camped outside of Emmaus, with 40,000 troops and 5,000 cavalry. Yehuda’s army was in the hills with only some 4,000 troops. Yehuda sent rumors that he would camp out all night and make a move in the morning. The Greek general hurried to capture the Maccabees at night, but was surprised to find their camp already empty. Looking back, they saw their own camp on fire; they panicked and fled to Gezer.

The victory was completed only five years later, with the purification of the temple and the establishment of the Hasmonean Jewish dynasty

While visiting this site, stroll on the lush green hills. At this time of the year the lower Judean hills are covered with carpets of wild flowers, daffodils, and crocuses.

Hasmonean Village

The last site to visit in order to complete our Chanukah excursion is the "Hasmonean Village." This site can accommodate families and schools for a day of fun activities and interactive workshops, all planned to teach and preserve the ways of our ancestors. You can press olives to produce oil for your menorah, produce your own ancient coin in an old mint, create your own mosaic art, and prepare food and drink using the local herbs and plants.

Once home it is time to reflect on our good fortune while we light the menorah, and enjoy the soft light and delicious Chanukah food. Here we are, ‘,100 years after these events ,and we can still walk the sites, smell the smells, and taste the tastes our ancestors did at the spot where it all happened (at least, according to tradition).

We can truly say: Ba’Yamim Ha’Hem, Ba’Zman Haze. Amen

Happy Chanukah.