The Maccabees and the challenge
of securing Jewish Continuity
On this Festival of Chanukah we again celebrate the saga of our liberation by the Maccabees 2,175 years ago (years 168-165 BCE), which returned our Jewish People to national independence in the Land of Israel. It was a struggle based on the same ideals that sustain our Maccabi Movement to this day: the right of Jewish Continuity and the Centrality of the Land of Israel (today, the State of Israel) to our existence as a Nation.
The Hasmonean-Maccabee Dynasties, who united the will of the people of Israel, faced the greatest empire of the time, the Greeks; they had the simple but sacred goal of regaining and maintaining their right to continue being Jewish. Negating the Jewish Faith and separate identity stood at the forefront of attacks against us by Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus III, “the Resplendent”), who introduced measures to enforce assimilation of Jews into the dominant pagan Hellenic culture. The physical life of the Jews was not endangered by these policies, but Jews refused to accept spiritual death – abandoning the Jewish practices which made them “Jews”. Faced with his perverse intention, the Maccabees rose up from their rural environment to defend the right we have claimed throughout the millennia of our existence: the right to be able to live and grow as a free people, to maintain our way of life based on principles drawn from our Sources.
It was a tough and cruel military confrontation, exacting a high price in human life and the resulting in the death of many Maccabean leaders … but finally, also in a huge victory for our people that has resonated through the ages in our history and in the history of Western Civilization: the Maccabees succeeded in preserving the Jewish Identity of our people – and today we, their descendants, celebrate that glittering triumph in our own Jewish time.
What stratagems were used by the Maccabees to preserve the Jewish identity of their generation and to secure Jewish Continuity in future generations? It was a very serious program, with hard work and clear objectives; structured steps performed simultaneously:
* The Maccabees called for national unity, and worked in its name and for it;
* The Maccabees designed a project of an independent Nation for their generation and for future generations;
* The Maccabees spread the word of the Torah and its principles, maintaining the distinct character of the Jewish People and the uniqueness of our ethical messages.
* The Maccabees drew up practical strategies to overcome the enormous challenges they would face.
* The Maccabees rallied and involved the entire Jewish People, those most committed and those less enthusiastic about the Jewish National cause;
* The Maccabees renewed the Jewish messages, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive national life, generating enthusiasm of Jewish people everywhere;
* The Maccabees were willing to work with tenacity and great effort, and never skimped on their meager resources to reach the justice of their goals;
* The Maccabees continued their struggle even after achieving their main objectives;
* As a result of all the above, the Maccabees rebuilt Jewish national life, set an enduring example for later generations, and restored hope to the People of Israel even in their darkest, most bitter and ominous hours.
We have much, much to learn from the glorious Maccabees of our past. Their saga and the distinctiveness of their triumph are not only a happy chapter in our national history, but a tale to relate to our present circumstances and inspire trust in our future.
We, the Maccabees of this century, nearly 2,200 years since the Hasmonean success, have the enormous challenge of continuing their example in our time. As stated at the beginning of these lines, Maccabi contains the very heart of Maccabee ideology: we work for Jewish continuity, Zionism and the Centrality of Israel in our lives and the lives of all our People. Maccabi has done this for more than 100 years, with huge commitment and effective programs to ensure the achievement of our objectives:
* Generating the biggest Jewish events both in Israel and Diaspora: the Maccabiah, Pan American Maccabi Games, European Maccabi Games, JCC Maccabi Games, Maccabi Australia International Games, massive sports festivals, international tournaments and cultural events for all ages, and so much more…
* Constantly opening new Maccabi s’nif’im (branches), generating the unity and reunion of the Jewish People;
* Strengthening and extending the work of Maccabi youth movements on 5 Continents;
* Generating short and long programs for all ages and interests in the State of Israel;
* Promoting programs of study in Israel and aliyah to our great little country;
* Providing international Jewish achievements in the sports, Jewish folkdance, theater, and the broader contexts of Jewish culture in Israel and abroad;
* Working hard on the new “information battle” of Jewish communities closely identified with the State of Israel, in Hasbara (Public Diplomacy), creating resources capable of reversing the de-legitimization of Israel as the State of the Jewish People – and in partnership in this enormous effort with the State of Israel, in a program of true global reach.
* Maintaining and communicating our ancient Jewish messages, renewing their propositions, ensuring their relevance to new Generations.
We should strive to be worthy heirs of the ancient Maccabees. Thanks to them we can now pursue the motto bequeathed to us by Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest Jewish leader of all time: CHAZAK VE’EMATZ, “Be strong and courageous”, continuing with our Judaism and our Zionism – significant. vibrant, present and deeply challenging.
May this Chag HaUrim, this Festival of Lights, bring the light of the Maccabi torch into our lives, illuminating our continuing commitment
to the ancient Maccabi ideals, as we formulate them
for our present and future.
And may we have all a very happy holiday in the company of our nearest and dearest, and of our Jewish Maccabi brothers and sisters everywhere
in the satisfaction of knowing that our efforts
help to ensure Jewish life in 70 countries
through more than 400 Jewish community centers and clubs.
Chag Chanukah Sameach, Maccabim,
and Chazak Ve’ematz!!
RABBI CARLOS TAPIERO
Maccabi World Union