Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, also known as the ‘Festival of Lights.’ Traditionally, we light a menorah (candelabrum with eight branches and one tall one in the middle) each night, adding on another candle until there are 8 in total on the last day. The holiday lasts for 8 days and usually occurs in either November or December, depending on which month is parallel to the month of Kislev (from the lunar calendar) each year.
During the Greek occupation of Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, the ancient Greeks tried to wipe out Judaism and religious practices in Israel- their efforts culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple, devastating the Jews of the time. One man, Yehuda the Maccabi, the Jewish Priest (Kohen) of the time, stood up and declared that he would fight the mighty Greeks of the Seleucid Empire. He invited everyone to join him in the battle but managed to gather just his five sons, who were subsequently called the Maccabees. The five men, led by Yehuda, fasted and prayed to G-d for success. Then, against all adversity, they approached the vast army and fought. Ultimately, they won the war and were able to reconstruct the holy Temple once again. which means that it starts at sundown on September 15th until after nightfall on September 17th.
Dreidel – this a four-sided toy that can be spun on its curved underside. The four sides contain the following letters: nun, gimmel, heh, shin, which stands for ‘nes gadol hoyah shom’- a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of Yehuda and his five sons winning the war against the colossal Greek army.
Doughnuts and latkes – we eat oily, fried food to commemorate the small flask of oil that was found intact under the floorboards, when the Jews entered the Temple to begin rebuilding. The small flask of oil lasted for 8 days of candle-lighting, during which the Jews were able to produce more pure olive oil for the daily lighting of the menorah.
The Maccabees showed strength, both physical and emotional. They took the plunge, doing what seemed to be the impossible. All the odds appeared to be against the five pathetic-looking Maccabees, who were no match for the mighty army with thousands of soldiers and sophisticated weapons. And yet, they succeeded.
The term ‘modern-day Maccabees’ has been used to describe any group of people who are revolutionary, courageous, and heroic. There have been many modern-day Maccabees, who have overcome adversity to fight for what they believe in. Sometimes, people show physical prowess. Yet other times, they show passion and love, fighting for a cause that will benefit the lives of others.
One organization that deserves the term ‘modern-day Maccabees’ is Ezras Nashim of New York. Ezras Nashim is an organization with an all-female Jewish EMT corps that rushes to aid women in a medical emergency. It was founded by a group of pioneering women servicing the Jewish community in Boro Park in an effort to preserve the dignity and modesty of the local women and girls.
These women have earned their title through dedication to this cause, fighting objection and misinformed adversity in order to help women with sensitivity and care during their most vulnerable times.