Long, long ago in Israel, the Jewish people were very happy living their own wonderful Jewis way and helping each other. They would go to their beautiful Temple, where the Torah was kept, and they would learn important things to do as Jewish people. They would celebrate their holidays, and they were happy with
But then something terrible happened. A very mean king from another country came marching into Israel with thousands of soldiers with swords and spears. There were so many soldiers; they even had huge elephants that the soldiers rode!! The Jewish people couldn’t do anything but run into their houses so that they wouldn’t be hurt with the swords or trampled on by the elephants.
This very mean king, Antiochus, then went to their beautiful Temple, and tore down everything, and told the Jewish people:
- They could never go to the Temple again
- They could never learn all the important Jewish ways of living from the Torah anymore.
The Jewish people were so unhappy. They didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have soldiers. They didn’t have elephants. They had a few swords and spears, but not many.
There was a very wise old man named Mattathias, who said, “We have to do something. We have to be able to live in our Jewish way.” Mattathias told his son, Judah Maccabee, “You have a sword and shield. Go to all the Jewish men and tell them to take their swords and shields if they have them, and if not, to make bows and arrows, and to go with you to hide in the caves in the mountains, outside the city,
where the mean king can’t find you. Come out at night when they can’t see you and surprise them and make them leave the country.
Judah Maccabee knew it was going to be very hard against all those soldiers and elephants, but he knew it was very important. When his father said, “Chazak v’ematz”-“be strong and brave”, Judah Maccabee answered, “We’ll try as hard as we can.”
Judah and the other Jewish men went into the caves in the mountains. They came out, night after night, to fight the Syrians until they pushed all of the Syrians out of their country.
What did Judah Maccabee and the Jewish soldiers do after they won? Did they just go back home? NO!
First they went to their Temple, where everything had been torn down, and they began to work very hard to clean the Temple and fix everything that had been broken; out of every home people started coming: Parents, grandma’s, grandpa’s and children. The children wanted to help so much! They all came to the Temple and scrubbed and cleaned and fixed. When their Temple was beautiful again it was time to put the Torah back into the Aron Kodesh and to light the Ner Tamid, the light that burns all the time in the Temple.
In those days they burned oil for light–there was no electricity. But– there wasn’t enough oil in the oil pitcher! It would only last one day! They sent someone for oil. However, he had to go far for it and it would take eight days to get back. Something special happened and we don’t know why–but that oil lasted eight days, until the person who went for the oil got back!!
Everyone was so happy that they said, “Let’s have a holiday every year! Let’s have a holiday that will last for eight days and let’s remember when we were brave and got rid of the Syrians and re-built our Temple so that we could keep on living our beautiful JEWISH WAY!”
Today we still celebrate Chanukah for eight days, and light the candles every night of the eight days! Today we still remember Judah Maccabee and the other Jewish people who were so brave long ago. Today we are so happy that we are free to live our own Jewish way!
(c) Janice Cohn, 1980