In one of the many grand coincidences in Jewish history, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on the 19th of Kislev, a week before Chanukah – which happens to also be the date when, in 1949, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared on behalf of a unanimous government that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and would remain forever the only capital of the new Jewish state.
Ben-Gurion often referred to the Maccabees and used Chanukah imagery in describing the rebirth of Israel after two millennia. For example, in this beautiful and deeply emotional March 27, 1958 signed correspondence on prime minister letterhead (featured right), he compares the joy of celebrating Israel’s 10th anniversary to “the great victory of Chanukah in the days of the Chashmoneans.” Addressing the parents, wives, and children of the Jewish fighters who sacrificed their lives protecting their land and nation, he writes:
This year, Israel and the Jewish world will celebrate 10 years of our new independence and the wonderful events that have taken place.
From the great victory of Chanukah in the days of the Chashmoneans, our nation has not had such a great holiday. And people from all lands are preparing to celebrate this 10th anniversary with thanks and joy and with brotherhood unprecedented since the inception of our nation.
I know that your joy on this day will be bittersweet with sadness and mourning over the loss. The pain of the loss of your dear ones have not lessened and, on the Day of Remembrance, the entire nation of Israel will join in your mourning…
The sons and daughters who went with great energy for the homeland and went to the altar and sacrificed their lives without stopping and taught the coming generations a lesson, the miracle of their might – in the everlasting book of life of our nation, their names shall be engraved and the names of their parents with words of love dear and pleasant. Happy is the nation that bore these children and happy are the parents who bred their children to this boundless gift, for the security of their land.
On this day of remembrance, please accept the thanks of a nation and its blessing.
David Ben-Gurion, on behalf of the government of Israel.
Another wonderful example of Ben-Gurion using Chanukah themes to describe the rebirth of Israel is a speech he gave at the opening session of the Maccabi parley in 1948, when he declared: “You are meeting when Israel’s army continues the Maccabean fight for liberation and independence.”
In 1961, the prime minister of Burma – which, in another lovely coincidence, also achieved its independence in 1948 – became the first head of state ever to visit Israel. In another notable Chanukah event involving Ben-Gurion, he returned the favor, visiting Burma during Chanukah, where he participated in a Chanukah candlelighting ceremony with the prime minister. (He extended his stay a week past his scheduled departure date to learn meditation from his new friend.)
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Exhibited here is a 19 Kislev (December 3) 1974 B’nai B’rith Jerusalem office invitation to an eighth day of Chanukah candlelighting ceremony, to take place at the president’s home, signed by President Ephraim Katzir. The ceremony is called for Sunday, December 15, 1974 at 5 p.m., with the order of proceedings as follows:
- The blessing of Zeev Benjamin, president of the Jerusalem office.
- The lighting of the Chanukah candles.
- Israel Broadcasting Authority youth choir presentation conducted by Mr. Zvi Ben- Porat.
- Blessings of the Great Bureau.
- A word from President Katzir.
The group was to gather at the B’nai B’rith Jerusalem Hall at 4:45 p.m. and depart together for the president’s house. Invitees are admonished not to bring children or guests and that holiday dress is appropriate and heads should be covered.
Katzir was a scientist of international renown, the founder and head of the Department of Biophysics at the Weizmann Institute of Science beginning in 1949, a former chief scientist of the IDF, and the first Israeli elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences.
As Israel’s fourth president, he used his personal standing and the prestige of his office to galvanize academics to address the danger of assimilation in Diaspora communities. His presidency began just over four months prior to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War (and exactly a year after the tragic murder during the Lod Airport massacre of his brother, Aharon Katzir, also an internationally renowned chemical physicist – a loss from which he never recovered) and ended shortly after Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem.
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Exhibited here is a December 26, 1967 original news photograph of the first Chanukah at the Kotel in 2,000 years. Dr. Zerach Warthaftig, Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs, is shown lighting a large, silver, oil-burning menorah in front of the Kotel after sundown to start the eight-day holiday.
According to the caption on the verso (not shown), “Jews celebrated December 27, the first day of Chanukah, the ‘Feast of Lights,’ at the Wailing Wall for the first time since the Second Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.” The lighting of the menorah on the very site where the original Chanukah miracle took place surely sent chills through everyone who was privileged to attend the ceremony.
Warthaftig (1906-2002) established a constitutional compromise between synagogue and state when, as chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, he steered through legislation to create rabbinical courts and religious councils, to enforce Shabbat and to enact the Law of Return in 1950. A signer – and drafter – of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, he was a professor of Jewish law at Hebrew University and was among the founders of Bar-Ilan University.
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Finally, exhibited here is a Chanukah card originally signed and sent by Yitzchak Rabin as prime minister. In his December 1974 Chanukah message, Rabin delivered a Chanukah lesson for the ages:
The festival of Chanukah dramatically illustrated the fervor of our nation for the protection of its heritage and national freedom. Always we have been the few against the many and in our unity have we discovered great strength. The Chanukah of this year serves as a rededication of the great ideals of our Jewish faith as Israel persists in its quest for peace and security. I call upon the Jewish youth in particular to work tirelessly for aliya and Jewish education upon which the future of Israel and our whole people ultimately depends.
Wishing a Chag Urim Sameach to all!