The Israel Antiquities Authority working on a site related to the tomb of the biblical Maccabees. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

“Our return to the Holy Land is a great miracle!” commented an Israeli who lives in the ancient city where much of the Chanukah story unfolded.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler

Spending time in Israel during around the Chanukah holiday can be a powerful experience. During this season, a spiritual atmosphere, special foods, and magical sights abound in the Jewish people’s homeland.

Schools are closed during the week of Chanukah, this year December 22-30. Families and friends plan parties and trips, especially to places where the miracle of Chanukah actually happened, Jerusalem and Israel’s centrally located city of Modi’in.

“A highlight of my year, and so many other residents of the modern day city of Modi’in is Chanukah,” Yocheved Pianko Feinerman, blogger and resident of Modi’in, told United With Israel. “It is a humbling experience to light the traditional Chanukah candles outside our home, standing on the physical land that our ancestors and the heroes of Chanukah, the Maccabees, once stood.”

Chanukah commemorates the 2nd century BCE miracle that happened in the Holy Land. Forced to adopt foreign customs by the Greeks ruling the country, the Jewish people revolted, led by the Maccabees and their commander, Matiyyahu the HIgh Priest. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when King Antiochus IV placed a statue inside the ancient Holy Temple of Jerusalem.

The Maccabees, though few in number and much weaker than their adversaries, united and fought to victory. Their success during this dark period in history brought light back to the Jewish people and the the Holy Land, restoring the Jewish People’s dedication to the one true God and His biblical precepts.

Additionally, the Temple was cleansed of the impurities that entered its gates and rededicated to its proper service.

However, only one small bottle of pure olive oil was found to light the Temple’s menorah that constantly burned inside. The oil, which should have lasted only one day, miraculously lasted eight, providing enough time for the priests serving in the Temple to make fresh oil.

Since that time, Jews have observed the holiday by lighting an eight-branched menorah for eight days, along with prayer and songs that commemorate the miracles.

“When my family and I light the menorah, it is a moment of immense pride and tremendous gratitude,” Feinerman said. “The blessings and songs, referring to both the miracles in the past and a prayer for the future, always move me. We feel rededicated to persevering and protecting the legacy of the Maccabees and continuing to defend our independent Jewish state.”

Though holiday activities proliferate throughout Israel, thousands make special efforts to visit the sites where the Chanukah miracles actually happened – the Old City of Jerusalem and the hills of Modi’in. These include public menorah lighting, shows and hikes along the paths of the Maccabees.

On the Shabbat of Chanukah, special prayers welcoming the day are recited at the ancient synagogue of Umm El Umdan, which, according to the archaeological record, is the place where the Maccabees prayed thousands of years ago. Several hundred people participate in the event, which has taken place since 2006.

“The Chanukah story commemorates many miracles, and I feel that I am a link in that miraculous chain,” Feinerman told United With Israel. “My family’s return to the Holy Land and our celebration of Chanukah in the place of my ancestors is also a great miracle. I am so grateful to be living this miraculous existence.”