Growing up in a mixed religious home, we celebrated a lot of different holidays. I tended to ignore the assumption most kids had that Hanukkah was the Jewish Christmas until a few years ago when for some reason the same folks seems to feel that Christmas had come under fire. Let's face it, the USA is a multiracial nation with a multitude of faiths, and while the majority may be Chritian at the moment, that won't last forever. It's the way of the world. Jews understand this more than anyone.
So, I pestered the cantor and the Rabbi for stories. And yes, I can be a pain in the nether regions at times. The tale of the first Hannukah was really a frightening one. It was one of war, slavery, and a window on an era when the Hebrew people were fighting not only for the right to worship as they wanted, but for the land they occupy today.
When we are born, it is in a torrent of water, blood, fear and pain. Water from the rush of amniotic fluid, blood from our mother and the severing of the cord, fear of leaving the womb and the new, huge world, and the pain of being slapped coupled with the chill of the cold air hitting our delicate nostrils and lungs for the first time. Yet mothers don't focus on the pain or the exhaustion, just the image of their newborn's face as it is placed in their arms, the scent of their skin, the weight in their arms, the joy beating in their hearts.
In a similiar way, many holy days for the Jewish people were born; two of which are my favorites - Purim (I hope to do a story on one day) and Hanukkah - showcased in Festival of Lights. In Festival of Lights it is the rainy season, a time a Hebrew prays for, to nourish the earth for an abundance of crops and lush fields for stock in the next year. There was blood, as the leader of the Maccabees, who had studied the guerilla-style warfare of a certain horse-riding nomadic clan, gathered his diasporic army from the desert to launch the same sort of pitched battles against the Seleucids (Greeks). People ran through the streets of Jerusalem in fear, not knowing if a neighbor was friend or foe until the Maccabee forces came up with the idea to put hammers (translation of Maccabee) on their tunics, something only fellow Jews would understand. Despite the pain of injuries, the loss of tens of thousands of lives, the Jews chose to remember not the military victory, not the eviction of the Seleucids/pagans from the temple but the Miracle of the Oil. The eight days and seven nights where the light in the temple burned, purifying hearts, minds and the building alike with a flask of oil that should have lasted only a few short hours.
When I wrote the story I had an author's note that got scrapped, I'd like to post here:
Many things mentioned in this story have been lost to the mists of time. However, there are a few things of which we are certain.
The Scythians lived throughout what is now the Middle East and in small enclaves in modern-day Crimea. They were a fierce nomadic warrior people who fought on horseback from 1,000 B.C.E until they disappeared. They were greatly feared and admired but their stories were confused by the Greeks (Herodotus) and intermingled with the fear of the Huns until they finally scared the fledgling Christian tribes into the creation of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
How does this fit in with a story on the first Hanukkah? Very simple, Hanukkah is another holiday whose precise story is lost to the mists of time. The most popular is the account of the Maccabees overthrowing the Seleucid Empire attended by the Miracle of the Oil. To this day, Hanukkah is still considered a “new” Jewish holiday, despite its ancient origins.
Now, how are the two really related? One of the oldest bloodlines of the Jews, those originating from the ancestral lands of Judah, is the Ashkenazi. By their name, they are a blend of the Ashken or Ishkuzi race, namely the Scythians, who joined by religious conversion or marriage with the Hebrew. Again, definitive proof has been lost. Some dispute the notion, stating Ashken relates only to the Diaspora and the Hebrew word for Germany. It is solely the whimsy of this writer that sets a definitive date and time for her romantic notion.
It's the year 167 BCE and the practice of Jewish faith has been outlawed in Jerusalem by the Hellenic overlords the Seleucids. Hoping to protect his aspiring Rabbi son, Jacob, Moshe makes a most unusual purchase at the Syrian slave markets - a female Scythian warrior.
Saka Ishkuzi has known nothing but deprivation, battle and harsh extremes of icy mountains and sand dunes. Her background forged the perfect weapon. But the biggest battle wouldn't be protecting the aspiring Rabbi Jacob's life but her heart from his gentle touch.
Return in time to the first Hanukkah to witness miracles of faith and love.