Chanukah means dedication in Hebrew. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees. They entered Jerusalem and cleaned the Jewish temple of the "abominations" such as the Greek gods that Antiochus Epiphanes imposed on the Jews when he attempted to coerce them into giving up their religion.
The real story of Chanukah is not the one about the little miracle concerning the temple's single pure oil can that lasted 8 days during the Chanukah (dedication) of the temple by the Maccabees, about 2200 years ago.
The Maccabees' victory may well be the first victory of a guerrilla army against an invading world power. Judah Maccabee (="hammer") and his brothers led a brilliant campaign in the Judean hills. Several of the 5 brothers died in those battles.
More importantly, the victory was that of those Jews who believed in their biblical God and refused to assimilate, over those Jews who had accepted the Greek culture. One war was waged by the Maccabees against the foreign rulers, the Syrians, who were called "Greeks" in the Chanukah story as theirs was a Greek culture. That culture was dominant just about anywhere then. However, there was a parallel civil war meant to rid Judea of the assimilationists who were adopting the Greek culture. Had the Maccabees lost Judaism may not have lasted long. Due to the victory the Maccabee dynasty ruled the country for more than 200 years, and Judaism as it existed then survived for millennia afterwards. This said, some observe that today's Jews have largely assimilated in their contemporary culture, and behave more like the assimilated that the Maccabees fought (for example in terms of eating non-kosher foods or their insufficient observation of the Sabbath).
My first celebration of Chanukah was memorable. When 4 years old I was the 5th candle of the menorah (candelabra) during a play. However, despite the huge importance of my 2 lines I was never nominated by the academy.
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