Scoring Hanukkah Goals

Follow in the ancient footsteps that gave birth to the Jewish “Festival of Lights” to this Hanukkah’s surprise at Jerusalem’s premium football club

By David E. Kaplan

Celebrating the start of Hanukkah today, I am watching my two grandchildren, Ariel and Yali enjoying their sufganiot (doughnuts). They may not know the history or understand the significance of this “festival of lights”  but these two and three year-olds  are enjoying the fun of Hanukkah roaring with laughter as they play with their spinning tops, known as dreidels (‘sevivon’ in Hebrew). One legend had it that during the time of the Hanukkah story,  Jews would grab a dreidel and start to play if Syrian soldiers entered the house while ‘illegally’ praying or studying Torah study. In the Diaspora, the four-sided dreidel displayed  four Hebrew letters –  ‘nun’, ‘gimel’, ‘hey’ and ‘shin’ representing the words ‘ne’s ‘gadol’ ‘hayah’andsham’, meaning “a great miracle happened there.”

In Israel, the last letter is changed to a ‘peh’, representing the word ‘po’, “here,” with the resulting declaration:

 “a great miracle happened here.”

And it sure has as modern day Israel – the Start-Up Nation testifies too. So what happened back then?

In around 168 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the Hellenistic King of the Seleucid Empire stepped up his campaign to quash Judaism, so that they would share the same culture and worship the same gods.

Marching into Jerusalem, he vandalized the Temple and decreed that studying Torah , observing the Sabbath, and circumcising Jewish boys were punishable by death. To ensure his policies were carried out, he sent Syrian overseers and soldiers to villages throughout Judea to viciously enforce his edicts.

Entrance to Hasmonain Village.

When these soldiers reached Modiin, northwest of the capital, they demanded that the local leader, Mattathias the Kohein (a member of the priestly class), be an example to his people by sacrificing a pig on a portable pagan altar. He refused killing the King’s representative and with the rallying cry “Whoever is for God, follow me”, Mattathias and his five sons (Jonathan, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and Yohanan) fled to the hills and caves of the wooded Judean wilderness and founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE. They reasserted the Jewish religion and reduced the influence of Hellenism on the indigenous Jewish population.

It is to this beautiful area I visited during a Hanukkah before Corona in the center of Israel. It lies amidst historical heritage sites and the national forest of Ben Shemen, all home to the ancient Maccabees and present day Israelis mostly living in the modern day city of Modi’in, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Past and present merge in a colourful kaleidoscope  of nature and history.

Welcome back to the Past. The brainchild of Zohar Baram and his late wife Naomi, Zohar explains Hasmonian Village as a reconstruction of life in ancient times. (photo D.E. Kaplan)


To get a taste of “authentic Israel” where the ancient Maccabees once lived and worked, I visited the reconstructed Hasmonian Village in Shilat and met its founder and Director, Zohar Baram.

He explains how it came about.

“After a tough day of fighting in the Sinai  during the Yom Kipur War in 1973, we were sitting around our tanks and armoured cars and turned on the radio when we heard the famous British actor, Peter Ustinov say that it had been “a mistake to create the State of Israel” and that “the Jews have no historical connection to the land – it’s a myth!” I was shocked.”

Voice in the Wilderness. The English actor, Peter Ustinov, whose tirade against Israel heard in the Sinai, spurned Hasmonain Village.

Only the year before he met and got to know the British actor when Ustinov stayed in Eilat for the filming in the Negev desert of a British-Israel film Big Truck and Sister Clare. Baram was taken on as Ustinov’s official guide, ‘So you can imagine we spent a lot of time together and we got to know each other quite well”.

Well, not quite!

A tank commander and fearless in battle, Zohar was brought to tears. “Hearing his tirade in that unmistakable voice, I made an instant decision. It was not enough to defend the land; I needed to defend our history. I realized in the sand dunes of Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments that I had to dedicate my life to the education of future generations of the historical connection of Jews to the Land of Israel.”

The result of this ‘revelation’ is today Hasmonaim Village which Zohar Baram established with his late wife, Naomi. “I love working with the youth and it is so important to show and explain to Israeli children who live in apartments what the homes of their ancestors over 2000 years ago looked like. How did they dress; what furniture they had; what decorated their walls and how they made a living.” The village which has a main road and homes on either side “is typical of the size of a village at the time.”

Back to the Grind. Zohar Baram showing the writer how people during the period of the Maccabe ground
 wheat with an ancient stone grinder. (photo D.E. Kaplan)

He passed me some wheat, placed it in an ancient stone grinder and then left it to me to produce grain that I placed in a plastic bag to take home. We then walked to the village mint, where Zohar hammered three coins “for your children” with motifs from ancient Judea. “The children love this and get the feel what life was like here two thousand years ago,” said Zohar.

Home Truths. At the time of the Hanukkah story, a sense of inside a home showing the furnishings and clothing worn at the time.

Leaving the village, I noticed the words taken from the Bible and inscribed in Hebrew, which translated reads:

When you see it, your heart will be happy”.

I left the village with a ‘happy heart’ and could well understand why filmmakers – mainly American – use it as a location for movies and documentaries. The most celebrated filmmaker that Zohar has worked with is the American Ken Burns noted for such documentaries as The Civil War and The Roosevelts. “When I work with such celebrated artists, I too enjoy a “happy heart’ when thinking back to that British actor in 1973 whose venomous words directed me on my life’s mission.”

Coining it. Activities include minting coins the ancient way. Zohar Baram passes me a newly minted ‘ancient’ coin. (photo D.E.Kaplan)

Field of Dreams

No visit to this area is complete without a visit to the Biblical Nature Reserve called Neot Kedumim, which in Hebrew means “pleasant pastures (or habitations) of old.” Covering an area of 2,500 dunams (2.5 km2; 0.97 sq mi), Neot Kedumim is a recreation of a biblical landscape.

A Visual Visit of the Bible. The Biblical landscape of Neot Kedumim near Modi’in, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In 1964, land was allocated for the project with the help of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and today comprises: the ‘Forest of Milk and Honey’, the ‘Dale of the Song of Songs’, ‘Isaiah‘s Vineyard’ and the ‘Fields of the Seven Species’. Signs are posted throughout the garden quoting relevant Jewish texts in Hebrew and English.

On arrival, my tour guide explained that when Ephraim and Hannah Hareuveni immigrated to Palestine in the 1920s, they dreamed of developing a biblical landscape reserve that “embodied the panorama and power of the landscapes that both shaped the values of the Bible and provided a rich vocabulary for expressing them.”

Their son, Nogah Hareuveni, a physicist, dedicated his life to implementing his parents’ dream. To build the park, thousands of tons of soil were trucked in, reservoirs were built to catch runoff rain water, ancient terraces, wine presses and ritual baths were restored, and hundreds of varieties of plants were cultivated.

It started in 1964 with Nogah and we teach,” continued the guide, “what he taught us. Working with the Bible in one hand and a spade in the other – he made the connection between the scriptures and nature.”

Noting how Jewish festivities have to do with a certain time of the year and a particular type of fruit, “he planted only those trees and plants that were indigenous in biblical times. He wanted visitors to understand the text of the Bible better by using their senses – seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting.”

He reasoned that because the Bible conveys abstract ideas through parables using images from everyday life thousands of years ago, it had less traction in the 20th century, where people are more attuned to the imagery of consumerism. The idea of Neot Kedumim is to ‘experience’ the Bible in the context of an authentic Biblical landscape.  Nogah wanted Neot Kedumim “To be the photo album of the bible.”

Tapping into the Past. Extracting water the ancient way at Neot Kedumim. (Photo by Reut Shai Dror)

It was not surprising that in 1994, Neot Kedumim and Nogah Hareuveni, were joint recipients of the ‘Israel Prize – Israel’s most prestigious civilian award.

“I always tell my groups that while Israel today is known for its innovative start-up companies, it emanates from our past. To survive in this harsh land one had to come up with ideas; so, the tour will stop at the cistern and see how water was stored; different types of oil lamps and how someone had to think of the idea that one could extract oil from the olive to fuel the lamp, and the type of plant that provided the wick. Here at Neot Kedumim we see how ideas were nurtured in nature and how the ancient Israelites survived and thrived. Here is the beginning of Israel’s status as the Start-Up Nation.”

Seeing the Light. A guide explaining how the sage was the inspiration for the Menorah

Walking along the path feasting my eyes on the exquisite scenery, my guide suddenly raises his hand to stop a tractor coming towards us. Its driver Zachariah Ben Moshe stops, climbs off with a jump and introduces himself as being in charge of tree planting.  Explaining that I will be writing an article, he quickly points to the branches on a sage tree.

Holy Moses! Is this what Moses saw? The image of the Menorah is unmistakable in this flowering sage. (photo by Noga HaReuveny)

What does this remind you of?” he asks.

It stared at me in the face – it was so obvious.

The Menorah,” I answered. Described in the Bible as the seven-lamp ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold, the Menorah was used in the portable sanctuary set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Fresh olive oil was burned daily to light its lamps.

Exactly,” replies Ben Moshe. “The Menorah was taken from the sage. We read how God instructed Moses on how to build a Menorah who said: “Go out to the mountain and see its image.” Clearly, it was the sage he saw and as we say , the rest is history.”

Scoring a Goal for Normalisation

After endless enmity and divisions on the land, “history” was surely made before this Hanukkah with the announcement that the UAE royal family bought half of a top-tier Israeli soccer team –  but not just any team. It was Beitar Jerusalem Football Club – an Israeli soccer team with an anti-Arab reputation amongst its fan-base!

Cowers for an Enlightened Future. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family (left) and Beitar Jerusalem F.C. owner Moshe Hovav pose for a photo in Dubai.

This barrier-shattering deal is among the fruits of Israel’s nearly three-month-old normalisation agreement with the Emirates and  sends a strong symbolic message – that “winds of change” are blowing across the Middle East. The deal puts a Muslim Sheikh at the helm of Beitar Jerusalem, the only Israeli team that has never fielded an Arab player.  

So no Arab player, but now an Arab co-owner.

Times are changing – the will and optimism is there.

Says Beitar Jerusalem’s owner, Moshe Hogeg about the deal:

On the eve of Hanukkah, Beitar’s menorah is lit in a new and exciting light. Together, we will march the club to new days of coexistence, achievements, and brotherhood for the sake of our club,  community and Israeli sports.”

With the belief of influencing hearts and minds, UAE’s Sheikh Bin Khalifa, a first cousin of the de facto Emirati ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, proudly asserted that his investment represented:

 “the fruits of peace and brotherhood between the nations”.

When asked in a live video-linked interview about the reputation of the fan-base of the club he had invested, Sheikh Bin Khalifa replied in the spirit of Hanukkah:

They are mostly young, in their twenties. We should extend them the hand and show them the light.”

Setting New Goals. Israeli Arab midfielder Diaa Sabia (right) with a club official during his presentation at Dubai’s Al-Nasr club.

The new Emirati co-owner added that the Israeli soccer club was open to recruiting Arab players. Already an Israeli Arab midfielder, Diaa Sabia has signed for a Dubai club.

There is this Hanukkah, a movement, momentum and message in ‘play’ – shining  LIGHT on a path ahead towards greater understanding and outreach.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (O&EO).

3 thoughts on “Scoring Hanukkah Goals

  1. How effectively you have linked our biblical and historic past with the present time and the reality of the State of Israel

  2. Harris, my brother, saw an interesting article that perhaps might interest you.  From our recent conversations have witnessed a depth of your personality never before known to me.  Feel such a depth of gratitude to you personally.  In Hebrew the term “Mussar” appears as the closest understanding of the strong rebuke which I received from you, and accepted upon my heart.  The T’NaCH defines prophecy by the term “Mussar”.  In the early 20th Century a rabbinic scholar by the name of Israel Salanter challenged the post Rambam Orthodox “style” of learning Talmud with the “mussar movement”.

    Israel Salanter, one of the most original and influential Jewish leaders and thinkers of Eastern European Jewry in the modern period. One of Salanter’s most striking innovations, the transformation of the issue of ethics from the domain of theology to the realm of psychology. Immanuel Etkes traces Salanter’s unique view of Mussar doctrine, especially his introduction of modern psychology to the traditional understanding of personal ethical development.

    Rav, Aaron Nemuraskii, learned under the great posek Yosef Shalom Eliashiv of Jerusalem. The Rosh Yeshiva of D’VaR Yerushalim a rabbi Horowitz, this man can directly trace his lineage back to Shmuel the prophet.  In the back of the Talmud, commentaries through the generations.  Remember rabbi Horowitz showing me his forefather commentaries on the Talmud, which the modern Sha’s Bavli include.  He revealed to me some 10 generations of Talmudic scholars.  At 31, first approached rabbi Horowitz for permission to learn in his Yeshiva.

    Apparently, possess a talent for this type of scholarship.  The first time Rav Aaron and I completed the entire Sha’s Bavli – we did it in about 4 months of incredibly intense learning.  Before Rav Aaron would consent to teach me Talmud he insisted that I develop the skill to read the Aramaic targums/translations of both the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Torah and Prophets as easily as i could read an English newspaper.

    Would later come to realize that Rav Aaron interpreted “Mussar” based upon the פרדס kabbalah taught by rabbi Akiva and all his five major talmidim.  These scholars, upon their backs, stand the entire Sha’s Yerushalmi and Bavli!  [The term “Sha’s” refers to the 6 Orders of the Mishna].

    My ability to grasp the פרדס logic system, astounded almost every rabbi whom I ever encountered.  One erev Yom Kippor, Rav Aaron’s rav, the posek of the entire Ashkenazi world, asked me to give him a blessing.  The sh’itta[logic system] which Rav Aaron taught me learns “Mussar” in a completely and novel way; completely different from the sh’itta of rabbi Israel Salant’s mussar movement publicized toward the end of the 19th Century.  Rabbi Salants’ mussar functioned as an additional appendage to the Sha’s Bavli.  The logic format developed by my scholarship suggests, makes understanding the Sha’s Yerushalmi and Bavli completely and totally dependent upon this mussar logic format which explains the hidden kabbala of rabbi Akiva’s פרדס chariot mysticism.

    A humorous story occurred in Jerusalem.  Started learning the Talmud in a Chabad Yeshiva in Jerusalem.  There I met a geon/genius Chassidic Rav.  At that time I barely knew the alef – bet/alphabet.  Would go up to the women’s section and employ a derivative of braille to teach myself Hebrew.   But before anyone realized my success at learning, this famous Chassidic rabbi had me sit upon his knee like I was a child.  Years later, i met this rabbi at a Chassidic wedding and explained to him a novel sh’itta of how to learn the Baali Tosafot – the grand children of Rashi.  Their commentary on the Talmud, it’s considered, virtually by all rabbinic authorities, as the most difficult and complex Talmudic commentaries ever written.

    My explanation of the Baali Tosafot shocked that rabbi.  Showed him how the Baali Tosafot learned Sha’s by means of bringing precedents based upon precedent logic of Common Law.  That Rashi’s commentary on the Chumash learned the פרדס kabbala of Rabbi Akiva, whereas the Rashi commentary on the Talmud, limited its scholarship to assisting later scholars how to correctly read a page of Gemara.  Rashi witnessed the 1st Crusades.

    It was not the 1st time that that rabbi received a scholarship jolt from me.  After only 2 years in the Yeshiva explained a difficult Rashi commentary on the Chumash/5 Books of the Torah, based upon an obscure concept located within the Yerushalmi Talmud.  Most Talmudic studies today totally ignore the Yerushalmi.  Rav Aaron’s sh’itta by contrast employed the Yerushalmi as the primary basis by which to learn the Talmud Bavli.  This sh’itta of Rav Aaron followed the sh’itta of learning that the Ramban advised.  The Ramban’s cousin placed the Rambam into charem/excommunication.  The Rambam, like most of the Spanish rabbis of that period, had assimilated to the recent re-discovery of the ancient Greek philosophers, specifically to Aristotle.

    The פרדס mussar which Rav Aaron taught me, this sh’itta of logic stands totally different and apart from the logic formats developed by Plato and Aristotle.  The פרדס mussar of logic, which my commentary upon the entire Sha’s Bavli seeks to prove, argues that Rabbi Akiva and his 5 major talmidim relied exclusively upon this פרדס mussar logic system to interpret the Torah as expressed in the Talmud Yerushalmi and Bavli.  This line of learning reopens the can of worms of Rabbeinu Yonah,the cousin of Ramban, and his excommunication of the Rambam, making him on par with Baruch Spinoza.

    To what does this challenge to the authority of the Rambam compare?  Recently composed a poem which challenges the authority of the entire Xtian religion.  Tongue ‘N cheek, a poem written by Edgar Allen Poe influenced me.

    Spoke the Raven NeverMore
    Deicide Gospels wo wo wo!
    God killing monsters ho ho ho!
    What reward of justice, do you receive –
    For theft, slander, rape, pogroms, ghettos & Genocide mass murder?
    Justice Justice where are you?

    Deicide Gospels have a story to tell
    They speak of Courtroom injustice
    Their story proclaims the Gospel Good News –
    The murder of God by Man.

    Deicide Gospels wo wo wo!
    God killing monsters ho ho ho!
    What life in the world to come, do you deserve?
    The Judgement Day for all generations baptized.
    Deicide for eternity, your Gods’ dead and so are you.

    That’s your portion, in the world to come.  Justice for all to see!!
    Guilty generations of hypocrites, believers in the Cross.
    With Crusader zeal and halos shining bright, they violently murder their God. 
    Guilty for these Gospel crimes, the religion of saints, condemns the Pharisees.

    Deicide Gospels wo wo wo!
    God killing monsters ho ho ho!
    What reward of justice, do you receive –
    For theft, slander, rape, pogroms, ghettos & Genocide mass murder?
    Frankenstein God, son of theology, Second Coming where ye be?  Exiled. Eternal death.
    So quote the Raven nevermore.

    The re-interpretation of ancient texts, with an entirely novel “spin”, seeks to shatter the “ethical containment force” [An idea which I developed at Texas A&M to explain the impact of a revolution upon society.  The models for me at that time, the French, Russian, Nazi, and Iranian revolutions.  The common denominator with all these political disasters, the revolutionaries rejected both the religion of their nation, as well as their nations’ form of government.  My commentary to the Talmud rejects Judaism as a religion together with the political idea of Monarchy.  This 2-step approach, likewise defines my perception of racism: volatile words combined with violent actions].

    Mark Twain has likewise made a marked influence upon how I read the Book of Kings.  The black slave Jim, thought king Solomon an absolute fool.  This judgment caused me to interpret the entire Book of Kings as a political satire; something comparable to Gulliver’s Travels.  Why for example does that Book open with the machinations of the prophet Natan and Bat Sheva?  It compares (all literature learns by comparison and contrast) to the son of Solomon who traveled to Sh’Cem to become the anointed king. 

    Just as the latter did not listen to the elder advisors of king Solomon so too king Solomon did not heed the counsel of the prophet Natan in the matter of building the Temple!  Natan advised the king that the crux of the Temple stood upon the foundations of establishment of a Federal Sanhedrin Court legal system.  King Solomon interpreted his father’s command to build a House of wood and stone.  This explains the satire of Kings expressed through the story of the 2 whores requesting justice.  The last commandment that Moshe the prophet sought to achieve: the establishment of the small Sanhedrin Federal Courts of law in the 3 Cities of Refuge on the other side of the Jordan river.

    The refutation of the “wisdom” of both king Solomon and the Rambam, seeks to shatter the “ethical containment force” of Orthodox Judaism.  In like manner so too does this novel sh’itta of mussar which explains the Chariot פרדס mysticism of Rabbi Akiva.  My commentary to the whole of the Sha’s Bavli seeks to interpret those texts as a model of a lateral Common Law Court system. [A system of law comparable to the institution of the jury system in American revolutionary law.]  This sh’itta of Talmudic scholarship has the goal to re-interpret the original intent of the T’NaCH and Talmud as a Constitutional political idea – rather than the religious concept of Judaism, which the Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages formalized.

    Titled: Guilt Trip: What America Should Learn From Germany’s Nazi Reckoning           “Today, America is experiencing what is popularly called a reckoning—a           return to the past with an eye on crimes related to race, the crime of
               slavery especially, charged not only to particular individuals or institutions
               but to the nation as a whole. It is a backwards voyage with an avowed
               forward purpose: to make America a better, more just society. Still, even
               if intentions are laudable, the question can be posed: What does it profit
               a nation to embark on what might aptly be called a guilt trip? Is the
               hoped-for destination likely to be the actual point of landing?”

    The Rambam had an elder brother,like yourself, who greatly contributed to the Rambam’s ability to learn the Sha’s and develop his novel system of scholarship.  I am greatly in your debt.  Your kindness and generous spirit has permitted me the means to develop a completely novel way of learning the Talmud.  At Texas A&M the realization of my destiny came to me, it’s my hope to pen a political theory of revolution which compares to the writings of Troskii in his day. 

    Clearly the ideal of socialist\communism – utterly repugnant to me.  But at Texas A&M I predicted the fall of the Soviet Union.  I argued then, that the reason that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan – their fear that the Islamic revolution of Iran would spread to the Islamic republics within the Soviet Union – based upon Troskii theory of the ‘Continuous Revolution’.  Israel in my early years in the country witnessed the mass emigration of Russian Jewry to the country.  I have met and befriended many Russian Jews.  Virtually all of them know nothing about Troskii.  The Soviet government, long after Stalin, censured and repressed his writings throughout the history of Communist USSR.  Troskii’s grandchildren made aliya to Israel and like myself learned in the Yeshiva education system.  I came to Israel as a Troskiite supporter.  Needless to say, Troskii’s writings enjoy a permanent influence upon how I perceive both the T’NaCH & Talmud.

    Minored in literature at A&M.  The study of literature has made a profound impact upon how I perceive and interpret life.  The Harry Potter series for example, Harry asked professor Dumbledore when he first met Voldemort … and the professor finished the question – did I realize that he would become the most dangerous dark wizard of all time?  J.K. Rowling’s concept of magic, wherein her wand theory, that wands contain the spirits of powerful beasts, it so reminds me of Chinese Kung Fu; whose martial arts discipline likewise causes fighting  warrior monks to ingests a spirit of a powerful predatory beast.

    Revolution, defined as the shattering of the ”ethical containment force”, it shapes and redefines the culture of a civilization.  Comparable to how the American revolution changed America from a British colony to a free independent nation; by this definition, the story of Voldemort aptly describes a revolutionary zeal to not only over throw the Old World Order.  But impose a New World Order, something like Bush II’s foreign policy of Imperialism, sought to foist upon all nations of this World.

    My scholarship learns shalom from the 3 Shabbos meals.  Peace requires trust.  On shabbot persons sit together with family and friends.  A person never invites an enemy to sit together at a Shabbos meal.  The Torah revolves around the central concept of Shabbot Shalom.  PM Rabin did not understand the mussar of the mitzva of Shabbat, he sought to make peace with the enemies of Israel.  Imposition of the EU vision of a 2 State solution would cause a Civil War to explode.  The EU opportunism would immediately justify their intervension and invasion of the Jewish State.

    The successfull decryption of the secret פרדס logic code has, at least to me, proves that Rashi and the Baali Tosafot understood this method of logic.  Whereas the Rambam and the author of the Zohar did not know this super secret kabbala.  Consequently this commentator supports the charem placed against the Rambam by rabbi Jonah of Girona Spain.  The removal of the Rambam as a kosher posek of halacha, equally challenges the validity of the Tur and Shulkan Aruk legal codifications. This commentary upon the Talmud stands and knocks at the door of the ethical containment force known as halachic Judaism.

    Thank You Harris best regards to Vicki and your family.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.