12.30.08

Why Israel Named Its Gaza War After a Hanukkah Poem

Hint: The Jewish holiday isn't all about presents and spinning tops—it celebrates national liberation.

Israel has given its Gaza assault the codename “Operation Cast Lead.” Where did this rather poetic title come from? Well, a poem. Specifically, a classic Hanukkah poem by Israel’s national poet, H.N. Bialik.

The operation began on Saturday, the sixth day of Hanukkah. According to Eli Isaacson, a spokesman for the IDF—who spoke to The Daily Beast moments after arriving at the site of a recent Qassam rocket explosion—the codename comes from a line in “For Hanukkah” referring to “a dreidel cast of solid lead.”

Hanukkah marks the victory of the Jews over Antiochus IV and the Seleucid Empire.

It might seem strange that Israel would name a military operation after a holiday associated with gifts and dreidels, but in Israel, the Hanukkah story celebrates national liberation. The holiday marks the victory of the Jews over Antiochus IV and the Seleucid Empire.

Antiochus precipitated a large-scale revolt in Judea by ordering an altar to Zeus erected in the Jewish temple. A two-year guerrilla war, led by the Maccabees, followed and ended in victory for the Jews. The temple was cleansed and rededicated on the 25th of Kislev (the start of Hanukkah), and the Maccabees gained political independence for Judea.

Their Hasmonean kingdom was the last independent Jewish state for more than 2,000 years, until Israel was created.

“For Hanukkah” is as follows:

For Hanukkah

My father lit candles for me;
Like a torch the Shamash shone.
In whose honor, for whose glory?
For Hanukkah alone.

My teacher bought a big dreidel for me,
Cast of solid lead, the finest known.
In whose honor, for whose glory?
For Hanukkah alone.

My mother made a pancake for me,
Hot and sweet and sugar-strewn.
In whose honor, for whose glory?
For Hanukkah alone.

My uncle had a present for me,
An old penny for my own.
In whose honor, for whose glory?
For Hanukkah alone.

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