Several months ago, various Jewish groups got rather exercised that Mel Gibson was planning to make a film about the Maccabees. The Chanucah story, in the hands of an actor we wouldn’t even trust to look after our chocolate money or dreidel winnings? Disastrous.
Mel’s movie is still in the development stage, so it’s not clear yet whether it will be The Passion II, or a mea culpa set to music with action stunts. But when the news broke, my reaction was: “about time”.
Not being in the market to convert, we don’t tend to shout about the Hollywood side of Judaism; the triumph of the underdog, “cue the violins” parts. Outside of our first few years of Cheder, when we colour in pictures of Noah’s Ark and giggle at Adam and Eve’s fig-leaves, we focus on Judaism as a “how to”, a code for conduct rather than an exact report on what happened.
It makes sense because, for many of us, the tales of the Tanach require a whopping great suspension of disbelief. Yet there’s something about Chanucah that makes the sceptic in me melt.
Of all the incredible – and unbelievable – stories in the Jewish canon, the one about the maverick warrior who successfully led a revolt against the villainous Greek conquerors has to be among the best. It’s got everything: family loyalty, victory against-the-odds, drama and intrigue. And there’s the oil, lasting for eight nights. It’s a miracle that you’d scoff at if it was the ending of a Disney film, and yet, it doesn’t half make you proud.
Seeing him take his first steps to freedom was like a miracle
Chanucah is a time for celebrating miracles and this week saw the tail end of one. On Sunday 550 Palestinian prisoners were released from jail early; the final stage of October’s deal to bring back Gilad Shalit. Last year, when we lit candles, it was unthinkable that Gilad would be with his family for the next Chanucah. We continued to pray and petition but it had been five years and he was a captive of a merciless terrorist group.
This comment piece was first published in the JC. Read the rest of it here