It happened this week, at Livnot…
It was supposed to be a regular run-of-the-mill Livnot hike for a group of 20-somethings. Except…as we’ve all learned over the years…there is no such thing.
The Livnot experience is the antithesis of run-of-the-mill…
Livnot was running a program for Masa participants; some had never celebrated Shabbat ever before (they loved it, of course). But now it was Hanukkah, and we decided that the hike would begin at Yodfat – a picturesque Galilean city that was inhabited by Jews at the time of the Maccabees, and then many years later lost a crucial battle in the Great Revolt against the Romans. We’d finish at the Hideout Caves of Ruma that were close by.
One of the people on the program said: “I came to this program because I heard that incredible things happen here.” For many of the people, this was their first hike in Israel, ever. I realized that I was with a group with sky-high expectations. But the sky, as I glanced at it while the bus drove out of Tzfat, wasn’t helping our hike; grey clouds covered the sky and it started raining.
I had been looking forward to this hike. The entire day before I had sat in front of a computer screen, preparing to give a Zoom-class that Livnot offered to the Palm Beach Federation that night: “Understanding Hanukkah and the Maccabees Through Coins.” (We’ll send a link of the class to those who wish). I had spent hours looking for appropriate coin photos, and even a day later, when I closed my eyes, I saw coins and coins and more coins. Rain or shine, I was so happy to get outside!
As we pulled up to the trailhead, the sky cleared. Yodfat was full of hikers; it seems that not only Livnot, but hundreds of other Israelis chose this site for their Hanukkah hike, too. And that included a group of about 30 soldiers from the navy, forty 5th graders from a nearby kibbutz, and scores of families with daypacks and kids on their backs. We stood around a map of Northern Israel and pointed to Tzfat, Yodfat, and Ruma.
And we began hiking. We saw crocuses, and compost, and cows. We walked on wet ground, felt the thorns left by last summer, and saw the new fuzzy green covering of the earth left by this year’s first rains.
We arrived at the bottom of the huge tel of Yodfat, ready for the big climb of the day. We took off our jackets in anticipation of heating up. We climbed the very steep hill and stopped to catch our breath at the city wall. We were just about to stop at the cisterns, when…
I looked down and right in the middle of the well-trodden path, I saw a coin with a star on it.
I realized that I was witnessing something rare and very special. Think about it:
a group of Jews gathers together from the four corners of the earth (we had folks in the group who were born in many different countries, including the U.S., Russia, Israel, and Kansas) and celebrates an ancient holiday commemorating the physical and spiritual victory of the Maccabees. Some of them might not even believe that the Hanukkah story ever happened. And on the very holiday that celebrates the Maccabees, we find a coin minted by a Maccabee himself, the Hasmonean king known as Alexander Yannai.
The little coin, made of bronze, was of low quality. But the star it showed, carried a big message. While some Greek rulers put stars on their coins to show that the astrological gods above were with them, researchers believe that Jewish rulers used to star to refer to a Biblical verse that foretells leadership: “A star shall shoot out from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise from Israel.”
Every participant had a chance to hold this special coin in their hands. As someone said later, it was as if the Maccabees were sending us warm regards on their holiday…our holiday. At the end of the day, one of the participants said:
“Hiking in the beautiful Galilee, learning about Hanukkah, finding an ancient Maccabee coin, eating picnic pita on top of a hill, crawling in ancient Jewish hideout caves…all in one day…it’s simply…life-changing!” *
Anywhere in the world, you can learn about the Hanukkah story, read books, hear lectures, eat great foods. But sometimes you have to be here, hike here, explore here, and soak up the experience, in order to *feel* the Hanukkah story.
In a nutshell, this is really what Livnot U’Lehibanot is all about.
May we all *feel* a Happy Hanukkah!