The Other Hanukkah Victory That Changed Jewish History

December 14, 2020 | Larry Domnitch
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On December 11, 1917—the second day of Hanukkah—British troops marched into Jerusalem after fierce fighting with Ottoman forces. Britain’s victory was decisive not just for the course of World War I, but also for Jewish history. Larry Domnitch writes:

The commander and chief [of Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force], General Edmund Allenby, respectfully entered its walls by foot through the Jaffa gate as the city’s 34th conqueror. Excited crowds lined Jerusalem’s streets to welcome the city’s liberators. Their very presence signified an end to the terrible suffering the people of Jerusalem had endured during the war.

One British officer described his entry into Jerusalem and the reception by its residents, “People of all ages and apparently of all nationalities, thronged the roadway, crowded at their doors and windows, and squeezed themselves on the roofs of their houses. Swarms of children, Arab, Jew, and Christian, ran with us as we marched along, and the populace clamored to any point of vantage, waving and clapping their hands, cheering and singing. Jews clad in European dress came running up, singled out any one of us, wrung him by the hand, and—talking excitedly in broken English—said that they, the people of Jerusalem, had been waiting for that two-and-a-half years.

Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, the chief rabbi of the British Empire issued a statement linking the British entry into Jerusalem to the holiday of Hanukkah, “Jerusalem which for ages has been the majestic pole of love and reverence of the world is now in British hands. And this soul thrilling news reaches us on the day that the Jews are celebrating the Maccabean festival. On this day 2,080 years ago, the Maccabees freed the Holy City from the heathen oppressor and thereby changed the spiritual future of humanity. Who knows but that today’s victory may form as glorious a landmark in the history of mankind.”

The British victory of course paved the way for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which had been issued just a few weeks earlier.

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