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THE WEEK AHEAD: Jews celebrate Hanukkah, a new Israeli government is likely to be sworn-in and the World Cup marks its final match in Qatar

Here are the stories we are watching...

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Richard Nides (L), Israeli President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal light the Hanukkah candles during Nides swearing in ceremony as new ambassador to Israel, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Dec. 5, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Hanukkah

  • Government swearing-in

  • FIFA World Cup Qatar

  • Israeli orchestra in Abu Dhabi

HANUKKAH

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is upon us, with the first candle-lighting on Sunday, Dec. 18. Unlike many Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as it celebrates events that took place centuries after the closing of the Jewish scriptures, in the 2nd century B.C. It is, however, mentioned in the New Testament.

The Hanukkah story begins when King Antiochus IV of the [Syrian-Greek] Seleucid Empire wanted the Jews to assimilate into Hellenist Greek culture and make it a capital offense to observe the Jewish religion. After a lengthy revolt, the Maccabee fighters came out victorious and captured Jerusalem. The often-overlooked aspect of the holiday is that the first phase of the Maccabean revolt was actually directed against Hellenized Jews – meaning, the rift within the Jewish community became an advantage for the enemy.

When the Maccabees entered the destroyed Temple’s sanctuary, they discovered that the Syrian Greeks had defiled almost all the oils used in the Temple service. A Talmudic legend holds that all that was left was miraculously sufficient to light the Temple’s menorah for eight days. You can learn more about the origins of the holiday here.

Last week, a symbolic six-foot menorah was placed in the Western Wall plaza. The candle-lighting ceremonies at the sacred compound will be broadcast live via the Western Wall cameras onto the Facebook page and website of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

GOVERNMENT SWEARING-IN

After weeks of negotiations, all hurdles are likely to be lifted, clearing the way for Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government to be sworn into office this week. The “Bibi bloc” comprises Netanyahu’s Likud party, as well as the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party and Itamar Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power party. 

In contrast to reports claiming that the Biden administration might refuse to work with far-right hardliner elements in the incoming Israeli government, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said that Washington will “gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities.”

Such reports mainly alluded to Jewish Power chairman Ben Gvir, who is on track as minister to oversee the Israel Police, with expanded authorities; and Religious Zionism party leader Smotrich, who will oversee the government’s civilian activities in Samaria and Judea. One move that paved the way to forming the new coalition was the appointment of Likud member Yariv Levin as the new speaker of the Israeli Knesset, after a legislative blitz.

FIFA WORLD CUP QATAR

Argentina and France meet on Sunday, Dec. 18 (10 a.m. EST) for the final match of the World Cup soccer tournament. While France wants to retain the title, Argentina hopes to win its sixth World Cup final – and Lionel Messi’s first in what could be his last round playing in the international tournament.

Argentina qualified for the final match after beating Croatia 3-0. France secured its ticket after a 2-0 win that stopped Morocco’s shocking Cinderella-run.

The Qatar World Cup will be remembered as the first time the event was held in the Middle East and in winter. The next World Cup, in 2026, will take place in the summer across three countries in North America: the United States, Canada and Mexico.

ISRAELI ORCHESTRA IN ABU DHABI

For the first time in 85 years, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra will perform in an Arab state, at a concert scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 20, marking an historic debut in the United Arab Emirates. The orchestra’s four-day visit to the Gulf country was an initiative of Michal Herzog, the wife of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who traveled to the Abraham Accords partner nation earlier this year.

Decades ago, even before the founding of the modern State of Israel, the orchestra performed in Cairo, Egypt, under its previous name: the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. During World War II, the orchestra performed 140 times before Allied soldiers, including a 1942 performance for soldiers of the Jewish Brigade at El Alamein.

 This week we are also keeping an eye on these developing stories:

  • ... What did far-right Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir have to say to Christian journalists?

  • ... What is incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main message in his first-ever interview with a Saudi newspaper?  

  • ... Does the proposed override clause pose a danger to Israeli democracy?

  • ... What is the ancient discovery that supports the historical account of the Maccabees?

  • ... What brings the TIME100 Global Impact Awards to Jerusalem next year?

  • ... Why did the King of Morocco decide to make peace with Israel two years ago?

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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