Chanukah: The Significance of the Name ‘Maccabee’ to the Modern State of Israel

maccabi beer t-shirt

Kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi

Sign in Hebrew reads, “Welcome to Kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi” (Wikipedia)

The name of the heroes of the Chanukah holiday – the Maccabim – has been adopted by a number of important institutions, products and places in the modern State of Israel.

The holiday of Chanukah has left its mark on modern day Israel and the Jewish world in many ways, especially in regard to the small band of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees and their leader, Judah (Yehudah) Maccabee. The heroes of the Chanukah holiday, who fought against the Greeks and won independence from Antiochus IV Epiphanes more than 2000 years ago, have been frequently referenced throughout the history of the Jewish state with their name adopted by a number of important institutions and organizations.

The country’s second largest health service provider is called Maccabi, founded by in the late 1930s by Jewish doctors who escaped from Nazi Germany. The healthcare service maintains 150 medical clinics throughout the country in addition to 20 medical diagnostic and therapeutic centers, 43 pharmacies and two hospitals.

Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut is a city located west of Jerusalem, whose name is significantly tied to the holiday of Chanukah. The leaders of the Maccabees revolt came from the Modi’in area and the modern city is located near the site of ancient Modi’in. Maccabim is the Hebrew name for Maccabees.

Tel Aviv’s internationally-known basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv was originally established in the mid-1930s and has won the Euroleague competition six times. It is part of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Sports Club, one of the largest sports clubs in Israel, founded in 1906.

Maccabi Tel Aviv logo

Maccabi Tel Aviv logo (

The Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club is part of the Maccabi World Union, an international Jewish sports organization made up of more than 50 countries across five continents and 400,000 members. It was formed by the 12th World Jewish Congress in Czechoslovakia as an umbrella organization for all Jewish sports associations in 1921.

Also related to sports, the Jewish Olympics, known as the Maccabiah Games are held every four years in Israel, following the  actual Olympic Games. Jewish athletes across the world compete in what is the world’s third largest sporting event. The first Maccabiah Games were held in 1932 during the British Mandate.

Maccabi Hatza’ir, also known as the Maccabi youth movement was founded in Germany in 1926, in association with the Maccabi World Union. The Zionist youth movement took part in the fight to establish the state of Israel and was involved with youth aliyah.  The youth movement today has over 21 branches with 3,000 members across Israel.

Yehuda Ha'Maccabi Street in Tel Aviv

Street sign in Tel Aviv (

Kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi (Maccabee Village) in northern Israel was founded by Maccabi Hatza’ir members and today has a population of around 300 people.

One of Israel’s most popular beers goes by the name of Maccabee, and has been successfully marketed to Europe and the United States. The beer first hit Israeli shelves in 1968 and was named Maccabee to convey the Jewish and Hebrew pride when it was marketed to the global beer market. The first label even depicted the ancient Maccabee warrior. The beer has won international competitions in Luxembourg, Paris, Brussels, and Rome.

Traveling across the country, one will find that most Israeli cities have a Yehudah HaMaccabi street. As for personal names, one will occasionally run into someone whose first name is Maccabi although it is more common as an Israeli surname.

By: Anav Silverman/TPS

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