When I was in elementary school we learned this very zealous Hanukkah song called “Light One Candle” which urged us to light candles for, among other things, “the Maccabee Children with thanks their light didn't die,” “the pain they endured when their right to exist was denied,” “the terrible sacrifice justice and freedom demand” and “those who are suffering pain we learned so long ago.” Despite the fact that the complete lyrics of this song make only marginal sense (you can check them out here), it invariably brings me close to tears, and I absolutely cannot help myself from thinking about it when I light my first candle every year. It’s the whole “Maccabee Children” thing that does me in. I always picture one of the kids from the Christian Child Charity commercials, with Katherine Hepburn in the background telling me that if I don’t pay the $5 a day that it takes to feed this child, I shouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
Matthias’s five sons likely did live in filth since they were always hiding out in caves, but warfare, not poverty, was likely their biggest concern. The Maccabee children had Greek sharpshooters on elephants to worry about. These days, if the children soldiers of the world got to fight alongside their brothers, and had only elephant riding bow-and-arrow wielding enemies to fight, that’d be a huge improvement. There are over 300,000 child soldiers fighting in armed conflicts worldwide. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, thousands of young boys were taken from their families and forced to fight in rebel armies where their commanders often gave them hallucinogenic drugs in order to get them excited for battles.
Keeping these unwilling Maccabees in mind on the first few nights of Hanukkah isn’t a bad idea. And if you want to do a little more, Save the Children and UNICEF both run camps and schools that help rehabilitate former child soldiers, and will happily accept monetary donations of any amount.