Could Mel Gibson give Gilad a Hollywood homecoming?

Several months ago, various Jewish groups got rather exercised that Mel Gibson was planning to make a film about the Maccabees. The Chanucah story, in the hands of an actor we wouldn't even trust to look after our chocolate money or dreidel winnings? Disastrous.

Mel's movie is still in the development stage, so it's not clear yet whether it will be The Passion II, or a mea culpa set to music with action stunts. But when the news broke, my reaction was: "about time".

Not being in the market to convert, we don't tend to shout about the Hollywood side of Judaism; the triumph of the underdog, "cue the violins" parts. Outside of our first few years of Cheder, when we colour in pictures of Noah's Ark and giggle at Adam and Eve's fig-leaves, we focus on Judaism as a "how to", a code for conduct rather than an exact report on what happened.

It makes sense because, for many of us, the tales of the Tanach require a whopping great suspension of disbelief. Yet there's something about Chanucah that makes the sceptic in me melt.

Of all the incredible - and unbelievable - stories in the Jewish canon, the one about the maverick warrior who successfully led a revolt against the villainous Greek conquerors has to be among the best. It's got everything: family loyalty, victory against-the-odds, drama and intrigue. And there's the oil, lasting for eight nights. It's a miracle that you'd scoff at if it was the ending of a Disney film, and yet, it doesn't half make you proud.

Seeing him take his first steps to freedom was like a miracle

Chanucah is a time for celebrating miracles and this week saw the tail end of one. On Sunday 550 Palestinian prisoners were released from jail early; the final stage of October's deal to bring back Gilad Shalit. Last year, when we lit candles, it was unthinkable that Gilad would be with his family for the next Chanucah. We continued to pray and petition but it had been five years and he was a captive of a merciless terrorist group.

Gilad had been gone for longer than we had been Facebook users and since before the iPad was a glimmer in its creator's eyes. He was last seen when Tony Blair led Britain and Barack Obama was just an unknown freshman senator from Illinois. Heartbreaking as it was, we spoke of him in the same breath as Ron Arad - missing and with almost no news since Gilad was a baby - or Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, brought home in body-bags after being taken by Hizbollah. So when we saw him, now 25, take his first steps to freedom, it was like a miracle unfolding before our eyes.

For Israel, 2011 has been a time for tragedy. Tamar Fogel spends Chanucah without her parents and three of her siblings, after they were murdered in one of the most brutal attacks in Israeli memory. The peace process is faltering, if there at all, while the looming US election means the momentum for progress is slow. Iran remains a threat. Israel is as divided as ever; the rash of abominable Price Tag attacks are a mark of shame and the battle between religious and secular shows no sign of subsiding. Last week, Hamas celebrated its 24th birthday; the icing on its cake was a promise of more struggle against the Zionists.

But there have been miracles, too; perhaps not ones that involve oil lasting longer than it should (no reprieve on those heating bills just yet) but times when the unimaginable happened.

For the disenfranchised in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, it has been a year when tyranny was turned on its head. The Arab Spring may yet turn into a desolate winter, but it is proof that things can change in the Middle East, that the stalemate of decades does not have to be go on for ever. And it has reminded the world that Arab countries have problems that cannot be blamed on Israel.

Last summer brought no second clash on a flotilla. Despite the Palestine Papers, despite the uncertainty of the UN bid, despite the first bus bomb in Jerusalem for seven years, despite rocket fire, this was a year without a war in Israel. For once, Israel's biggest news stories weren't about conflict but about a build up of tents in Tel Aviv and a spat over the price of cottage cheese.

Judge Richard Goldstone admitted he got it wrong on Gaza. Israel showed that political power was not a bar to justice when former president Moshe Katzav was jailed. An Israeli chemist won a Nobel Prize for a theory his academic peers disparaged for decades.

Miracles? Tiny ones, admittedly. But as we light candles and celebrate the exploits of the Maccabees, let's recall that for five years, we hoped against the odds that Gilad would be home for Chanucah. Sometimes, Israel gets the Hollywood ending. And who knows, this time next year Mel Gibson might be working on a film about him.

Last updated: 11:38am, December 22 2011