Jewish Holidays and Practices
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On a lighter note, here’s an article from today’s New York Daily News, “Chanukah. . . Hannuka. . . Hahfuhgedit!” on the mass confusion about how to spell the name of this holiday. The article points out:
There’s Channuka, Channukah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanuko, Hannuka, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanika, Hanukah, Hanukka, Hanukkah, Kanukkah, Khannuka, Khannukah, Khanuka, Khanukah, Khanukkah and Khanike. Sometimes even Xanuka.
Oy. It’s enough to make you look forward to Purim.
Of course, the correct answer is that there’s no correct English spelling…because it’s a transliterated Hebrew word. Just do the best you can!
In this season of gift-giving and family gettogethers, it’s easy to breeze through Hanukkah without stopping to appreciate the deeper meaning of the holiday, or ever even acquiring a full understanding of the events we’re commemorating. In some ways, the complexity of the historical events keep many folks from delving deeper.
While there are certainly many scholarly and popular books available on the subject, the online magazine Slate tackles this challenge with a brief but excellent article called “The Maccabees and the Hellenists: Hanukkah as Jewish Civil War” by James Ponet. Among his many insights, I found this the most poignant:
The Jews at once succumbed to Greek civilization, forcefully resisted it, and were transformed by it…. Here we find the historical miracle that Hanukkah implicitly celebrates: the capacity to sustain intimate relations with another without totally ceding your own sense of self, the ability to love without permanently merging, to be enchanted by the exquisite beauty of another without losing sight of your own charms.
Of course, if you are ready to delve deeper, you can always start by reading the original source. Either way, it was a fascinating time for the Jewish people, worth exploring for the relevant parallels to today’s challenges.
Over the last week or so, both the Jewish and secular media have been awash in stories about the “December Dilemma” for interfaith families, more so this year than ever before — considering it is the first time since 1959 that the first night of Hanukkah has fallen on Christmas day (and back in 1959 the Jewish intermarriage rate was only about 6%).
Among the many articles covering the phenomenon are:
- Holidays’ Convergence Adds to December Dilemma, New York Times.
- Chrismukkah time is here again, Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
- Dual—not dueling—holidays for these folks, San Antonio Express News.
- More families observe Christmas and Hanukkah, The Hamilton Spectator.
- Tis Never the Season for Chrismukkah, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
Many of these articles seem to focus on the seeming harmony brought to families that celebrate both holidays.
The article that I thought best captured the actual challenges of “celebrating both” (and not just because I was quoted) was a piece by reporter Sue Fishkoff of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency called “Some families solve annual dilemma by celebrating Christmas, Chanukah“. The piece examines a few grassroots initiatives that not only celebrate both holidays but try to educate children of interfaith parents about both religions simultaneously:
Raymond Reichenberg, who’s at the Christmas - Chanukah celebration in New York with his 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, admits he couldn’t bring himself to sing the Christmas carols earlier in the evening. But, he says, this is the only way his family can negotiate their dual-faith reality. When he and his wife, a Roman Catholic, got married, they agreed to raise the children as Jews. “But when the time came, she couldn’t tolerate it,” Reichenberg says. “The hardest thing was giving up my desire to have Jewish kids. We wouldn’t have gotten through it without this place, and the exposure and tolerance they’re learning.”
The rest of the piece chronicles some of the very difficult emotions the parents deal with when confronted with such compromises.
So how was YOUR day? Was it as harmonious as some of the above articles might suggest? Or were there real challenges?
Hanukkah is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. (Truth be told, I enjoy each Jewish holiday for what it brings to the Jewish spirit and psyche.) I don’t care whether it comes early or late. (I do realize that retailers prefer that Hanukkah come after Christmas so that the Jewish community can take advantage of after-Christmas sales and complete the season for them.) I only want to make sure that it is celebrated to the fullest. Those who say it is minor holiday are out of touch with Jewish children in North America. Sure, there is something simple and beautiful in the Hanukkah menorah burning brightly on the window sill. It belongs there as a way to show off/make public the miracle—in Hebrew called persumat hanes. But there is also something nice about a Jewish holiday that motivates us for the entire month that surrounds the eight day celebration with parties and decorations and gifts. Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom. It celebrates Jewish independence. Why shouldn’t we celebrate it to the fullest?
We may not agree with everything Chabad does, but at JOI the Chabad giant menorah-lightings serve as the outstanding example of our signature approach to Public Space Judaism for Hanukkah. The rest of the Jewish community is also catching on, as explained in today’s JTA feature, “Public menorah displays testament to the growing acceptance of Chabad.” It is important to note that JOI advocates Judaism in the Public Space more than the Public Square, because that is where the people are—in public spaces like shopping malls and bookstores and coffee shops, more than in government agencies. So let’s see how many large menorahs we can erect in the community in addition to what Chabad can do. And let’s make sure that we apply the best of outreach practices at the same time—implementing effective, unobtrusive strategies for the collection of contact information, and inviting the folks who attend to other free events that are relevant to their interests, through personal follow-up.
Hanukkah celebration is of course a great thing in its own right. But if it might also serve a gateway into deepening someone’s Jewish interests, we should ask ourselves, What else might they be looking for? How can we provide it? This isn’t about getting someone to attend synagogue services the next week (unless that’s what they’re looking for!), it’s about providing the vast array of Jewish offerings—religious, cultural, intellectual, social, and so on, based on what people want (not on what our institutions need). Almost all Jews celebrate Hanukkah. Let’s come together as a community, and then find more ways that we can stay together throughout the year, with equally fun and low-threshold events that don’t distinguish between affiliated or unaffiliated, observant or non-observant, in-married or intermarried, or any of the other ways we artificially separate ourselves.
Perhaps as a response to the alarming merging of Christmas and Hanukkah we’ve recently seen with the mainstreaming of non-holidays like “Christmukah,” there’s a clever new website called Jewsmas.org. While its humor is hit-or-miss, we enjoyed reading its raison d’etre:
In a well-meaning but misguided attempt to be “inclusive”, Christian society has cast Chanukah in the role of the “Jewish Christmas”. To liberate our ancient holiday from this false role, we introduce a new holiday, the true Jewish Christmas, Jewsmas. Now leave Chanukah the hell alone!
Perhaps that could have been worded more gently, but some of the alternative celebrations they offer for this “new holiday”—to be celebrated seperately from both Christmas and Hanukkah—are quite humorous. I especially enjoyed the token-gesture “Refusal of the Ham.”