Hanukkah is often referred to as a “minor” Jewish holiday, but its place in December has made it one of the most celebrated holidays on the Jewish calendar. With elevated status also comes a greater recognition of Hanukkah’s story, which is essentially a struggle to “maintain our Jewishness within a non-Jewish society,” said Adam Bronfman in a blog post for Jewcy.com. This theme is what makes Hanukkah one of the most important Jewish celebrations today.
Looking beyond the story of the eight days of oil, Bronfman sees in Hanukkah a manifestation of the struggles still faced by many in the Jewish community today, particularly intermarried families. This, he says, is where the idea of maintaining our Jewishness is fully felt. Rarely are questions of identity so plainly presented than when intermarried families ask themselves how they will navigate the December holiday season: “Should your family celebrate both sets of traditions?”
Hanukkah forces us to find a way to celebrate our own heritage while surrounded by the traditions of other religions. In that sense, it is no longer a “minor” holiday. For many intermarried families, it is the central expression of Jewishness – both within their own family and within society at large. It is a model of how we can find balance between preserving our identity while flourishing in a diverse, multi-cultural society.
In Bronfman’s reading of Hanukkah (which is admittedly controversial since he leaves little room for the other tradition), we have a holiday that helps us explore and discover the tools for our own survival. “The issues and ideas associate with Hanukkah”, he writes, “are central to our Jewish story and must be resolved as we continue our Jewish journey.”