Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mixed Feelings About Chanukkah

What we have here is a holiday whose name we can not spell. Look, Yom Kippur isn’t that hard. Even Rosh Hashanah – manageable. Pesach. Easy. But…

Chanukah Chanukkah Chanukka Hanuka Hanukka Channukah Channukkah Hanukah Hanukkah Chanuka Chanukka Hanuka Hanukka Channukah Channukkah Hannukah Hannukkah Channuka Channukka Hannuka Hannukka Kannukah Kanukkah Kannuka Kanukka Ckannuka Ckanukka Ckannukah Ckanukkah

Could we just make up our minds? I know it’s a Hebrew word transliterated and transliterations are all over the map. But this is ridiculous.

OK, next problem. We all know that in comparison to the High Holidays and the Shalosh Regalim (Succos, Pesach, Shavuos), Chanukkah is a minor holiday. And yet, because of it’s proximity to Christmas, and maybe because we just like to light candles on the darkest days of the year, it has become a major big deal. Also, over the past few decades, more and more Jewish families, even Orthodox ones, have started giving Chanukkah gifts.

Now I’m reading that Chanukkah is actually, historically, not a victory over the Greeks, but a commemoration of a civil war, Jews fighting Jews. I guess I always knew this on some level -- that it wasn’t Greeks the Hasmoneans fought but Hellenized Jews -- but this article spells it out quite clearly.

Read in its historical context, however, the Hanukkah story is really about a revolt against the Hellenized Jews who had fallen madly in love with the sophisticated, globalizing superculture of their day. The Apocrypha's texts make it clear that the battle against Hellenization was in fact a kulturkampf among the Jews themselves....

That's the clash of Hanukkah. Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town of Modi'in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword's edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule.

I like Chanukiahs. I like lights. I like latkas. Honestly, I don’t care for jelly doughnuts, but that’s OK. Personally, don’t care too much for civil war or theocratic rule. Generally do enjoy going to the gym. The truth is, had I lived back then, I could easily picture myself on either side. I’m pretty sure that there was much I would enjoy in Greek culture. Though, as a woman, not sure I was invited to the party, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, the Hasmoneans were a tad harsh.

It’s kind of sad that the general knowledge of Chanukkah is basically zilch. “Judah Maccabee riding on an elephant,” as the Grace Adler character says in Will & Grace. (Macabbee? Maccabee? Makabee?) In my youth, we celebrated the concept of the Jewish soldier and warrior (still a newish Jewish thought, in the 1960’s). Judah the Macabee was seen reflected in the faces of handsome young IDF soldiers. That’s a good instance of taking fuzzy history and turning it into a symbol. Inspiring, but hardly accurate.

I wonder if the closest thing we’ve experienced to the Hasmonean revolt was the attempt by religious settlers to remain in Gaza last summer. No elephants, however, were involved. And the sad spectacle of Jews fighting Jews was not something anyone wanted to celebrate. We did celebrate, and rightfully so, moments when settlers hugged soldiers, when the two groups prayed together. Maybe we’ve come a long way.

Meanwhile, it’s winter time, even here in Texas. OK, it’s sunny and 80 degrees, but they tell me it’s winter time. We open our drapes and light the Chanukiah, making sure the lights are clearly visible to anyone walking their dog along our block. So today, it’s mostly about that little demonstration.

Down the street is a 18-foot high Santa Claus. (I wish I was exaggerating!) Manger scenes dot the main road of our subdivision. There is no Santa Claus or manger scene in our yard. We have two chanukiahs in the window. It’s a gentle statement that says, “We are Jewish” and “There is light here in the darkness.” Maybe someone walking by will pause to wonder what that means. I know I do.

(crossposting at Mirty's Place)

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