Hanukkah in America
Hanukkah in Hebrew
Like many (most?) non-Jewish Americans my understanding of Hanukkah has been sufficiently perfunctory as to be effectively non-existent, and it would have remained so had the article below not caught my eye as I was browsing the New York Times website. Oddly enough, I’d read a little bit (online) about the Maccabees and was therefore familiar with the general outlines of their story, however I somehow never connected it to Hanukkah.
I found the history and symbolism absorbing, and felt more than a little abashed that as the author states, I tended to think of Hanukkah as “Christmas for Jews” and had no idea that it is a minor Jewish holiday (compared to others). The author describes how it came to be seen that way in the U.S., which I also found interesting.
WHEN my brother was in kindergarten, where he was the only Jewish student, a parent organizing enrichment activities asked my mother to tell the class the story of Hanukkah. My mother obligingly brought in a picture book and began to read about foreign conquerors who were not letting Jews in ancient Israel worship freely, even defiling their temple, until a scrappy group led by the Maccabee family overthrew one of the most powerful armies in the world and won their liberty.
The woman was horrified.
The Hanukkah story, she interrupted, was not about war. It was about the miracle of an oil lamp that burned for eight days without replenishing. She urged my mother to close the book. My mother refused.
The woman wasn’t alone. Many Americans, Jews as well as Christians, think that the legend of the long-lasting oil is the root of Hanukkah’s commemoration. And perhaps that mistake is no surprise, given that for many the holiday has morphed into ‘Christmas for Jews,’ echoing the message of peace on earth accompanied by gift giving. In doing so, the holiday’s own message of Jewish survival and faith has been diluted. […]
More at the NY Times…
After reading the article and allowing my curiosity to get the better of me, so I decided to read the Wiki entry for Hanukkah and was captivated by the menorah pictured on the left, which was unearthed in Jerusalem circa 1900. Why this one? I don’t know—I suppose because (in my mind at least) it looks like it belongs in Jerusalem…it looks Middle Eastern and is clearly very, very old.
Here’s a photo of a reconstruction of the Menorah of the Temple which has an intriguing history behind it. In addition, here’s an article (PDF) with more info about the same published by a Dr. Steven Fine, who is a cultural historian specializing in Jewish history. He has some other interesting articles and videos too, so be sure to check out those links if you like history.
Well, that was all it took to send me on a quest for more images of ancient menorahs (gah, the internet is such a time eater). Lo and behold, I found this page with no less than 50 images of ancient menorahs! Really great stuff.
My Ulterior Motive
Yes, I have an ulterior motive here in that I’m trying to divert attention from the seemingly endless fighting that goes on in the Pages by looking for aspects of Judaism & Israel that we can discuss in a positive way, and which will increase understanding instead of causing squabbles where everyone hunkers down in their respective trenches and proceeds to hurl insults and accusations at one other.
IMO, it’s unproductive and a waste of valuable time & space to keep rehashing the same old gripes & propaganda/talking points ad infinitum. I would wager that it’s especially tiresome for those who don’t have a dog on the fight. You don’t like that I said that? So go ahead, shoot me. I mean, we’re supposed to be enlightened, rational Westerners, right? //sarc
Pfft, I should probably be more concerned about finding a constructive way to discuss Islam & the Muslim world, but… well, one thing at a time, I guess. *shrug*