family / myself

Happy Hanukah

I have varied my opinions about Hanukah over time. As a child, I loved it because it was greasy food and presents – what’s not to love?!

As a young adult, I struggled with it – Was it only important as an alternative to Christmas? Do I really want to celebrate a war victory? Why are we encouraging America to be MORE commercial, especially at this spend-happy time of year? I don’t even believe in miracles, so why am I celebrating a holiday about a miracle?

Now, as a slightly older young adult, but as a wife, parent, active-member-of-my-congregation, and religious school director, I find myself wrestling with Hanukah in new ways.

For many non-Jews, it is a holiday they are familiar with, at least superficially. It is a conversation starter, a way into deeper understanding. This is useful as a way to talk about why being Jewish is important to me, what this holiday might really mean to us now, and what other holidays matter. My relationship to Judaism is constantly changing and I like the opportunity to constantly reevaluate it.

I also like considering what Hanukah may mean now, in 2010. I’ve been reading about teaching children about the history vs. mythology of Hanukah. Both are improtant, but I’m a huge fan of stories. Why can’t we tell the story of the miracle of the oil not as a statement of fact but as a story that illustrates devotion, faith, and bringing in the light? We all could use a little more light this time of year.

In a recent re-reading of the story, I found myself drawn to the “standing up for what you believe in” and “religious freedom” aspects of the story. Sadly, both themes are as important today as they were when/if the historical event took place. Any way in to a conversation about standing up for what you believe in is welcome, with children or adults.

A few years ago (and maybe it continues) there was a movement, at least within the progressive Jewish movements of which I am a part, to add an environmental bent to Hanukah and encourage us all to change our lightbulbs over to CFLs. And why not? Why not use a holiday about standing up for what you believe in to make the world more energy efficient and thoughtful?

I often find myself fighting with Hankuah in my own family because I don’t want to celebrate something because I don’t celebrate Christmas. If anything, maximizing the present-giving and “seasons greetings” aspect of Hanukah take away from the story.

David and I lit our menorah last night, even though the kids weren’t with us (why do we only do these things when the kids are around…another post will have to tackle that one…). I would have been content not to light them, but because we did, I said the blessings. To him, the lighting was important. To me, the whole act was important – either do it or don’t. We didn’t give each other presents, on purpose and by accident, and I like it better that way. We sang a little (Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and some Georgian songs though – not Hanukah songs ).

And today I’m going to have a donut. I can’t make sufganiyot, so I will settle for Dunkin.

Happy Hanukah!


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