Friday, December 19, 2014

The Festival of Lights

Our Menorah on the first night of Hanukkah.  Photo by J. Berta.

Shalom All!

It is that time of year, Chanukah is here.  It is called, "The Festival of Lights" as it celebrates a Jewish victory over a Syrian tyrant king.  Here's some additional information from the website

"Although historians debate the causes and outcomes of the war in which Judah Maccabee and his followers defeated the Syrian armies of Antiochus, there is no doubt that Hanukkah evokes stirring images of Jewish valor against overwhelming odds. Other themes rooted in the observance of the holiday include the refusal to submit to the religious demands of an empire practicing idolatry, the struggle against total assimilation into Hellenistic culture and loss of Jewish identity, and the fight for Jewish political autonomy and self-determination."

Growing up in Iowa, I did not know much about this holiday.  I had one Jewish friend.  I made a few more in college.  However, it was not until Dawn and I got together that I began to celebrate the holiday.  It is a lot of fun.  There is the dreidel spinning for chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper (Kosher gambling as my Rabbi friend calls it), the candles and the food.  

And what would Hannukkah be without Adam Sandler's song?  I have the link below to the first time he performed it on "Saturday Night Live" way back in the Second Bronze Age (the 90s, before the internet.)  It's super.  I also have the lyrics below: 

"Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Chanukah
So much funukah
To celebrate Chanukah
Chanukah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights

When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree
Here's a list of people who are Jewish just like you and me
David Lee Roth lights the menorah
So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah

Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli
Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzerelli
Paul Newman's half Jewish, Goldie Hawn's half too
Put them together, what a fine lookin' Jew

You don't need "Deck The Halls" or "Jingle Bell Rock"
'Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr.Spock- both

Put on your yarmulke
It's time for Chanukah
The owner of the Seattle Supersonicahs
Celebrates Chanukah

O.J. Simpson, not a Jew
But guess who is? Hall of famer Rod Carew- he converted
We got Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby
Harrison Ford's a quarter Jewish- not too shabby

Some people think that Ebenezer
Scrooge is
Well he's not, but guess who is
All three Stooges
So many Jews are in showbiz
Tom Cruise isn't, but I heard his agent is

Tell your friend Veronica
It's time to celebrate Chanukah
I hope I get a harmonicah
Oh this lovely, lovely Chanukah
So drink your gin and tonicah

But don't smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy,
Happy Chanukah

Happy Chanukah"

It is a fun tune.  I made a holiday song CD and its cut #3.  It's probably in my top five of holiday songs.  (Sorry Adam, but Lou Rawls, "Chirstmas Is" will hold onto the top spot the way the East Germans held onto power lifting in the 70s.  But still, it is a great tune.)

There is a larger point.  For some Jewish kids, there can be a bit (or perhaps more) of a letdown that Hanukkah is not a bigger deal.  For those well-meaning (albeit ill-informed Christians, as I was for years) who view it as the "Jewish Christmas" are simply wrong.  It's not.  In fact, that's where the irony comes into play.  The whole reason Hanukkah is celebrated is because a group of very brave, very tough (see author Rich Cohen) Jews told a bully king.  "(Expletive-deleted) you, we're not going to bow to your idols.  We're not going to shelve our faith.  If you want to stop us from worshiping God as we see him, then you'll just have to kill us...unless we take you out first."  

Or words to that effect.  :)

So Hanukkah should not be confused with Christmas.  Nor should it be regulated to an "also-ran" position in the winter holiday standings.  It is to itself.  It is the festival of lights.

Now does that mean I am calling for some segregation of Hanukkah from the holiday season?  Absolutely not.  What I am saying is that Hanukkah has its own place in the season of holiday celebration.  It stands on its own two feet.  It should be celebrated and if you're not Jewish (like me) then by all means, join in!  

My point is that this time of year should be a time to embrace the general (and wonderful) concept of celebration.  Within this concept, there are unique traditions that should not be confused.  

The New York Times has a good story about how Jewish parents will go into schools and tell the story of Hanukkah.  I've got the link to it in the credits if you'd like to read it.  Here's a part of the story that warrants repeating:

"When we spoke last week, Keith Weber, who lives in Morgantown, W.Va., had just visited his sons’ elementary school. The teachers had invited him or his wife to come to the regular read-aloud period, when parents visit to read to the children.  'They had asked us to do a Hanukkah-themed book, because we are Jewish,” Mr. Weber said. “So I went in today and read a book illustrated by Syd Hoff, ‘A Chanukah Fable for Christmas,’ and it’s all about a kid who grows up in the Bronx, but all his friends celebrate Christmas, so he’s sad. And so he learns how everyone has holidays around this time.'

Mr. Weber used the visit as a chance to share stories of being a Jewish child among Gentiles.

'I started by saying that when I was a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, most of my friends were Catholic,' Mr. Weber recalled. 'I was sad because I didn’t get to celebrate Christmas.' But as he got older, he told the children, he realized that Hanukkah was a special time, too. 'The conversation I started with kids was it’s a holiday time of year, whatever holiday we are celebrating, and the importance is to spend time with family and friends.'"

"...whatever holiday we are celebrating..."  I like that.

While we're on this subject, I'd be remiss not to weigh-in on the subject of "Putting Christ" back in Christmas.  I see the posts on Facebook about keeping "Christ" in Christmas.   I could not agree more.  Christmas has become a commercialized mess.  Black Friday has turned into Black November.  It's a shame.  I'm not against presents, I'm just saying the season should not be about how much one can save off a TV or iPad or computer that will be even cheeper come the 26th.  Instead, it should be about spending time with the people that matter most to you.  

Of course, there are those who do not have that choice.  Be they on a ship deep in the darkness of the ocean, in a remote base in Afghanistan or on lonely duty in Alaska, our military will be celebrating with their fellow service members.  A band of brothers (and sisters) I have no doubt.  But it is not family.

Now onto a lighter note:  I would also encourage you to use this time of celebration to start a family tradition.  Something simple and unique to your situation.  We get Chinese food on Christmas Eve.  In the link below, we do it a day before a certain Supeme Court Justice.

Our Christmas Eve "tradition" of Chinese food on Christmas Eve.  We have something in common with Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, please see the link below.  Photo by J. Berta.

We celebrate it all in our place.  Photo by J. Berta

 As I am typing this, I have Diana Krall's Christmas album/CD/download playing.  How wonderful to celebrate it, all of it.  If you're not Jewish and know someone who is, ask them about Hanukkah.  Odds are, you'll get invited over.  You'll eat well and might even win some chocolate gelt.  If you are Jewish, extend an invite to your non-Jewish friends or bring in something keeping with the holiday to share at work or even your bowling night.  The way I see it, sharing is celebration at its best.

The world has some ugliness in it.  From the soul-bruising child killing in Pakistan to Dr. Coburn blocking The Clay Hunt SAV bill (and that bill will pass, no thanks to you, "Dr. No."), there is plenty to be frustrated with, angry even.  Yet let us not let the imperfections of this world ruin the holiday and the collective season of celebration.  Let us find a way to stand up to the evil, the darkness.  Let us all, Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Hindu, athiest, agnostic and all others, stand together to oppose (and fight back) against that evil.  If we do, then the festival of lights will go on for the other 357 days of the year.

Be well my friends,


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