Chanukah is made memorable largely by the latkes, the dreidel, the songs and the jelly donuts — the atmosphere of the holiday. Distinguished from the chanukiah that we light in the window, these are a matter of custom, not of law. Much of Judaism relies on customs that create the “feel” of things, an atmosphere in the home that was shaped throughout our history by mothers.
In an age when women and men both have communal positions, we should be mindful of how women influenced Jewish life when their public voices were not heard. The formative first years of education were the domain of the mother. Chanukah, like Pesach, like Shabbat, was created as much in the kitchen as the study hall.
We are blessed to live in an egalitarian age. But each time we eat “traditional” foods, we are honoring generations of devoted women who shaped and sustained our tradition. Although we lack books recounting the details of their days, our own lives are tributes to their vision and passion. I don’t know much about Mrs. Maccabee, but she must have been a remarkable woman.