Every year around this time, the New York Times often likes to publish articles about Hanukkah. They like to trash this holiday, saying it belongs to religious fundamentalists and is merely a so-called Jewish answer to Christmas. They like to say it’s unauthentic and forced. They say it’s a relic of the past.
The latest in this series of pathetic self-flagellation comes from someone called Sarah Prager, who I want to emphasize is not even a Jew (Jewish father only), in her article called “Saying Goodbye to Hanukkah.” Her article received quite a strong negative backlash, so much so that she is trying to back away from it now, releasing a series of tweets where she said, “If I had known it would cause pain for some I may have reconsidered…”
Oh please – don’t give me that…
The whole point of these articles is precisely to cause pain. It’s to denigrate and ridicule Jewish tradition and history. It’s to mock and make fun of every one of these sacred traditions that proud Jews hold onto. It’s to minimize the entire Jewish experience and to dilute what being a Jew in today’s world means.
A couple of years ago, there was another article written in the New York Times by Michael David Lukas, a Jew, called, “The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah.” In it he said that Jews who fought against their oppressors were nothing more than a “group of violent fundamentalists.” He considered the idea of Jews fighting for the right to live their lives in their own traditions in their own land, as some kind of “religious fundamentalism.”
He also offered a reason for us celebrating Hanukkah as the Jewish answer to Christmas, because “We have to celebrate something,” he said. “It’s all about beating Santa.”
Let’s be clear – Christmas and Hanukkah, despite their often close proximity in the calendar, have nothing to do with each other.
Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus – who they see as their Messiah. Hanukkah is the battle of Jews against an oppressive regime who forcibly wanted to assimilate them and wipe out those traditions. And they were aided by Hellenised Jews who wanted to replace Judaism and Jewish culture with a strong Syrian-Greek influence.
But there were Jews who refused to accept this, who refused to allow themselves to be assimilated, who refused to give up their traditions, their beliefs, their culture and their one true God.
And they fought, powered by a purity of belief far stronger than any of those false idols they were offered up. Led by Judah Maccabee, they fought insurmountable odds and succeeded, rededicated our Holy Temple and eradicated the vile idolatry that had sullied it.
And the miracle – the true miracle of Hanukkah – was not that we won against impossible odds. The true miracle was that when it came time to light the Menorah in dedication, there was only enough oil to last one day and yet the flame that was lit burnt for 7 days more.
Over two thousand years ago, the Maccabees saved us. Because their battle was not just for that time, but for all times. If they had failed and the Jews were assimilated, then there would be no Israel today and there would be no Jews. There would be no Jewish traditions or culture and every Jewish festival would not belong in the world of today, but only in old books and journals gathering dust in a dilapidated library in a forgotten corner of the world.
Hanukkah survives today, because it is not only about the past. It’s about the present and the future too.
It is therefore not surprising that there are some Jews today who mock the story of Hanukkah. It is the same Jews who hold signs against Israel. It is the same Jews who are part of anti-Semitic movements like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s the same Jews who mock our history, our nationality, our stories – yet claim to be proud of being Jewish.
It’s because in the festival of Hanukkah, they are not the heroes of the story, but the ones the true heroes fought against.