When I think about the historical significance of the relatively minor holiday Hanukkah, a few points stand out for me.
The first is that, as I wrote years ago, the irony of how the holiday is celebrated, especially in the United States. That is, the “story of Chanukah, the Maccabean uprising, represents the fight to preserve Judaism, so that the people could safely and openly believe, pray, be observant, be different.” On the other hand, “Modern day Chanukah, however, looks like an attempt to fit in with the rest. It is an attempt to suppress the differences.”
The second is that our own history has revealed how large a tent we are in. Last year I wrote a blog that went well beyond latkes and sufganiyot to showcase the different fried foods that have evolved over time and in different places (if you haven’t read it, I suggest you check it out, as well as the linked sources). I see culinary differences as a great access point to understanding how far and wide we have been dispersed throughout the world.
So, we are different from others and need to remember and celebrate that. (I also jumped into that three years ago in a blog called Drive out the Dark.)
At the same time, we have walked through different paths within the framework of our shared history, and we need to remember and celebrate that too.
As an aside, while we are speaking about walking, if you are interested in taking a free virtual walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem to meet residents, learn how they celebrate the holiday and see the official candle-lighting at the Western Wall, you can sign up for it here. It takes place Sunday, December 16 at 9:30 AM Eastern and is sponsored by the Atlanta Israel Coalition, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and other promotional partners. If you can’t make it live, the Atlanta Jewish Times’s Watch Party will rebroadcast it online at 3:00 PM the same day and you can RSVP for that here.
What is common to both of the points that jump out at me (besides the Maccabees and frying!) is that only with knowledge can we learn about and appreciate the richness of who we are. Ignorance is not bliss. I think in many ways that – the knowledge we gain from learning more about our history – is an even bigger gift than the presents we prepare for each other
Having said that, let me leave you with Daveed Diggs’ recent video, Puppy for Hanukkah, which is simply too cute to ignore. And let me wish you all a happy Hanukkah!