Sunday, December 13, 2009

Perplexing Holiday

David Brooks writes about how confusing a holiday Hanukkah is. The closer you look, the more confusing the story is: who are the heroes, and once you've decided, are they the kind of people you'd invite over to your house for a spot of munching on oily foods? Maybe not, huh? Especially as the ultimate yardstick to determine seems to be the historical outcome - hardly a morally pleasing measure.

I remember when I first took a close look at the historical story, I was surprised to learn that even the outcome wasn't what I'd thought. After a few glorious military battles, the triumphant warriors all ended up dead; the reason the one surviving Hasmonean brother, Simon, eventually wound up attaining something close to political independence (twenty some years later) was because he turned out to be a past master at political intrigue and skulduggery. Hummph.

At the risk of crossing Jeffrey Goldberg, I've got to admit Hanukkah isn't that important, so far as I can tell. Nor do I think Israelis give it much thought in the context of how they understand history, their part in it, lessens that need to be learned from it and so on. Parents of young children can't overlook it because their offspring have no school for a week and it's too cold outside simply to send them out to play, if children still do that these days. The rest of us sort of walk around it and keep on doing our regular stuff.

Luckily for Hanukkah it happens in December. The Christians have Christmas, the Afro-Americans invented Kwanzu, economists have sales figures, and the Jews - how convenient - have Hanukkah. Except for the thorny part, that it's not a very ecumenical holiday, if you're going to look beyond the candles-and-presents part. Which is why you've got to credit David Brooks: he's figured out how to write a column about Obama's Nobel Prize speech without ever using any of the words you'd expect necessary for that sort of a column.

7 comments:

Victor said...

Hannukah is a big deal in the Lubavitch community. He's why.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Whole Hallel for eight days, additions to Shmoneh Esrei and Benching, Kria for eight days, a menorah lighting every day--as big deals go, that's a pretty big deal.

Bryan Z said...

Pardon me, but the "Afro-Americans'" invented holiday is Kwanzaa, not Kwanzu. I've never actually met anyone who celebrates it: not even my friend who is obsessed with Africa (the only person I have ever met who says, "last night I dreamt I was working in a refugee camp, and it was AWESOME") celebrates it.

Yaacov said...

Yitzchak -

Yes, I wondered which shul-going reader would call me on that count. Still, once you let shul, hal an hour later than usual, the rest of the day isn't very "chagish", it's pretty regular. Since many of our holidays are VERY disruptive, my case still stands. Anyway, my central point was about the significance given to the holiday, and how important its message is. Not very.

Victor and Bryan, you two are being so talkative elsewhere I won't respond here. Perhaps I will respond, tho. In the meantime, tho, a quick response: I can see the sense of both your statements, but on the solution side I'm further from Victor. His analysis is right, his solution isn't.

Victor said...

My birthplace - Kishinev - is reliving its less glorious past.

Victor said...

Here is the translation of what the Orthorox priest says in the video.

Russian Orthodox Priest: "This Menorah does not conform to Rambam's ruling. We have pleaded with the Jewish community to change it. Funds have been gathered for a new, halachik menorah to be built in pure gold, but the local Jews are arguing about Rambam's authority. We stay up late at night worried about this menorah and our suffering must come to an end. This religious persecution cannot continue!"

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Still, once you let shul, hal an hour later than usual, the rest of the day isn't very "chagish", it's pretty regular.

Not mine. My kids are home from school. They want to drag me out of the nice warm house to the public menorah-lighting/concert in the evening. But you're right, in the meantime I put in a semi-normal day at work.