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.