Thursday, December 6, 2018
Menorah as middle finger
Hanukkah began Sunday night. It's a more subdued holiday in our household, with the boys away at school. We did put up decorations, a kind of muscle memory. And exchanged gifts—Rolling Stones tickets! And we lit a menorah, which we stick in the window. That's actually my favorite part of the holiday. The world pushes hard against Jews, sometimes, and it's a small joy to push back in a small way, as I tried to describe in this column from 2004.
Perhaps I'm just not in the holiday mood. But am I the only one to think that Hanukkah is a pretty second-rate holiday? A minor festival which, due to its unfortunate proximity to Christmas, has grown to enormous proportions, somewhat hideously, the way the frogs in the pond at a nuclear power plant might grow to the size of footstools. Hanukkah music is tinny compared to the beauty of Christmas carols—we're grinding out "Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel" while they've got "Silent Night." Those chocolate coins taste lousy. Dreidel is not a fun game. There's no tree. Ordinarily, Hanukkah would have the cultural significance of Tu B'shvat—Jewish Arbor Day, which you probably never heard of but would be a huge event if it and not Hanukkah fell in December.
The only reason Hanukkah gets celebrated the way it does—with gifts and decorations and fuss—is to ape Christmas hoopla, as a sop to the kiddies, who otherwise would drive their parents crazy out of gift envy.
Yes, I'll munch my share of latkes. And yes, lighting the menorah can be a nice moment, if the kids muster the self-control to stop yammering "presents, presents, presents" for a moment.
And there is one aspect I truly savor, something very personal: when I take the lit menorah and set it in the front window, which I've always considered a vigorous "Up yours, we're still here" to all the anti-Semites over the centuries and prowling the outside world today.
I softly mutter my own little blessing to those people, a two-word benediction I won't repeat here, as I set the brass menorah on the windowsill. A small, triumphant moment.
So maybe Hanukkah isn't so bad after all. It must be my mood.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times Dec. 10, 2004