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 few seconds.
     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


  1. 5,000 years for Jews. 400 years for the aboriginal Americans - First Nations - and the threats are as real today as ever.
    I guess we should be Happy that the middle finger can still be displayed and still have faith that humanity will one day embrace rather than fear our differences.
    But that sounds more and more naive with the return of nationalism.

  2. How can a holiday that lasts eight days be second rate? While the music may be inferior, this fact is solid evidence against anti-Semitism (not that that is something that can be logically argued against): if a Jewish conspiracy truly exists, how could Jewish composers write some of the best Christmas music while leaving their own people with nothing better than the Dreidel song?

  3. May I suggest Light One Candle as a better choice to appreciate Hanukkah music? We used to play it when our kids lit the Mennorah.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks! But if you think this is childish, wait until you see tomorrow's encomium for Eli's Cheesecake.

    2. I can hardly wait. I'm a big fan of encomia.


  5. There is a lot of Klezmer tunes that are fun to listen to, for at least two or three minutes. But there are also many songs with amusing lyrics


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