Saturday, December 08, 2012

I Had a Little Candle...Chanukah

my oil menorah
local custom of displaying Chanukah candles(mine's upstairs)
For many years I'd wanted to buy a new menorah but every year, I'd say "next year I'll have more money." This year I did it. Money be hanged. And actually succeeded in
lighting it with oil, which is a custom around here, but I was always too clumsy to manage.

Chanukah is a time for miracles and I'm always  thinking "wow, I would love a miracle." Last night, after dinner, I took a half bottle of wine over to my neighbor's house and we sat for a little while. She's 67 and has, literally, nothing. Every month she scrambles to make her rent and other payments. She's a great hairdresser but just doesn't have a lot of work around here -- she mostly markets to the English-speakers and I guess not too many of them go for haircuts. Anyway, she has a leak in her apt and was saying "here I am, complaining about a leak, and those people in the  Philippines just had their entire lives washed away in a typhoon -- I can't complain. I have everything."

And I thought....and I'm worried? I own my house and have access to, pretty much everything that I need. Isn't that a miracle? Who am I kidding?

Over Shabbat I read a book about "Jewish Mothers." Kind of a Chicken Soup-type book with many different Jewish mothers writing about their experiences of raising their kids in some kind of Jewish environment. I guess that every editor has his or her philosophy, and this collection was pretty much a collection of Jewish feminists and their experiences. Fair enough, though I would have been more impressed if there was a bit more of a variety of experiences.

Anyway, there were a couple of common threads among the 20 or so stories. One was the mothers' desire to raise their kids with a Jewish identity, of some sort. But the second commonality was the mothers' almost complete ignorance, themselves, of Jewish philosophy, traditions, laws, reasons for doing what they do, and most of them were pretty successful in transmitting that ignorance to their children, even though they wanted their kids to feel Jewish...whatever that means.

Another commonality was the way that Chanukah featured in their efforts to imbue their kids with some kind of Jewish identity. They really stressed Chanukah...integrating it into the "winter season," fighting with the school system to introduce it into their kids' schools, doing something at home or at the Temple, etc.

It's a bit ironic because Chanukah is the holiday that celebrates the Jews' triumph over the assimilation that the Hellenists were promoting. In fact, the biggest struggles weren't between the Maccabees and the Greeks -- they were between the Jews who wanted to maintain the Jewish way of life  and the Hellenists, those already-assimilated Jews who were supporting the assimilation of all Jews into the dominate culture.

Sound familiar? 

The book came out about 12 years ago, so a lot of those kids are now adults. And I can't help but wonder how many of them were influenced enough by the Chanukah candles and, maybe, a bit more here and there, to want to make their Jewish heritage a central part of their lives.

I'm not sure what the answer is. But I it possible to provide the next generations with a strong enough Jewish identity to make it unthinkable for them to assimilate, without raising them in a ghetto of Williamsburg or B'nai Brak? (or, you might note, Safed). Food for thought (along with the great low-fat latkes that I made for Shabat...recipe coming).

In the meantime, here's a little summary of Chanukah from one of my neighbors. 

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