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Last night was the first night of Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. I’ve been so busy burning the midnight oil (that’s a Hanukkah joke, by the way) for next week’s show on Sitting Bull, I haven’t made any formal plans to celebrate. Last December, a friend organized a Hanukkah throw-down replete with piles of steaming latkes and homemade brisket. But the fried smell of latkes lingered in her home a little too long for her liking, so there won’t be any Hanukkah party reprise this year.

Today, Andy sent around an op-ed by David Brooks about the complicated historical legacy that has shaped our modern-day observance of Hanukkah. Brooks reminded me that Hanukkah is a holiday informed by rabbinic storytelling over the ages. A few years ago I met an Ethiopian Jew who did not grow up with any awareness of Hanukkah because (like Purim) it isn’t written about in the Torah.

As a child, Hanukkah was a way to get in on the Christmas dazzle of presents, lights, and treats; but there was always a feeling of somehow missing out on the magic of Rudolph and opening presents beneath a tree. My parents would not allow a “Hanukkah bush” (the Jewish imitation version of a Christmas tree), although one year they did let me hang a stocking under the fireplace — actually it was more like a stringy sock from my drawer. Fortunately, I grew out of those Christmas longings and came to appreciate Hanukkah for what it is rather than as a proxy for something better I could never have.

Now that I live half a coast a way from family and friends, I realize I need to be more intentional about observing the Jewish holidays on my own. This may mean buying a menorah for the very first time. Maybe I’ll even pick up some latke fixings or listen to our show on Hanukkah with Scott-Martin Kosofsky later this weekend. Somehow I’ll find a way to light the shammas candle and say a little prayer.


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2 Comments

Although I grew up muddling Jewish in a city with a mid-west sensibility, I find the whole notion of a Hanukkah Bush to be strange, insulting and sad. When I latched onto my wife's extended family I could not learn to accept a stuffed sock at holiday. Five years ago my young teen daughter begged for christmas lights. "Enjoy our neighbors'" I said. But that's a confrontation that shakes a man's convictions. Where is the line drawn? What matters in life? We now have five menorahs going at once. Quite dazzling. And for one year, a string of electric "festive lights" went into her bedroom; beginning in January; were not red, or green; could not be seen from the street; and were kind of nice.

I'm just curious, where in the "heartland" does Nancy live? It can be hard to find Jewish communities in some areas of the country. Enjoy your Hanukah rituals!

apples