חנוכה, הוא חג טוב / Hanukkah, Hoo Chag Tov
"Hanukkah, Good Holiday"
This is the second year I am spending Hanukkah in Israel, but the first where I'm really spending it here. Last year, I lit Hanukkah candles all over - in Greenwich, in NYC, at Heathrow, at Kibbutz Keturah in the southern tip Israel. I ate gelt in the airports and purchased presents on three continents. This year, though, Hanukkah is an isolated holiday, contained in the highly political boundaries of the State of Israel.
A Brief History of SBB's post-college Candle-lighting (speaking of college, go TEBOW!):
Lincoln Center Xmas Tree and me, pre-LOL. The real Hanukkah miracle in this picture, which lasted for over 2 years, is that I lived in an apartment with a view like THIS from my BED. (2004)
The good 'ol 18M roommies light the candles in a window that showed them to Broadway and Lincoln Center! (2005)
Lighting at Kibbutz Keturah with the Davidson Trip. (2006)
Leading up to Hanukkah this year, I experienced something new. For the first time, Hanukkah was just Hanukkah. It was not Hanukkah vs. Christmas. I've been standing on this platform for years: Hanukkah is not as big of a deal as Christmas. It's a celebration of victory, of maintaining Jewish life, culture and identity. Hanukkah is another triumph of the Jews against the bad guys: in this case, the Greeks. Christmas and Easter are THE Christian holidays, while Hanukkah is not even mentioned in the Torah!
I'm all about Hanukkah. Clearly, I enjoy the candle lighting. Clearly, I like the donuts (shocker). Clearly, I like singing and, of course, I like presents. This year, however, I like it more. Thanksgiving came and went (with 4 pies), and there was no instant transformation into THE HOLIDAY SEASON. THE HOLIDAY SEASON was in September and October, when Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot took place. THE (Hanukkah) HOLIDAY SEASON started out being indicated gently in local bakeries, where one could find sufganiyot (jelly donuts) on every corner, for a month leading up to the holiday.
Nowhere was a sufganiyah display competing with a tray of candy canes or Santa cookies, or whatever else you may find in a bakery in the states (fruitcake?). Nowhere were the colors green and red screaming at me, with the obligatory blue and white poking out from around the corner, crying, "Don't forget about the Jews, or we'll say you're being anti-Semitic!" There are no marketing geniuses (like the person behind this amazing display in Manhattan) in Israel who are responsible for selling sufganiyot AND making sure that the poor, minority kids that celebrate Christmas have equal displays of candy and presents and ways to make minorities feel less minor.
Like I said, I love Hanukkah. I plan on going to the shuk before tomorrow night to pick up a few dreidels that indicate that the great miracle happened HERE, not THERE. I have eaten more latkes (which is actually Yiddush. Levivot is the Hebrew word. Mind-blowing, I know!) and donuts than I would like to admit, although, as Shakira points out, "hips don't lie." But I love Hanukkah SO much more when it's not the Jewish answer to Christmas, which is an impossibility in the States. I love when candles are lit in restaurants during meals, as all of the patrons pause their conversations to participate in the lighting. I love that my Hebrew teacher handed out chocolate gelt in class, which was tasty and also helped me learn the word for candy. I also love that when travelling through Mea Shearim (super-religious neighborhood) OR Emek Refaim (both religious and secular / my neighborhood) after dark, you can see almost every window glowing with a 9-branch candelabra.
I learned last week in one of my Education classes at Hebrew U that Hanukkah may have occurred around the time of Sukkot (which is the real holiday season, let's not forget!). Can you imagine the marketing implications of a Hanukkah celebrated in October? How pure. How beautiful. How simply Israeli and lovely Hanukkah could be in the States!
Seventh night and the guys still look surprised!
I would like to admit that I also prefer Chanukah when it's earlier in the month. When Hanukkah coincided with my birthday as a kid (OK, and as an adult), it sometimes meant fewer presents. But this year, that is not a problem! Wooo!