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Home > Holidays > Chanukah's Guide to Chanukah

The Story
Personal Perspective

Chanukah: A personal perspective

Zipple Staff Writer
December 6, 2000

I hate Chanukah. I know, I know, what kind of Jew can hate Chanukah? It's all about miracles and lights and promise and oil. It, of course, carries the time-tested theme of almost all Jewish celebrations: "They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat!"

I didn't used to hate Chanukah. I used to tolerate it. When I was a kid, Chanukah wasn't a big deal. We didn't have huge dinners or parties or elaborate celebration. We lit the menorah every night, had some latkes and sufganyot, and maybe exchanged a present when my Bubbe and Zayde came by. We heard stories of Jewish struggle and overcoming oppression, and being able to daven in shul once again. And we sung songs and played some dreidel. And that was it.

By the time I had my son, things were completely different.

A group of friends and I had come to the conclusion in our early adulthood that there was an underlying story to Chanukah that pretty much undoes the whole concept of a miracle. It appeared to us that since Chanukah isn't part of Torah, with its historical accounts added centuries later, that there might have been some ulterior and slightly dishonest motivation involved in the "creation of the miracle."

It's widely documented that the Maccabee family was quite the military dictatorship. After the Syrians tried to kill us, we won, and were eating-the Maccabees continued to celebrated their victory year after year. As celebrating victory without recalling the suffering of our oppressors or offering thanks to HaShem for freeing us from the chains of domination isn't quite living up to the standard of Judaism established by the patriarchs and Torah, it became a problem to the rabbis at the time.

In response to this situation, and to try to bring HaShem back into this annual hoopla, its possible that the sages created the idea of the miracle of the oil. Before we knew it, Chanukah was no longer just a self-promoting, pompous war battle victory. It was a festival of Lights and the recalling of a miraculous event that changed Jewish history, as we knew it.

Even if there is no validity to this perspective, it certainly tainted my view of this ultimately minor festival and my enthusiasm for its celebration.

By the time I had my son, American advertising had long been violating our stores had started to include Chanukah. It was bad enough to walk into a store in November and be swallowed by Christmas commercialism. Now there were aisles of Chanukah wrapping paper, and bows, and dreidels of every size and shape. The practices of eight nights of gift exchange became bigger and bigger.

Suddenly, the any underlying and remaining "reason for the season" is lost in the rush and bustle to indulge our already spoiled children with more presents they don't really need.

I tried to find a balance for a while. After we would light the menorah, I'd give my son money, slightly increasing the amount nightly. He would take half of what he got and put it in the pushke. With what was left, he could buy two identical gifts, one for himself and one that he would give to Toys for Tots or a local women's shelter. I insisted that he would see that tzedeka was the focus, and in every act of getting, one needs to consider what one can give.

My son is now eight, and his friends rule his world. No more is he willing to accept the lessons and ideas from his mother, the source of his eternal mortification, with any valued opinion. As Chanukah comes closer, I am reminded daily that Razor scooters are the rage, and it is a universal impossibility for a third grader to have too many legos. Gameboy, Play Station II, snowboards and a CD collection are things that no child can possibly live without.

So, this year, I'm bracing for the conflicts I'm sure will confront me. This year, I come to Chanukah full of prayerful hope. The vision of my son's face glowing in the reflection of the menorah lights is already filling my heart with joy. That vision, despite my disgust at what Chanukah has become, and worse, how I will likely give into his gift giving guilting, already fills me with a divine promise.

Chanukah may not have been a miracle when Judah Maccabee and his troops defeated the Syrians. It is, however, a miracle when the potentiality of all the miracles in our daily lives are kindled, especially when something not so wonderful is turned back to HaShem with reverent pause.

Chappy Chanukah!

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