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I wrote a Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families. Originally, I mentioned in the opening line of the guide that Hanukkah is a minor holiday. Our publisher told me, “To our readers, it’s not minor.”
I think that I have joined the ranks of the people for whom Hanukkah is not minor. Why? Because I am the parent of a school-age child now.
My son, super kindergarten kid, goes to public school, which ends long before my workday here at IFF. After school, he participates in two different afterschool programs: one at his public school for three days a week, and a nifty Hebrew afterschool program for two days. It’s like Hebrew school, only mellow and relaxed, which is good because he’s just a little guy.
All the children at the Hebrew program are excited about Hanukkah. It’s their favorite. Some come from households with two Jewish parents, some from households with one Jewish parent. So?
They are learning to sing some of the songs we sing here at home: “Maoz Tzur,” which I first learned in English as “Rock of Ages,” and Ner Li Ner Li. (“I have a little candle.”) The Israeli teachers got all the children singing “Banu Hoshekh L’Garesh,” We Have Come to Banish the Darkness, an old Israeli song about cooperative action. “Each one of us is a little light and together we are a great light.” I can get behind that!
On Jewlicious, a supposedly cutting-edge Jewish blog, there were two posts about Hanukkah and interfaith marriage, Multi-faith Hanukkah asserting that multi-faith marriages leave kids “confused or annoyed.” Another post painted Hanukkah as assimilationist because Christians invented candles. (I know. I know. Give me a break.) Further, the author of the second post asserts that no one but Hasidim celebrated the holiday before the modern period. (Eh?) She asks whether the Maccabees would celebrate Hanukkah as we do.
Asking what would the Maccabees do does not move me. The Maccabees were not who you think they were. The Rabbis didn’t like them–that’s why the Books of the Maccabees didn’t make it into the Tanach. From what I have read about them, I don’t like them so much, either. They were somehow both anti-assimilationist and completely Hellenized, and they are the only Jewish people in history to forcibly convert people. The rabbis of the Talmud didn’t like forcible conversion, and I don’t either.
If you think I prefer those terrible assimilationist colored candles at a Hanukkah party with terrible assimilationist kitschy latkes and people from both same-faith and interfaith families, you’re right. Not only that, I fully intend to butcher “Ocho Kandelikas” and laugh about it. (If you want to hear this great Sephardi Hanukkah song, I’ve embedded a sterling performance of it, below.)
These days, when I think about Hanukkah being minor, I’m thinking there isn’t much to prepare, there isn’t much to get wrong. It’s the holiday of eating fried foods. I can fry foods. It’s the holiday of making my kid happy. I like making my kid happy. It’s not the holiday of fasting while preparing food for someone else or the holiday of frantically cleaning house and screaming at people because they’ve dropped crumbs. It’s not even the weekly holiday of rushing home to finish cooking and light candles before sunset.
I still celebrate all of those holidays. Finally, in a major key, I’m happy to have this minor one, too.
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