December 2011 / Kislev 5772
This Hanukkah, I look back and am amazed at how much things have changed since I was a child and how much they have stayed the same. Today you find Hanukkah decorations everywhere. People are openly ethnic about their holiday choices. Our holiday has happily made it into the mainstream culture.
Who would have thought that you could buy a menorah at Target or that Tiffany’s – on the other side of the economic scale - wishes its customers a Happy Hanukkah in the New York Times? As a child in Russia, Hanukkah was certainly not mainstream, but even for children in the United States, Hanukkah was the poor stepchild of Christmas. That’s no longer the case. We’re proud. We’re free. We’re celebrating.
And even though Hanukkah has “grown-up” it still retains its most important meaning, acknowledging the fight for a strong Jewish identity. Today we are not fighting the enemy without but the enemy within. If we are to celebrate Hanukkah properly then we are to understand its message.
We are still a small candle that has to bring large amounts of light into the world. I think that the State of Israel does just that. The forces of Hellenism are still as seductive as ever, and Jewish identity can still be weak and without luster. It can be about a latke and vodka night and not about Jewish literacy, knowing our history and understanding and practicing our rituals.
Hanukkah presents us with an ironic challenge that is still ripe thousands of years after the first Hanukkah was marked. Will our Judaism make it in the mainstream culture against forces that try to abolish its significance? Will Hanukkah teach us to be a real light to others or will we minimize our particularism for a diluted sense of belonging? We want to be part of the larger culture without being lost in the larger culture. We did it then. We can do it now.
A joyful Hanukkah to you all,