Basically, I was raised Methodist, and I’m from a really small town in Pennsylvania (and by small I mean there are no Jewish people. We had one kid that was brought up by atheists, and the rest of us made fun of him because he had never heard of the Virgin Mary. The principal prayed to Jesus over the loudspeaker in our public school.) I didn’t meet any Jewish people at all until college. Of course, I’d heard of Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, the “Other Christmases,” but until now I had really no idea what Hanukkah was. I thought since Jews didn’t care much about Jesus’ birth, they had to have their own party so as not to be left out. My chorus director in middle school had us sing a song about Hanukkah (something about a menorah in the window, candles burning brightly.) There was that Adam Sandler song and Charlotte from Sex and the City converted to Judaism, but that’s the extent of my knowledge.
So it makes sense that my boyfriend, Shaun, is Jewish. Last night, I celebrated Hanukkah for the first time. I wasn’t invited in 09′ because we were long distance and he said it was no big deal. It’s kind of meh compared to Passover and Yom Kippur for some reason.
We half already celebrated Hanukkah on Thanksgiving, since the two holidays are so close together this year. It was Thanksgukkah, complete with latkes and candles. But I still felt like we should properly celebrate on our own on the first night. I asked Shaun what the tradition was in his family. He said they ate some latkes and brisket, lit the candles and a joint (marijuanic-ah), and opened a gift. He might be serious, but I can’t know for sure.
Here’s how our makeshift celebration went: first we lit the candles on the menorah, which was already in the window next to the Christmas tree. But we moved it to the kitchen and put some foil under it. Safety first! Then we spun the dreidel and wished for success instead of betting since we didn’t have chocolate coins (not sure if that’s kosher), afterward we prepared the latkes with applesauce. This was a literal hot mess of oil, splattered everywhere, and a super unhealthy dinner, but we had fun (then felt sick.) As Shaun flipped the little hashbrowns in their fat bath, I read the story of Hanukkah aloud. I felt like a kid learning to read, so bear with me.
“Jewish families… come together in November-December of each year to celebrate…” yes, yes, I knew that. It’s “an uprising in the name of religious freedom.” Didn’t know that. It began in 168 B.C.E. (Before the Christian Error?) when Israel came under the control of the Greeks. Antiochus (I pronounced this Antick-ius, but apparently it’s Anth-e-oak-us) the emperor forced everyone to be pagan and destroyed the Temple. One Greek soldier was about to sacrifice a pig on the altar, but a brave rabbi, Mattathias, stabbed the soldier. Then he and his sons, known as the Maccabees (warriors) fled and created the resistance movement. One son, Judah the Hammer (best name ever), took the lead and defeated Antiochus and his army riding elephants (I picture an elephant riding an army.) Then they liberated Jerusalem, cleaned up the Temple, and sought to re-dedicate it to G-d with holy oil used to light the menorah (signifies truth, light, and life.) They didn’t have enough oil to keep the candles burning even for a night, and it would take eight days to make new holy oil. Meanwhile the candle burned miraculously for the entire eight days!
Seriously fascinating. I had no idea at all. Thank you to Shaun and “The Eight Nights of Hanukkah” by Suzanne Beilenson and Rabbi Daniel S. Wolk and to Shaun’s mom who probably got him this mini book. Also thanks to another seven nights of candle lighting, but I’m hoping we can skip the latkes for the sake of our cholesterol. I gave Shaun one gift, but he has to wait until Christmas for the rest, simply because I don’t have time to buy seven more gifts until then. Amen.