What is Chanukah? The answer is not so simple anymore, for like many things in this day and age, Chanukah has adopted many meanings that tend to shroud its true essence. For some, Chanukah is a time to flock to the superstores hoping to grab the last mini-ipod before other undeserving shoppers get to it first.
For others, it’s a jolly time to let our clothes be permanently permeated with the hypnotic scent of frying potatoes from the kitchen. Most every Jew in America can view Chanukah as part of a dandy mix in the Holiday Season — a lovely little term that personifies the good-spirited feeling this time of year.
The holidays — Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and let’s not forget Chinese New Year — are all rolled into one spicy, eggnogroll-flavored latke. In the United States the wonderful diversity at times may give way to a loss of identity. Each holiday madly mashes into a Boy Scout goulash, losing any of its original distinct flavor.
So as Jewish Americans, or American Jews, we must ask ourselves: what have we lost, what have we gained, and what will bring our friendly mysterious friend, Rod Serling to appear from behind the curtain to caution us? For we are about to enter, the Delicate Equilibrium Zone.
In 166 B.C.E., a priest named Mattisyahu and his five fearsome sons killed a Hellenist and some accompanying Greeks making a pagan sacrifice. These killings ignited a massive war with the Greeks where the Jews were but a small group of clansmen fighting against the royal Greek army. Spears whizzed by them, great elephants brought havoc to their camps, fierce and fiery battle ensued: It was war. Yet lo and behold!
Our ancestors from the days of yore won miraculously (getting by with a little help from their, uh, Omnipotent Being). However, unlike other times throughout our history where only our lives were at stake, Chanukah was unique for at first the Greeks only wanted our assimilation and did not want the blood to flow. Only our bitter stubbornness (well there’s its purpose!), adamant faith, and self-identity fought against the battle that sounds quite similar to one that many Jews fight today.
Let’s flash forward to present day. I’ll easily admit Christmas lights are beautiful, like sparkling stars gracing the landscape throughout this Holiday Season (oy). They can be found almost everywhere: houses, offices, dorm rooms. Just another lovely custom to tickle our senses these days. Innocent enough. What about the wreaths, stockings, and Santa Clause Coke-can editions?
Eggnog is now available at Starbucks — get it while it’s hot! Oh, ’tis the season, and when one lives in a place where the season ’tis, it is quite hard to break away from the surrounding fun and games. Examples include Chanukah bushes and excessive present giving, which are not intrinsic to the holiday but rather, intrinsic to society and the near inexorable consequences of living in a greatly assimilated nation.
And although having one’s wealth allotted over a period of eight days may be a better financial and psychological modus operandi, because this allocation and other true holiday practices are not the practices of the majority, the traditional customs and the true beauty and spirit of the holiday can sometimes get lost in the dust.
Oh, just the thought of this brings me back to Ms. Morissette’s “Ironic” hit wonder. The essence of Chanukah celebrates the breaking away from assimilation, reformation, and secularization while present day it has become what the Jews once fought so hard against. Now the Delicate Equilibrium is not here to play the big bad role of a fire and brimstone preacher. Rather, it attempts to enlighten in a blaze of glory and hope by first manifesting, then fixing the many fence-wobbling issues that are painfully trying to keep their balance in modern Jewish life.
First the manifestation: Do we not owe more to those who fought and died for their faith? Do we not them owe a small token of our appreciation?
Now for the fixing. The Delicate Equilibrium humbly suggests celebrating Chanukah by paying tribute to those who gave their lives for their nation the good old-fashioned way. Share the stories of our glorious victory, but be sure to share them with meaning, value, and soul for we now face the very same battle and hope for the very same victory today.
We should celebrate the holiday by letting it connect us to who we truly are, not who society wants us to be. We are not suggesting to do away with presents and especially not latkes — for what else can bring your estranged Uncle Morry to family gatherings — rather we hope that these modern practices will not take precedent over more important matters, like our very identity. So happy holidays, and come now, gather around the menorah, and sing in harmonious unison the Delicate Equilibrium theme song:
Come gather round Yidden from your nice Teaneck homes
and admit to the change, admit how we’ve grown
and remember that a Jew should not walk alone,
may our unity always be standing,
the D.E. reveals, and lies sink like a stone
for the times they are a changing.
Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy