Reclaiming Chanukah.

Reclaiming Chanukah.

Here’s what it was like when I was a kid:

  1. We went to my grandmother’s house for latkes. We’d sneak them away as soon as they were fried and she would wave the spatula at us as if that might stop us. Those were some delicious latkes. Well, like all latkes.
  2. We’d get chanukah gelt. Not chocolate. Real money. But not what you’d call Real Money. Like a dollar or maybe five dollars. Not presents. Nobody ever heard of chanukah presents back in the dark ages before the Great Flood and television.
  3. We’d hear horrific stories in my Secular Jewish School. They told us about Chana and her seven sons when we were really little kids. Somehow, we were supposed to believe she was a hero and all her sons were heroes and somehow, we did believe this. I think that might be child abuse.


Then this happened:
I read some history. I found out:

  1. The Maccabees were allied with religious nuts.
  2. The religious nuts refused to fight on shabbes, so they all got killed.
  3. As a result, there was no moderating influence on the nationalism of the Maccabees, who established a theocratic dynasty.
  4. The Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty invaded and controlled neighboring territories.
  5. The Hasmoneans did EXACTLY what the Hellenized Greeks they fought against had done – they made everyone worship their god.
  6. And not just worship – they forcibly circumcised the men in the conquered territories.



  1. I rejected Chanukah.
  2. I missed the latkes and the singing and the candles.
  3. I tried to figure out how to reclaim the holiday.


Here’s what I came up with:

  1. It is good to be part of the humanity that celebrates the end of the darkening of days and the beginning of       their lightening.
  2. It’s good to understand that Jews are just like everyone else. Power corrupts us just as it does everyone. Jewish religious zealotry is just as bad as any other.
  3. The story of the Maccabees encouraged the formation of the Jewish Self-Defense units during the pogrom seasons of 1881-1882 and especially 1903-5. It also inspired the World War II partisans.
  4. If you wait to speak up against tyranny until it becomes unbearable, only the fanatics will be able to overthrow the tyrant. We have to speak up at the first injustice.
  5. People will go to extremes to defend their national and cultural rights. If you deprive people of their culture, they will rightly fight back.


So now:

  1. I still give only token presents and chanukah gelt, although I have discovered the joys of chocolate coins.
  2. I make delicious latkes and wave my spatula at those who try to steal them before they’re put on the table.
  3. I dedicate the candles to cultural heroes and those who stand up against injustice.
  4. I really really really don’t tell kids what’s in the first two books of Maccabees. You can read them for yourselves in the Apocrypha of the Catholic Bible. I advise you not to eat first – those are some gruesome stories.


P.S. You gotta love spell check. It continually wanted me to be talking about the Macarena.


2 Responses to “Reclaiming Chanukah.”

  1. Ethel Seid Says:

    Parts are pretty hilarious. I do not remember giving you kids real money. However, this is a good history lesson but you did not have to say bad things about Jews. Enough other people take care of that. Apropos of latkes – had the worst latkes today ever.!!!

  2. Benjy Ben-Baruch Says:

    Love I! I am reading it on Rosh ha-Shannah 5777 but I still love it! One quibble: The Maccabees were not “aligned with” the religious fanatics/zealots.They were the leaders. They may not have been the most nuts of all of the religious nuts, but they were a nasty group.

    Ad I a that we can and should “reclaim” the holiday. We need to teach the history as history. And we need to celebrate the holiday as a celebration of our values with the knowledge and consciousness that parts of our history are not congruent with our values.

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