Hanukkah is the festival of lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.
--Adam Sandler, The "Hanukkah" Song
Over the past few days I have had the indescribable delight of listening to "Radio Hanukkah" on Sirius/XM satellite radio. After almost a week of listening to 500,000 different versions of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" and "Oh Chanuka, Oh Chanuka as well as nonsensical Hanukkah parodies of Christmas songs like "Feliz Hanukkah" and "The 8 Days of Hannukkah", reality hit me harder than a menorah to the forehead...
The holiday alternately known as Chanuka, Hannukkah, Hannuka or any of 10,000 other English spellings is a very different holiday in the United States than it is in Israel.
While both versions result in the same essential practices (lighting candles, eating fried potatoes, dairy foods and donuts, etc) the attitude toward these practices vary tremendously.
Everyone knows the story of this most important Jewish holiday of the year right? The dreidel-spinning Jewish hippies of ancient Palestine (actually JUDEA) needed to light their freedom-lamp but only had enough oil to last one day...lo and behold there was a miracle and it lasted for not one...but eight craaaaaazy nights! I think that reggae rabbi guy from Letterman - what's his name? Matty something right? - might have had something to do with it. And hey look at this, it happened right around that OTHER festival of lights...CHRISTMAS! What a wonderful coincidence! Let's all have a party and go shopping like our wreath-toting Christian brethren, it's perfect! Don't worry little Jakey, your friend Anthony may get a ton of presents on the 25th, but you'll get a new toy EIGHT NIGHTS IN A ROW! Oy vey? Fuhgetaboutit!
Or at least that's the American version of Chanuka.
First of all, if you read that version of the story and didn't find anything wrong with it, please click here immediately and read about the Maccabean revolt, the advent of guerrilla warfare in the Middle East and a potential screenplay for the most violent warrior movie since Braveheart.
They may take our lives, but they'll never take our...bagels...
But wait a minute. You're telling me that JEWS used to fight like William Wallace and the rest of those crazy Scotsmen? How can that be when today's Jews are caricatures of caricatures like Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman? They're supposed to be docile and neurotic like Woody Allen, not brave and unpredictable like King Leonidas. I've never seen an accountant or investment banker impale a war elephant or lead an army of savages in brutal hand-to-hand combat! How can this be? This doesn't fit the stereotype of the American Jew by any stretch of anyone's imagination!
For whatever reasons you choose to subscribe to, in the United States any symbol of Jewish strength is regularly downplayed in favor of an image of a nebbishy weasel who would rather eat gefilte fish in peace and quiet than stand up and be proud of his multi-millennia-old culture. Whereas in Israel, Chanuka is celebrated essentially as a national (as well as religious) holiday commemorating an astonishing military triumph of impossible odds...in America we get Radio Hanukkah and light festivals. Take for example this Chanuka song - popular in Israel but almost unheard of in America:
מי ימלל גבורות ישראל
אותן מי ימנה
הן בכל דור יקום הגיבור
בימים ההם בזמן הזה
מכבי מושיע ופודה
ובימינו כל עם ישראל
יתאחד, יקום ויגאל
Who can retell the triumphs of Israel?
Who can count them?
In every generation will a arise a hero...
To save the nation
In those days, during this time
A Maccabee brought salvation and redemption
And in our days the whole nation of Israel...
Will unite, arise and be saved!
In fact, we're so neutered in the United States that even when this song DOES appear, as it does in this Wikipedia entry or this absolutely absurd version on Youtube they REMOVE the references to triumph and strength and even Israel entirely. Why?!
And so, instead of songs about strength and valor and victory we get such mindless, asinine stupidity as this (heard today on Radio Hanukkah on my way to work):
On the eighth night of Hanukkah, my true love gave to me
8 Alka- Seltzer
7 noodle kugels
6 pickled herrings
5 bowls of chicken soup
4 potato latkes
3 pounds of corned beef
2 Kosher pickles and
Lox, bagels and some cream cheese
I swear to God, if I hear one more person try to define their "Jewishness" by referring to chicken soup and brisket and oy vey I may actually stuff a dreidel down their throat. The worst thing though, is that I've heard Jews listening to this garbage and laughing along with it - hell for almost two weeks every year there's an entire station on satellite radio dedicated to it!
This entire holiday's foundation was an open rebellion against quiet assimilation, where a small group of determined Jewish warriors who were proud enough of their culture and heritage to fight for it upended an empire! Of all of the Jewish holidays this is the ONLY one that actually celebrates a military victory. The ONLY one!
And what do we do with it? We turn it into nothing more than a politically correct, assimilated, muddled excuse to make ourselves feel like we're not missing out on Christmas presents. How materialistic. How shallow. How pathetic.
But it is this need to blend that is endemic in American Jewish culture and has been for decades as the Kahanists will (repeatedly) remind you. It only makes sense that we would turn a proud celebration of military strength (with God's help) and cultural preservation (through self-determination) into Radio Hanukkah. And we wonder why the rest of the world looks at us as nerdy sellouts with no pride who deserve to be mocked at every opportunity. We don't DESERVE to get upset when someone throws an anti-Jewish stereotype at us, because we perpetuate them EVERY CHANCE WE CAN. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Eight crazy nights indeed.
So please...if you didn't know before what this holiday was really about...please...get the "Hanukkah bush" out of your house and throw out those clever little "Chrismukka" cards you thought you would dazzle your friends at work with. Light your candles tonight knowing that people fought and died so that you would have the freedom to eat your latkes and spin your dreidels and do whatever else it is that you choose to do to celebrate your heritage. How about next year, Radio Hanukkah actually plays some music that makes us feel PRIDE in our culture instead of this dreck they're force-feeding us 24/8?
And finally, if you aren't Jewish and reading this, PLEASE believe me when I tell you that there's more to us and our religion than latkes and Manishevitz.
Chag sameach everyone.