Many of you (“you” = people who are reading this blog. If no one reads it then “you” has no significance and then it’s just bad English. See disclaimer.) have grown up outside of Israel – in fact, some of you (see previous parenthetical comment) probably still live there – and are familiar with the effect Christmas season has on the non-Jewish world, namely people becoming nice – the “Christmas spirit” takes over. People start volunteering at soup kitchens, or visiting hospitals and old age homes. Carolers go around door to door singing (or is that just in movies?). (Speaking of movies…) And of course there is the annual Christmas takeover of television where feel-good movies such as “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” are played in endless loops on all TV channels.
What I have to say to all this is… What about Chanukah?! After all, isn’t Chanukah the holiday of miracles?!
And then I recalled something that happened to me on Chanukah 6 years ago. At the time I was living in the Old City of Jerusalem, studying in Midreshet Harova. The Chanukah season really did feel magical to me. After all, it is the holiday of light in the darkest of all seasons. Certainly that seems hopeful. Well, on the 6th day of Chanukah as I walked down the stairs above the Cardo from Rechov Chabbad to Rechov Hayehudim, a group of nuns passed in front of me. One nun, upon seeing me, held back from the rest of the group and asked me, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me when Hanukkah is? My mother is Jewish and likes it when I call her to wish her a happy holiday.” Ummm… what was that? Your mother is Jewish? And you’re a nun?! I wanted to say something to her – to tell her that according to Judaism if her mother’s Jewish then so is she – but I had a brain fart and simply said “Yeah, Chanukah is now. Today is the 6th day of the 8 day holiday. Happy Chanukah.”
And that’s when I realized… Chanukah isn’t a time of hope. It’s a time of desperation. All those years ago we fought a desperate battle of few against many. I don’t think the Maccabees ran into battle hopeful that they could win. I think it was a desperate last attempt for autonomy. Luckily they won. Nowadays we are fighting the same battle, only it has since moved from the battlefield to our hearts. Assimilation has penetrated all of us to some degree (some more than others). Chanukah reminds us that we can’t just sit back and wait for a miracle. We have to go out there and fight to have that miracle happen. I really regret not telling that nun that she’s Jewish. I just hope that her designated Jew/Chanukah alarm clock the next year had the dignity to not brain fart on the spot.
Maybe that’s why there aren’t any feel-good, warm and fuzzy Chanukah movies.