It’s that magical time of the year…when everything smells like oil and onions. That’s right, it’s Chanukah time! This is my first year after graduating from college, which means that it’s the first time that Chanukah has not been overshadowed by exams and term papers—a fact for which I am very grateful. No more squeezing in a Hillel candlelighting and Rugrats Maccabee episode study break between marathon paper-writing sessions. Instead, I’ve got a whole week of holiday parties to look forward to (and probably a few Christmas-centric parties to follow afterward).
Of course, the grand holiday season kickoff event was Esther Fest, last Thursday—never mind the mayor’s monument lighting ceremony, which was missing the key ingredient to holiday fun: Esther and fried foods. In fact, the museum (and my clothes) still smelled faintly of oil, onions, and good times when I came in on Sunday morning!
The holiday cheer continued for me last night (even though I wasn’t at Diner and Donuts) at my parents’ Chanukah party, where my mother managed, yet again, to invite a seder-level number of people to the house and still make too much food! As my dad likes to say, “she’s got a bit of the Catskills in her.” My brother and I are always pleased when this happens because it means we can each take home left-overs to our respective houses (in other words, the young adult version of our sibling rivalry takes the form of “tupperware wars”). Our roommates have come to love the Krolik Family Supermarket.
But back to Chanukah. And parties. Later this week, my roommate and I will continue the festivities with a small gathering of our own in which we will teach our goyish friends to play dreidel. However, we will probably not teach them the meaning of Chanukah. They will probably go home still thinking that Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas.
Which brings me to an interesting op-ed I read in the New York Times this week, entitled “The True Meaning of Hanukkah.” The author, Hilary Krieger, delivers a kind of short d’var torah on what Chanukah (in its many spellings) really celebrates. Is the holiday all about the miracle of the oil? Or is it simply a celebration of a military victory? Krieger’s conclusion is very interesting. She says that by having observing a holiday that celebrates both a bloody war and a spiritual miracle, we are invited to reflect on the presence of light and dark in the world. Krieger also reminds us that these conflicting messages are a common motif in Judaism. At Passover, we celebrate our independence from slavery while also spilling out some of our wine to acknowledge the suffering endured by the Egyptians, and on Yom Kippur, we reflect on the confusing story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. So, while Chanukah does not have the theological significance for Judaism that Christmas has for Christianity, it is an opportunity to remember and practice the ancient Jewish tradition of self-reflection and questioning.
Apparently, you can take the student from compulsory essays, but you can’t take the compulsion to write essays from the (former) student.