aired Nov. 30, 2013 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/0tnyNRjxP5M
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of December 1st, 2013.
When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars – who gives a shit? I don’t follow astrology. But when two happy holidays intersect, that can be a time of much joy and reflection.
Now, all too often, Christmas and Chanukah fall around the same time. This has been hell on Jews, because the media conflates the two festivals into one big secular holiday, which it is not. There’s no such thing as Chrismukkah. Judah Maccabee did not find the baby Jesus in the Syrian temple, and Christ was not crucified on the shamash of a giant wooden menorah.
And yet, the proximity of Yuletide and Chanukah made for an uneasy coexistence. Jewish children would see their goyishe friends on Christmas Day riding new bicycles, playing X-box, unwrapping a new drum set. Then the Yiddishe children would come home, light a candle, sing a song, and then hold out their hands for a big present. Wow! Two ounces of chocolate money. A day-glo dreidel. Next door, the blonde kid gets a Vespa; in the Jewish house, “happy Chanukah, here’s a dollar. Give half to charity.” Is it any wonder the Yidlach would look longingly at outside culture and say, “I want to go to there!”?
So Jewish families started playing catch-up. It wasn’t enough to put a menorah in the window. Now we have to decorate, just like the goyim. And the first night of Chanukah is meant to approximate Christmas Eve, so the kid gets a half decent gift. That way, the Jewish child can go next door and say, “Ha ha! Sure, you got all that stuff from Santa. But at 12:01am on Christmas Day, you’re done. No more presents. I got an ipad tonight, and there are seven more days of presents to come. Good stuff like chocolate or money, or chocolate that looks like money. Have fun cleaning up pine needles for a month, you foreskin-totin’ suckaah!”
Even so, the drawbacks of an omnipresent Christian holiday overshadowing a
Jewish one can be oppressive. It’s like people who have their birthday on Christmas. You get screwed, because not everyone double-gifts. You receive a single present, and it’s marginally better than the two items you would have scored
had your parents shtupped in February instead of April.
But sometimes, holiday alignment isn’t a bad thing. This year has a rare occurrence of Chanukah falling at the same time as Thanksgiving. Wednesday night we light the first candle, and Thursday is turkey day, with Chankuah continuing all through Thanksgiving weekend.
We can draw parallels between the two festivals. First of all, they both call for gratitude. On Thanksgiving, Americans are grateful that the Indians were trusting and outmatched in warfare, so the Pilgrims could take advantage of them, give them smallpox and take their land. Thanks Pocahontas, pass the giblets. In the Chanukah story, Jews had to fight against Hellenism. I don’t know what they had against girls named Helen, but there you go.
After decades of treating the Jews fairly, the Syrians changed their tune to a song of anti-Semitism. They killed and pillaged, they made Judaism illegal, and they defiled the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem. This caused a number of Jewish families to revolt – and God knows, I’ve met some revolting Jewish families. But you had Mattathias and his son, Judah Maccabee, who fought the Syrians of the Greek empire and drove them out of Judea. They Hebrews and re-dedicated the temple, so we’re grateful to them and to HaShem for saving the Jewish people from conversion, death and unidentifiable gyro meat.
Chanukah and Thanksgiving have other things in common, as well. They’re both
pretty secular. Chanukah is post-bible; it’s a cultural tradition rather than a top-down mandate. And Thanksgiving is for anyone happy to be living in the good ol’ USA. Both holidays also share special foods associated with each. Chanukah, you have potato latkes and jelly donuts. Thanksgiving, you have turkey and Dunkin’ donuts. Sports are also a part of both holidays. Thanksgiving, you sit in your armchair and you watch people who aren’t fat and lazy play football. Chanukah, children sit on the floor with a dreidel and learn the basics of gambling. You start with a pot of money, and then try to take money from everyone else. Is it any wonder Jewish children grow up to be bankers?
Chanukah is the festival of lights; Thanksgiving is a feast of lite beer. Both holidays also incorporate fire. Thanksgiving, we recall the way our ancestors burned down Indian teepees and villages. Chanukah, we stand at a menorah holding a colored candle while molten wax runs down our hands. You’d think after 5,000 years they could invent a candle that doesn’t make you look like the accident guy on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Most of all, both holidays are about spending time with family and friends. They’re about women arguing in the kitchen, men falling asleep during halftime, children getting loaded up on snacks and then being forced to eat cranberry sauce – does anybody enjoy eating cranberry sauce? Chanukah and Thanksgiving are about expressing our appreciation to HaShem for keeping us alive, either by letting us defeat empires or giving us delicious crops to harvest. Either way, it’s something worth singing about:
“Over the river and through the woods to Bubbie’s apartment we shlep;
It takes quite a while, and she’s kind of senile
And the baby comes home with strep.
Out of the tunnel, across the bridge and through the old neighborhood
The latkes were yucky, the presents were sucky
And yet, and yet, life’s good.”
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
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