Hanukkah (work the spelling out amongst yourselves, people) will always have a special
place in my heart because I was born on the closing day of the festival (back in 1958). Until
last year’s (covid) Shabbat of Hanukkah, Hillel Kaplan (who shared the same bar mitzvah
haftarah with me) chanted Roni v’Simchi, the haftarah from Zechariah which mentions the
beauty of the ancient Temple Menorah. This coming Shabbat, I will especially feel Hillel’s
passing as I chant “my” haftarah.
Food… Did anybody else put cranberry sauce on the latkes? Just a few years back during
Thanksgiving-a-kah (that once in Forever harmonic convergence), I tried the cranberry-
latkes combo. It’s the way to do it, people, just saying. In a recent phone conversation
Lettie Kaplan mentioned her latke – corned beef – cabbage Hanukkah menu. I haven’t
tried that, but that does sound Really good.
What does the festival mean? Loaded question, actually. A few days ago, the
Washington Post featured a very good piece about what Hanukkah isn’t. The writers (who
produce the highly acclaimed unorthodox podcast) didn’t exactly break new ground, but
they basically reminded everyone that Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas, and that we
don’t really need a hyper-commercialized Hanukkah. OK – so it’s not a Jewish Christmas.
What is it? Last Sunday, the Sunday school lesson took a Kwanza-like approach to
Hanukkah by assigning a different Jewish value to each night. That’s not bad except that it
doesn’t really answer the question. For starters, there’s the complex story (not easily boiled
down for Sunday schoolers) about the Maccabees doing battle with the Seleucid Greeks
and their fellow Jews — who were attracted to Hellenism. And there’s the ever-popular oil
miracle, which really is shorthand for believing that God can come through and deliver the
improbable or even the impossible. Finally — title of the festival offers plenty of food for
Hanukkah means dedication. Personal question for each of us: to what ideals and
projects should we dedicate our efforts? There’s no shortage of meaningful options —
1) There’s plenty to learn. Film, books, podcasts?
2) There’s a world to mend — hungry people near and far, desperate refugees seeking
safety, girls and women in search of schooling, fleeing violence, a planet under
extraordinary stress. Isn’t it amazing that we can’t hear a planet that is screaming —
People! You’re killing me! Stop! Please! Shameful, actually. Our children and their children
won’t especially appreciate the hot mess we’re handing them.
Everything I noted in item #2— too much? Sure it is, but Rabbi Tarfon, one of my favorite
2nd century teachers, said: It’s not up to us to complete the task, but neither are we free to
walk away from it.
Dedication. That word alone offers us plenty to consider. Pick something. Local tikkun
olam options: Contribute to Daybreak. Find out about and support the Women’s Interfaith
Alliance. Mister Rogers said, “Look for the Helpers.” All this and more. That’s what the
candles in the window are about.