Hanukkah 2022/5783

Ah, Hanukkah- the magical holiday about hope, about holding and fighting on to your beliefs, your traditions, and about having a joyous celebration for 8 long nights. It’s one of my favorite holidays and one of the few that is purely celebratory. We celebrate the Maccabees triumph, and we celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting. This year Hanukkah started this past Sunday evening and goes until Christmas Day (so our original gift giving of the first and last night is not happening this year- I’m thinking first and fourth? Who knows).

This year is a special one as it is the first year, I am going to be sharing Hanukkah in a real way. I’ve been invited into the boys’ classroom to share the holiday, as well as our local library for Storytime. It feels good, in the light of all of the rampant Jew Hatred lately, to be able to share the joy of Judaism through this holiday. To be able to share my Jewish-ness in a real way, in a way that is meaningful. 

Last year I really talked about the holiday of Hanukkah – you can read that HERE (I also talk about the Christmas-ization and the attempt of companies to profit off of Hanukkah more and more). This year, because I am teaching in a public school, I am not able to touch on any religious aspects of the holiday. This actually works out well as a) Judaism is an ethnicity before a religion (though the two are closely tied and it is technically considered and ethnoreligion) and b) Hanukkah is a minor religious holiday- not even really religious at all beyond the fact that they are praying in a temple. 

Since we aren’t fully going into the details of the celebration of Hanukkah (beyond the basic festival of lights), we are going to be leaning heavily into the traditions of the holidays and what exactly we do to celebrate.

Light the Hanukkiah

So, I think this one is pretty obvious if you know anything about Hanukkah and it’s one of the most important, key things. Every night we light one candle on the menorah celebrating every night the oil lasted. We light the candles from right to left using the Shamash (Helper) Candle. Now, a Menorah and a Hanukkiah are two different things. They are often used interchangeably- especially by non-Jews as the menorah is not as universally recognized. A Hanukkiah is specific to Hanukkah and has 8 candles plus the ninth Shamash candle (so a total of 9 candles). A menorah is a more standard 6 candles, plus a seventh helper candle (a total of 7). There is a difference, and to see a standard menorah on a Hannukah shirt bugs me. 

Every night of Hanukkah at sundown we kick the evening off with lighting the menorah, some families might light multiples) before getting down to the celebration. 

Games for Hanukkah

Another obvious one if you know anything about Hanukkah is the game of Dreidel, but maybe you don’t know the history of the game…

So back in King Antiochus’ reign, the Jews were not allowed to study Torah or practice any of their beliefs, this is all well-known knowledge at this point. However, the Jewish people have always found a way, even if it is under darkness and in total secrecy. The Torah Scholars in Antiochus’ day would quickly hide the torah scrolls and studies and pull out the spinning tops when the Greek soldiers would approach. They were “playing” not studying. Later this game would get the name “dreidel” (Yiddish for “to turn around”) and the letters on the dreidel stand for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or “A Great Miracle Happened Here” (I would have the appropriate Hebrew here, but Word and WordPress do not take kindly to inserting Hebrew into English- it reads different and then messes the entire document up). 

Dreidel is a fairly simple game that can descend into competitive chaos and great fun. Each side represents a different task- Nun – nothing, Shin – put one in, Hay – get half, and Gimel- get everything. Each player can start with the same amount of gelt, and then the center pot has enough gelt for each player to have one (so 6 players, the pot needs a minimum of 6 pieces- you can choose whether this comes from a separate amount or if the players put in to start). If you do not have enough gelt you can also use chocolate chips, raisins, pennies, whatever little treat. Each player gets a turn to spin the dreidel and follow the direction. Once a player runs out, they’re out! The game ends when there is only one player left with all the gelt. 

What we eat during the Holiday

I’ve actually been asked this this year and the answer is…a lot of food. Food is at the heart of the Jewish community- we show so much of ourselves, our community, our family with food. It’s one of the unspoken love languages (we will ALWAYS try to feed you or fret over food in some way). Most of our holidays have some element of food specifics- i.e., we eat a round challah on Rosh Hashanah, fasting is how we atone for our sins on Yom Kippur, we don’t eat leavened bread during Passover, I mean every holiday has some food element- whether it’s in the traditional foods or a more major atonement or guidance revolving the holiday. 

Hanukkah is no different. Most of the foods that we eat and enjoy revolve around…oil! Shocker since we are celebrating the miracle of oil and light. 

First up- latkes. Latkes are a potato pancake. Literally. That’s it. Shredded potato’s (with some other ingredients) fried in oil and then consumed with either apple sauce or sour cream- which triggers some lively debates (apple sauce for the win over here). 

You’ll also here a food called Sufganiyot, which are fried jelly filled donuts- think of it like if a beignet and a jelly donut had a baby. A delight (if you like that sort of thing) for the senses! 

Again, the main theme with both of these is that it is fried in oil. When we taste and smell the fried oil it is supposed to remind us of the miracle of the oil lasting all 8 nights. 

Most of our holiday celebrations are met with a main course of Brisket. Fun fact- brisket is the easiest of the meats to slice Kosher and it is more affordable, which is why we tend to eat it on all the holidays (it’s also delicious). 

Final- almost all Hanukkah celebrations contain some extent of Gelt. Meaning “money” (Yiddish), Gelt are wrapped chocolate coins commonly used when playing dreidel. They also signify the “gifts” that were originally given to children during Hanukkah. 

Finally, a note on gifts. 

Gifts are a fairly modern idea that mostly American/European Jews participate in, that’s right modern and only on our Western side of the continent (Israeli’s do not gift give during Hanukkah). The thought is that when Jewish families became more “mainstream” and Jewish children more integrated into our heavily Christian leading society, the idea of giving a gift during Hanukkah was introduced as a way for children to not feel “left out” in the rush of Christmas gifts. This tradition is vastly different from family to family, community to community, heck even year to year. 

Any Hanukkah questions? Leave them down below!

Hanukkah 2021

Last night at sundown started the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. This is a minor holiday that was added to our holiday list after the Tanach was established. However, this holiday has a mighty, important story that we should all learn and know. To be honest, Hanukkah is my absolute favorite Jewish Holiday, with Rosh Hashanah being a very (almost tied to be honest) second. It has nothing to do with the gift part of it (which many people would assume), but with the story of the miracle of light. The miracle, the holding out of hope, the celebration of this one little miracle (as opposed to some of our other miracle celebrations). The entire holiday just gives me the warm fuzzies and makes me feel just…hopeful, grateful, and good. 

So, at its basic level, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. It celebrates the rededication of the 2nd Temple of Jerusalem. 

In the 2nd Century Antiochus IV and the Seleucids ruled over the territory and attempted to force the Jews to assimilate. They took over the temple of Jerusalem, sacrificed pigs and welcomed prostitution within the walls, built an alter to Zeus on a holy spot of Hashem, and outlawed several Jewish laws and practices. The Maccabees, Jewish warriors, refused to assimilate. They not only revolted against the Seleucids and drove them out, but they also revolted against those Jews who had assimilated. They waged a Civil War within the Jews and fought hard to bring back the Jewish beliefs and practices. Now, when the war was done and they went to rebuild and rededicate the temple, there was only one bottle of oil for the menorah (a 7-branch menorah- different from the hanukkiah we light during Hanukkah that has 9 branches). A miracle upon miracles, that oil lasted for 8 days, giving the Jews time to make fresh new oil to continue lighting the menorah every day. 

So, the story of Hanukkah is twofold, one is the miracle of the oil; the small pot of oil lasting for 8 days. The second is the fight against the assimilation of our people, the fight to keep our beliefs and traditions despite those who would destroy it and us. And for both of those reasons, I hold the holiday very close to my heart and it’s one of my favorites. 

Ok, so now that we know the history and such, let’s talk about the…” Christmas-ization” of Hanukkah. This is something that I’m a bit…well I have complicated feelings over. I’ll start by saying that as a family we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, which most definitely plays a role in some of my opinions, but also as a child who experienced being “othered” for not celebrating Christmas/being Jewish, AND someone who is re defining what being “Jewish” and using my voice means/looks like, I feel like how I approach this is…notable. 

First off, by now you should know/realize that Christmas and Hanukkah are not the same. At all. And I’m not even saying in a commercial/capitalistic sense, but also just in a basic story of each. Christmas is the story of the birth of Jesus, who would go on to become the savior. Hanukkah is the story of a revolt against those who would have us change our ways, change our beliefs, change who we are, who would crush us into the ground. So, not really the same story at its most basic level. 

Second, these two holidays are not celebrated in the same manor. Hanukkah is celebrated over 8 nights, with fried foods, dreidel games, gelt and gift giving, and song and dance. When the Jews immigrated to the US they included gift giving as a way to offer something to Jewish children who go to school and hear about gifts/Santa (however some could argue that this is just an extended version of the tradition of gifting gelt that dates back to the early 1900’s). Hanukkah is also celebrated on a bit of a simpler “stage” than Christmas. At its basic-ness, we simply need a hanukkiah (the Hanukkah menorah- 9 candles instead of 7), some candles, and the prayers. Now, some families go beyond that, and set up larger displays in their homes, which is fine, but it is a far stretch from some of the Christmas decorations and idealizations of the holiday. 

With that being said, I appreciate stores trying to be inclusive and offer a wide variety of products to cater to every holiday in the winter. But, as we previously come to understand, these holidays are not the same. They are different both in basic story and in how they are celebrated. So, with respect to capitalism and big stores attempts, I do not want a “Hanukkah Bush”, nor do I want a “Mencsh on a Bench”, or “Hanukkah Charlie”. I don’t want to go into a store and see an attempt to take the holiday of Hanukkah and give it a Christmas rip off product. I don’t think that is wrong to feel AND while I was going to say that I appreciate the stores trying to include a wider variety of holidays, I really actually don’t. Hanukkah is not Christmas and when we understand a bit more of what the story of Hanukkah is (beyond the festival of light and the miracle of the oil), this becomes a bit more upsetting. The idea that The Maccabees were fighting against the idea of assimilating and changing our core, who we are, and our belief system, makes it so much more important to see the reflection of that in what is offered. And while we can argue that some…adapting is necessary in our survival and that the Jewish people have become experts at adapting our beliefs and rituals to fit just about anywhere (hello that is something we are very good at), that doesn’t mean that we need to be marketed to in this way.

I should say- I think each family should handle holidays in ways that work with their family and their beliefs. I would never judge a family on how they want to celebrate or practice. What I would like to see is stores doing a bit more research and understanding in the holidays themselves, rather than just shilling whatever out to consumers (a good example being making “Hanukkah Stockings”). It doesn’t take a lot for a business to do just a bit of research. 

I don’t know if I’ve worded my feelings above in a way that makes sense (and I did do a podcast on this, which may be a little cringeworthy, but there we are: HERE), but that’s my Hanukkah post for this year. I hope you’ve learned a little bit of the history of Hanukkah and my opinions on where we stand now.  

Round the Kettle Ep. 29: What A Time…

Man, oh man, what a couple of weeks. What a time we’ve had. I’m writing this on Friday morning after a couple of really tough motherhood weeks, tough mental health weeks, AND the election still hasn’t been decided yet. What a time. 

I’ve been trying to be a bit more open and honest on my social media in regard to the struggles that have been presented the past few weeks in motherhood/parenthood. It’s been rough, not going to lie and sharing that is hard for two reasons…

  1. There is this societal expectation that we are supposed to present the happy family, with the well-behaved children, perfect parenting techniques, a smile at all times, and a thankful/they’re only young for a while mentality. Not only does society place this expectation on us as mothers, but it’s so ingrained that often times we place this expectation on ourselves, and when we are “off” our games, it hits ten times harder in a feeling of overwhelm and failure. 
  2. There is a multi-layered fear of being so “open”. We all know that there are very real problems in our world, and there are levels of “there are worse things”, there is the judgement that comes (as mentioned above) that is much more difficult to navigate online as people tend to be a bit more open with their fingers and keyboards in a way they wouldn’t be with their mouths in person (let’s not dissect that sentence too deeply…please). This is a very valid fear, that is tied to point 1 above.

I know for me personally part of the problem is I’ve always been the “strong one”, the “cheery/positive one”, the person who is there for everyone else, who shoulders others burdens so they can unload. The safe place. And being seen as that, it makes it so much harder to then be “weak”. To be vulnerable and open about when I struggle. 

Further, I come from such a privileged position, that often times my problems in my little corner seem so small in comparison to that of the world’s problems. When I have a rough day, it is nothing in comparison to someone else. I recognize this and it makes me shrink into myself even more. BUT, that’s not healthy and it’s not a way to live. 

I posted the following on my social media and I feel like it perfectly encapsulates everything: 

“Even the strong can grow weary, the stoic can break, and sometimes those falls can be the quietest of all.”

So, I’ve been struggling. I’ve been struggling being a mother, I’ve been struggling to feel like myself, I’ve been struggling to find moments to breathe. Sometimes it has felt like everything has been stacked against me and I’m backed into the corner of “just do what you do to get through it- deal with everything else later”. That’s a very real feeling. That is something that happens so often to people. 

I have been trying to get some solo time, to do a little self-care, to find the little joys. I’ve done my nails. I’ve done yoga, gotten dressed, put makeup on. Little things here and there to remind me of myself. I went for a 6-mile solo walk that included picking up fresh baked goods and tea for the journey, and reminding myself what peace feels like. And that walk? That probably helped the most out of all of it. A couple hours where I had nothing. No decisions to make. No conversation to hold. No children to watch out for. Nothing. While I came home and was semi thrust back into parenting (thankfully my husband had the boys outside on bikes, so I got a bit more peace and then naptime), I still saw the smallest glimpse of the cheery, strong, Mia. 

I’m not saying the walk fixed everything, and that couple hours solved all the problems. In fact, if not careful, those moments can be taken away in a heartbeat (I’ve got a whole rant on this coming…), BUT a few more of those moments in time, a little bit more attention on finding those moments in the everyday, and it’ll add up.  

On a cheerier note…

I’ve started planning out the big one, the big holiday, dare I say it? Christmas. I’m one of those people who likes to be way ahead of the bandwagon and I usually have a “plan” for gifts by end of October, with everything purchased in the beginning of November. That’s great! How organized! Except then I’ll wait until Christmas Eve to wrap them…so win some, lose some I suppose.  Anyways, all that to say, I’ve got all of the boys presents mapped out this year, as well as a couple of friends. I always feel really organized and ahead of the curve, BUT it makes the wait time till Christmas excruciating. I’m not good at surprises or keeping things to myself. I love to see the reactions, the excitement, the massive grins and squeals of joy, so having all of this stuff just sat in my house waiting is torture. 

Are you an early planner or a wait till the last-minute shopper? 

Finally, I’ve done a fair bit of computer work the past few days. A lot of computer admin, clearing out older photos and files, exporting everything to hard drives, freeing up space both on the computer and on my phone. A lot of writing, sorting through information, planning out posts. I’ve found that maybe I have a bit more to say about certain things than I thought I did…so here lies a question for you. 

What do YOU want to see more of? What questions do you have? What is something you want to hear more about? Let me know.