I’m willing to bet that most of you knew Hanukkah was over, even if you couldn’t pinpoint the exact day that it ended “sometime last week.” However, if you’re slightly confused because, although you don’t celebrate the Festival of Lights, you’re still seeing lit-up menorahs (or more accurately, Hanukkiahs) in your everyday travels, I couldn’t blame you. But I do blame the people who have not taken those menorahs down. Or, at the very least, turned them off.
My family knows, after hearing me rant year after year, that this is a huge pet peeve of mine. After all, Hanukkah is a celebration of the very fact that, after the Temple was desecrated and the Jews went back to clear it of idols and rededicate it, there was only enough oil to keep the menorah burning for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight nights–enough time to prepare a new batch of oil. While there’s a lot of back story, this miracle is the basis of the Festival of Lights celebration. EIGHT DAYS people. Not four, not nine.
There was a time not long ago that public menorahs weren’t even a thing; at least nowhere that I saw growing up. Of course, that may be because keeping live flames burning in a public space could lead to a few different unpleasant scenarios. The advent of those electric menorahs made public displays of Hanukkah all that easier.
Why do we need a public display of Hanukkah? I don’t understand how we can say that Hanukkah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, and certainly not as important as Christmas is to Christians, and then feel compelled to make it something bigger than it is. “Super Hanukkah,” as they declared on “The Goldbergs.”
The holiest days on the Jewish calendar are the Days of Awe, and specifically Yom Kippur–the Day of Atonement. In fact, this holiest day of our year eschews material representation; its closest symbols would be a penitent heart and an atoning soul. Yom Kippur, like so many days on the Jewish calendar, is a day to look inward. Hanukkah, on the other hand, is a holiday of celebration. But it was never meant as a competition.
I drove home from dinner with friends on the fourth night of Hanukkah and passed three public menorahs. One was sponsored by Chabad, one by the Center for Jewish Life, and the last one was outside a dentist’s office. The Chabad and CJL menorahs had every single light lit. The dentist’s office had four lights and the Shamash lit.
Why is that? Why would the two Jewish groups have it all wrong? Are they so intent on forcing Judaism to be relevant in our society that they’re willing to make it something it’s not? If so, I’d ask: At what price, relevancy?
While I applaud and support any Jewish’s group effort to keep Judaism relevant, I don’t believe that it needs to be done by making Judaism something it isn’t. Our religion is full of such goodness and wonder that it’s more than enough to stand on its own, separate from all others. I have no doubt that you feel the same way about your own religion and that’s not only alright–it’s the way it should be.
I personally don’t need to see public menorahs. I’m totally fine with Christmas tree displays. I’m aware that not everybody feels that way and that the “politically correct” thing to do these days is to feature an icon that represents other religion’s holidays that fall around December 25. (Wouldn’t it make more sense to just publicly display the icons of each religion’s most important holidays on the day they occur?)
Whatever makes people happy. But for goodness sake, observe the “rules.” Turn another bulb on each night of Hanukkah. Don’t light it all ahead of time. Turn the whole thing off as soon as Hanukkah is over. If you want to educate the public about Jewish holidays, don’t do it at the expense of the holiday itself. Or by pissing off those who actually observe it.
Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. A menorah is not just another lit-up holiday decoration. If you’re going to display a public menorah, please treat it with a little more respect.
©2015 Rachel L. MacAulay. All Rights Reserved.
All opinions are solely mine. You’re welcome to disagree, but please do so without being rude or using Shouty capitals.