I was commenting on Twitter about an article that R’Leigh Ann Kopans wrote, and tried to comment on the site where it was posted, but couldn’t for some reason, so I thought I’d move those comments here. Plus, I had some time to think about it and have more fun and exciting (at least in my head) thoughts.
From a liturgical standing, there are indications that while a non-biblical holiday we are supposed to take Hanukkah seriously. We say the full Hallel at Hanukkah, which we only do at a few other holidays. (Yes, Kohanot get taught about these things!)
Hanukkah is also our Jewish solstice observance. The holiday falls during the darkest day of the year – the waning and new moon and the winter solstice. Yes, I know we have Tekufah Tevet but that generally falls during Hanukkah, right? In this, we symbolize our partnership with G!d/dess by lighting our menorahs to show that we know the light will return. There’s a great midrash about this.
Finally, let me say that Leigh Ann is right on her basic premise. Hanukkah is an accessible and fun holiday. People need those. Holidays like Hanukkah are re-entry points to Judaism for people. It’s a moment, and a HUGE one, in American culture to have to choose to be Jewish. Hanukkah is and we should treat it like the holiday of Re-dedication. When we light our menorahs, instead of putting up a Christmas tree or “Hanukkah Bush”, we choose to show the world and ourselves that we’re Jewish and that we’re proud of it.
So stop apologizing for our awesome holiday of lights. Stop saying it’s not important. Light your menorah with pride. Think about what re-dedicating yourself to Judaism means to you. And I mean you, not what someone else tells you it means. We are a tribe, and think in “we” but sometimes we have to think what “we” means to “me.”