Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Here’s a chance for Jews to celebrate two holidays at once without the second holiday posing significant theological problems for us. Here’s a chance to combine Hanukkah with its American counterpart, totally guilt free.
Here’s a chance to have our cranberry-latke stuffing and eat it too.
But people are ignoring the other side of the matter. What happens when the turkey is digested and the final candle has burned out? What will happen this year on December 5, when Hanukkah is behind us and Christmas has the month all to itself?
I’ll tell you what will happen. Hanukkah will in fact be prolonged, like a souped-up dreidel. Much like the endless Christmas season, this year’s Hanukkah will drag on eternally, clear through to January. You see, as obsessed as American Jews are becoming with Thanksgivukkah, most of the other 97 percent of Americans will not get the memo. For them, Hanukkah will be in December, as usual.
Yes, Virginia, there still will be a “December Dilemma” this year, that annual uphill battle against the pervasive, domineering cultural crescendo of all things Christmas. Hanukkah is typically, the greatest ally in this fight. Jews have been able to match those Twelve Days of Christmas with our Eight Crazy Nights, pit menorah against mistletoe, watch dreidels twirl against the tinsel, our lights against their lights, the blue and white against the green and red.
It’s not a fair fight, especially with regard to the songs, although if you disqualify those Christmas classics written by Jews, things get more interesting.
My interest in this is very personal. My father was born on the first day of Hanukkah in 1918, a rare year when the first night of Hanukkah coincided with the late afternoon of Thanksgiving, and he died on the last day of Hanukkah in 1979, which just happens to be the most recent time the holiday ended on New Year’s Day. Plus, our last name, in rough translation, means Maccabee.
But this dilemma raises questions that go far beyond my own family. What should Jews say when well-intended shopkeepers wish us a “Happy Hanukkah” on Christmas Eve, nearly a month after our holiday has ended?
Do we return those unwanted Barbie dolls during those non-existent “after Hanukkah sales,” or do we dare hold onto them until Dec. 26, when the prices really go down? Without Hanukkah to fall back on, how do we resist the Yuletide onslaught on television and in our schools? Is it possible to add a few weeks onto Hanukkah on a one-time-only basis?
I suppose that with the Christmas season now beginning as early as October, there’s nothing so wrong about letting Hanukkah be extended a few weeks in the other direction, especially since that will enable Jews and their neighbors to share this season of good will in a manner that respects diversity rather than demanding homogeneity.
So by all means, non Jews, wish me a Happy Hanukkah all December long. If that legendary oil could miraculously burn for eight whole days, what’s another twenty one? The ancient rabbis instructed Jews to increase the light each night in order to spread the joy and publicize the miracle. No one ever said that we have to stop at eight. In fact, Jewish law states that the Sabbath can be extended far beyond its natural conclusion on Saturday night, even until midweek. So let Hanukkah linger as well, even if only in the well wishes of neighbors.
In the spirit of M.O.T. Jerry Herman’s song from “Mame,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” another Yuletide classic with a Yiddish soul, maybe this year we should sing, “We a Little MORE Hanukkah,” enough to last clear to the end of the month.
Let’s keep those flames burning, all December long — and even beyond. During these trying times, we all could use a little more light.