The other story of Hanukkah

Roundup
tags: Hanukkah



Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education,” which will be published in March by Princeton University Press.

“Merry Christmas . . . and Happy Hanukkah.”

Wherever I go this time of year-the subways, the streets and especially the stores — I hear that phrase. And it’s music to my ears, even when I detest the tacky holiday music that so often accompanies it.

That’s because Hanukkah is now a part of America. Indeed, Jews seized upon this holiday of miracles in order to read themselves into the American story. And that makes for a pretty miraculous story, in and of itself.


In traditional Judaism, Hanukkah was a minor festival. It’s mentioned briefly and rather cryptically in the Talmud, Judaism’s canon of religious law and commentary. After a band of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees expelled Greek occupiers from their temple, the rebels kept it lit for eight days with a single day’s worth of oil.

Hence the eight candles, the eight nights of celebration, and yes, the eight presents.

And here in America, as historian Dianne Ashton has shown, present-giving was an effort by Jewish families to compete with a much bigger national holiday: Christmas. “We must do something to enliven the children,” Cincinnati rabbi Max Lilienthal wrote in 1876. “They shall have a grand and glorious Chanukah festival nicer than any Christmas festival.” ...




comments powered by Disqus