Posts Tagged 'Thanksgivukkah'

Yuletide Thoughts

There was such hoopla this year with the advent of Thanksgivikkah or Chanksgiving, as we called it. It was a new Faceoff of cultures. It was a welcome break from the usual Christmas versus Chanukkah title match. So instead of dealing with the Tree versus Menorah we were left with Chalikah or Menurkey.

   

But now that all of that is behind us we are left dealing with Christmas empty handed. So instead of arguing for the cultural supremacy I am left just enjoying or enduring Christmas on its own terms. So what do were get out of this holiday?

While I am strangely aware that I am not in the dominant culture, I am also appreciative of the values of the larger culture. So at first blush we have the prevalence of holiday song, great lights, good sales, and a deeply branded color array. While it not our holiday, it is a nice festive contrast to the depth of winter. I could do without the hyper-materialism, You can hear echoes of Purim in our Mishloach Manot. Community is being formed in the elaborate network of gift giving.  And even beyond the gifts there is the larger narrative of generosity.

One other aspect that I enjoy about Christmas is the most overtly pagan in origin Santa Claus. What woud this season be like without the myth of Saint NicholasFather Christmas, or Kris Kringle . Derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, Santa Claus is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children in his magical reindeer propelled flying sleigh. Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior. Have they been “naughty” or “nice”? On this merit the children get their yearly gifts. While I realize that it just creates a larger mythology for a deeper materialism, it is nice to educate our children to an idea of merit. This in itself is lost in the comparison to Channukah and its miracles. Maybe a more appropriate comparison is Rosh HaShanah, our day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashanah God “‘opens’ the ‘books’ of judgment” of creation and all mankind starting from each individual person, and in those books it is first “written” what will be decreed, read here naughty or nice.

I realize what I admire in Christmas I love about Jewish camp. There is value in being part of a community that intentionally tries to bring light to darkness and cheer to those who need our generosity. There is power and responsibility of living in the dominant culture ( if only a part of the year). It is just wonderful realizing that your families private values has a place in public and is normative. So we cannot forget the gift of Jewish Summer camp. Have a Gmar Tov– a great end of the year.

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A Meaningful Thanksgivukkah

aviOn their surfaces, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are simple holidays.  We see the themes of light breaking through the darkness, a few banding together to beat the elements, and the power of having faith in community.  We camp folk know that nothing is ever as simple as it seems.  So let’s look deeper into the three miracles of Hanukkah.  One miracle is that small group of zealots were able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple.  When they recaptured the Temple they found one small jar of oil for the menorah in the Temple.  The second miracle was that despite the fact that this small jar only had enough oil for one day it lasted for eight days.  This story about the miraculous Hanukkah oil has allowed us to look past focusing solely on the military victory.  This is important in that the war was not a black and white fight between the Jews and the Greeks.  Rather, it was a civil war between a small group of religious zealots and a larger group of their Hellenized Jewish brethren.  The third miracle of Hanukkah is that the story of the second miracle of the oil overshadows the first miracle of a civil war.

Now we turn our attention to Thanksgiving.  It is a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year.  This is traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.  We retell the story of the first settlers to America who found salvation when they reached Plymouth Rock.

But is that the real story of Thanksgiving?  On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday of Thanksgiving. There we read:

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. 

Like the third miracle of Hanukkah, Thanksgiving is not really a story about the Pilgrims, but rather the constitution of a ritual of reconciliation post-civil war.  Both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving represent the recreation of national mythologies for the sake of mending the wounds of fighting between brothers.

We in camping appreciate the impact of a good story regardless of its true origins.  Camp in its essence is a self-made community built on rituals, traditions, and history that is created by its members and need not be based solely on fact.  It is here in this miraculous fabricated narrative that we create enduring memories of brotherhood.  So while the story might not be true, the community could not be any more real. I hope you have a very meaningful Thanksgivukkah.  Happy holidays.

– Reposted from The Canteen

Between Brothers

In VaYishlach, the Torah portion two week’s ago, Yakov is preparing to reconnect and to reconcile with his estranged brother Esav. Here we read about the mysterious encounter between Yakov and the angel. We read that:

And he ( Yakov) took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. ( Genesis 32: 24-25)

This is clearly am important moment. This is when Yakov and our whole nation become Yisrael. But, why did Yakov return over the Yabuk? On this, Rashi quotes the Talmud:

And Yakov was left alone. Said Rabbi Eleazar: He remained behind for the sake of some small jars. Hence [it is learned] that to the righteous their money is dearer than their body; and why is this? Because they do not stretch out their hands to robbery.(Hullin 91a)

Why would Yakov risk so much for these little jars? What was in these jars? If we go back to the beginning of his journey, we recall Yakov’s dream with the ladder. Upon waking up he consecrated that place with oil:

And Yakov woke out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely God is in this place; and I did not knew it.’ And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ And Yakov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. ( Genesis 28: 16-18)

One reasonable reading is that these “small jars” had more of this consecrating oil in them. So why did he need them at this moment?

To understand this we need to understand Hanukkah. On its surfaces Hanukkah is a simple holidays. We see the themes of light breaking through the darkness, a small group banding together to beat a much stronger force, and the power of having faith in community. But like everything else in Jewish life nothing is ever as simple as it seems. So let’s look deeper into the three miracles of Hanukkah. One miracle is that small group of zealots were able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple. Keeping Yakov’s dream in mind we should not forget that when recovering the Temple they also recovered the Even haShetiya– the foundational rock that was his pillow and was at the center of many of our stories ( see Dome of the Rock). When they recaptured the Temple they found on small jar of oil for the menorah in the Temple. The second miracle was that despite the fact that this small jar only had enough oil for one day it lasted for eight days. This story about the miraculous Hanukkah oil has allowed us to look past focusing solely on the military victory. This is important in that the war was not a black and white fight between the Jews and the Greeks. Rather, it was a civil war between a small group of religious zealots and a larger group of their Hellenized Jewish brethren. In my mind this is itself the third miracle of Hanukkah. Our ability to tell the story of the second miracle of the oil to overshadow the first miracle of a civil war. The story of the oil helped cover over the other story of the recovery of the Temple with its foundational rock.

This year is special in that Hanukkah shares the calender with Thanksgiving. On its surface they are similar in that they are both days of giving thanks. But what is Thanksgiving? It is traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. We retell the story of the first settlers to America who found salvation when they reached another foundational rock- Plymouth Rock.

But is that the real story of Thanksgiving? On October 3rd 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. There we read:

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Like the third miracle of Hanukah, Thanksgiving is not really a story about the Pilgrams, but rather the constitution of a ritual of reconciliation post-civil war. Both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving represent the re-creation of national mythologies for the sake of mending the wounds of fighting between brothers. We in camping appreciate the impact of a good story regardless of its being true. Camp in its essence is an artificially manufactured community built on rituals, traditions, and history that need not be based on fact. It is here in this miraculous fabricated narrative that we create enduring memories of brotherhood. So while the story might not be true, the community could not be any more real.

So now I return to Yakov. Why did he return to get the small jars of oil? Like the Rabbis take on Hanukkah and Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving, Yakov was getting the oil in preparation to reconcile with his brother Esav. The stories we tell are the foundational rocks of our culture. The true miracle of our holidays is the oil that helps us rewrite those stories to make peace between brothers. Have a very meaningful Thanksgivukkah. Happy holidays.


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