Hanukkah should be celebrated for its true meaning
Rabbi Neal Schuster, senior Jewish educator, KU Hillel, 722 N.H.:
Conventional wisdom has it that Hanukkah gets far more attention than it deserves; after all, it’s only a minor festival; not even biblical in origin; the only reason we give gifts during Hanukkah is because everyone else is giving Christmas presents.
Christmas has become commercialized, and so Hanukkah became commercialized, too, and is now blown way out of proportion; all so that Jewish kids will have something that matches the bigness and fun of Christmas.
But what is Hanukkah really about?
It is about an ancient struggle for religious freedom; the victory of a small Jewish army over their far-more-powerful Syrian-Greek oppressors; it’s about remembering the story of the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days instead of one.
Hanukkah is about all of these things, yet beneath the simple story was the reality of a complex struggle within Judean society of the time — between those who wanted to abandon their Judaism in favor of Greek culture, and those who wanted to maintain Jewish beliefs and practices, even in the midst of the ubiquity and appealing universalism of Hellenism.
In the context of contemporary commercialism and the super-sizing of a once minor holiday, the deeper history has become staggeringly relevant. Today, the salient question of Hanukkah is not can a tiny force attain victory against a larger oppressor, rather, it is the question of whether or not a people can be fully enmeshed in a larger and overwhelming culture without compromising or abandoning its distinctiveness. Can we embrace American universalism without losing who we are?
To me, this is the essential question of Hanukkah, and I can think of no better time to grapple with it than when nearly everyone else around us is celebrating that inviting and alluring other holiday. You know, the one with the tree.
— Send e-mail to Neal Schuster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
True happiness should define holidays, not materialism
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:
We need to admit that the struggle of materialism has affected not just the holidays we celebrate during this season, but in fact the entire endeavor of religion.
Today, religious truths are filtered through the perspective of autonomy, individual happiness and materialism. I will join a congregation as long as it makes me happy, I will celebrate a holiday as long as it makes me happy, I will remain in a marriage as long as I am happy. Happiness today is defined as personal pleasure and contentment; hedonism.
Before the rise of materialism, happiness had an entirely different meaning — happiness was achieved through appreciation for the very value of life itself. Studies have shown that the happiness derived from even the greatest material object disappears after nine months. True happiness stems from the core of our being, not as a result of our materialistic state.
Just look at a young child. Children don’t need to learn strategies for positive living, and they don’t need a reason to be happy. They need a reason to be sad. If a child cries, we ask, “What’s wrong?” If a child laughs and plays and dances around the room, we don’t ask, “What’s the big celebration about?” A child is happy by default; for no reason at all.
As we grow older and become more materialistic, we lose this childish contentment. If you see an adult walking around with a big smile, you ask, “What’s wrong with you, why are you smiling?”
As soon as we forget about what we need and instead focus on what we have, our childlike joy comes flowing back and we are happy. For after all, our happiness is not somewhere out there; it rests within, in that part of us that is forever young and forever giving — our soul.
Join us as we tap into this true happiness at the annual community-wide Chanukah celebration in downtown Lawrence, at 6 p.m. this Sunday in South Park.
— Send e-mail to Zalman Tiechtel at email@example.com.