Bits and Bobs! Hanukkah With a Distinctly British Flair

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We generally address topics that are endemic to America Jewish culture at Christmastime; however, occasionally, an article or event catches both our collective eye and imagination!

Anyone who has spent time in London during the Christmas season knows that Hanukkah does not share the popular spotlight with Christmas in British culture.  When in London during a 2012 speaking tour, our then 12-year old New York City-bred son,  dazzled and somewhat bewildered by all of the holiday lights and decorations but aware that something was missing, noted: “Mom, where are the menorahs? Why don’t the pharmacies have Hanukkah gelt?”  Hanukkah was not to be found in public to be sure.

So, it is with great surprise and a bit of appreciation (with a raised eyebrow as it concerns a British tabloid) that I noticed a recent article by Leanna Faulkner in the the Mirror, entitled:  “When is Hanukkah 2017 and what is the story behind the Jewish Festival of Lights? Dates, facts and activities for kids. Here is everything you need to know about the story of Hanukkah and how to celebrate the special Jewish Festival of Lights.”

I must admit that I am completely taken with the 2007 photograph of the kippah-sporting Prince of Wales (Charles) and the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) lighting a Hanukkiah. [Fact-checking the tabloid photo, we did uncover a series of AP photos of the couple lighting a hanukkiah on December 12, 2007 in Hendon, northwest London.]

Noting that thousands of Jews celebrate Hanukkah in the UK, the article instructs readers about the holiday given that ”not many people know much about the celebration referred to as the ‘Jewish Christmas’.”

Ultimately instructive, the tabloid article does contain a few inconsistencies and what should be characterized as “what is that all about?”:

  • A reference to the menorah as an “eight-pronged candle,”
  • A description of the gift-giving tradition using a photo of a Christmas present with the following caption: “A man about to open a Christmas present. Almost two out of three people receive a Christmas gift they do not like, but many are too polite to ask for it to be exchanged for something else, a new study has found.”

And, in an endearing mash-up, the following Hanukkah facts:

  • Around 17.5 million oily doughnuts are eaten in Israel during Hanukkah, commemorating the miracle of oil.
  • The word Hanukkah means ‘dedication’.
  • Since Hanukkah is a Hebrew word, there’s not one proper translation [transliteration], meaning there are a whopping 16 different spellings.
  • Whether you spell it Hanukkah, Channukah or Hunnakah, you’re correct.
  • In Yemen, children went from house to house, tins in hand, to collect wicks for the Hanukkah menorah.

 So a proverbial hat’s off to the Mirror! And perhaps as we light our hanukkiot this year, we should all say “Next Year in London!”

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/hanukkah-2017-what-story-behind-11394061

And for those traveling to London during Hanukkah, since 2015, there is a menorah lighting in Trafalgar Square through the auspices of Chabad Lubuvitch UK.

https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/event/40472517-menorah-on-trafalgar-square#f3IMwWpSXGpISkr7.97

 

 

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It’s That Time of Year Again!

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Here we go again! It’s not even Halloween and a gauntlet has been thrown down. The underpinning is the greeting “Merry Christmas.” A bit early for this, one might think.

The notion of a War on Christmas has therefore been politicized beyond all previous boundaries. In this particular year, the issue has gained national prominence bandied about during both the run-up to the presidential election of last year and now as a hallmark to a divisive political agenda. Poisoned rhetoric has distorted and amplified holiday greetings and decorations into acrimonious and divisive political statements. The all-inclusive phrase “Happy Holidays” has been transmuted into an insult to Christianity.

So, let’s take a look at this issue from an historical perspective.

For many years, debates centered on the what has been termed the “Christmas Wars” have taken place somewhat obscurely on socially, politically and religiously conservative talk radio and cable programs. Regardless of which strategies Jews in America have employed to face Christmas, most Americans remained largely unaware of the internal December debates taking place within Jewish communities throughout the United States. However, the cumulative effect of questioning the role of Christmas in America by Jews for over one hundred years increasingly helped the population at large to understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas. As minority groups immigrated in increasingly larger numbers to the United States and brought with them various religious traditions, Americans in leadership positions within local municipalities, school districts and public schools became more sensitive to those who felt excluded from Christmas festivities. Municipalities and public schools, in becoming more aware of diversity, neutralized the holiday celebration so as not to offend Americans with differing religious traditions. By the early twenty-first century, instead of wishing one another a “Merry Christmas,” for example, Americans began to wish each other “Happy Holidays.” School programs and concerts began to be referred to as winter celebrations rather than Christmas festivals.  Office parties took on the moniker of holiday party rather than Christmas party.

By the second decade of the twenty-first century, despite vocal assertions by certain conservative religious and political groups that America should be considered a Christian nation, most American citizens had come to accept the reality that Christmas was not the only December holiday that should be accorded national recognition. With this realization came an acknowledgment that certain accommodations would have to be made to allow other religious symbols to join those of Christmas in the public domain, particularly when those symbols also reinforced American values. Seventy-five years ago, it was songwriter Irving Berlin who taught the American people, through the ever popular song White Christmas, that the country’s goal in celebrating Christmas was not to practice religion but to employ its symbols to promote American ideals of home, family, freedom, and patriotism. Certainly, both Christmas and Hanukah now accomplish this goal for many Americans.

As Michael Che succinctly rejoined on the “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live (aired on October 14, 2017): “When we say ‘Happy Holidays’ we’re not attacking Christmas, we’re saying ‘All Holidays Matter.’ ”

Happy Holidays!