Reflections on Chanukah
By Neal Oopskin
Chanukah time was always a time for mixed feelings in our house. We grew up amongst the gentiles who were celebrating Christmas. A full month before Christmas, there were advertisements in the newspapers and radios about special bargains. The radio began playing Christmas music and the department stores redecorated their windows with Santa Claus showing all the newest and most exciting toys and games.
How we wanted Christmas in our house too.
We petitioned dad to no avail. We were Jewish, he explained simply; we did not celebrate Christmas.
But maybe, just to exchange presents, please; we did not want to convert, not even a Chanukah bush. We just wanted to enjoy the holiday spirit; just to feel a part of it. We knew all of Santa's reindeer's names, Dancer, Prancer, etc. We wanted to be in with it.
But no, dad would not let.
How we envied our neighbors. They had decorated their house with a large pine tree and spent all of their time decorating it, making it look more and more beautiful. They went shopping for presents, those unbelievable toys in the store windows! And they had all of their Christmas parties.
We spoke with mom; maybe she could influence dad. We did not want to be Christians, but we did not see the connection with the holiday spirit and being Jewish or Christian. Just let us hang up a stocking and get some treats inside!
Dad sat us down in the living room and gave us a lecture which I still remember till today. He explained that we are Jewish, which we knew. Perhaps we are not the most observant Jews in the world, but still, as Jews we don't lack in holidays. Some say that Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas, but dad did not agree.
True on Chanukah we give presents, but the theme of the day is different. We don't have a Santa Claus; we have God. He watches over us and gives us what we need with out coming down the chimney.
Dad seemed to veer from the topic at hand. We Jews are very few in percentages in relation to the rest of the population of the world. Dad did not have figures but he estimated at less than one percent of the world's population, maybe less. But look at what the Jews have contributed to the world. In every field, whether it was science, philosophy, medicine, or business it was the Jews making advancements for the betterment of the world.
Einstein, Freud, Rothchild, he went on to name others, all have made their contributions to the betterment of the world. We Jews have helped governments and businesses become great. Jews have always risen to the top in every civilization in which they lived, helping enrichen that society.
Countries in which Jews have been allowed freedom to live have in turn helped those very societies by bringing social, scientific, cultural and economic benefits to their host countries. Countries which treated the Jews badly have received divine retribution, their economies are lacking and their society a mess.
Chanukah is really a time to take stock of us. This was the time that Judah Hamaccabee began his rebellion against the overwhelming tide of Jews taking upon themselves customs of the gentiles.
Chanukah was a time when the Jews decided that they were fed up with those who acted like gentiles. They were so fed up that they started a war. Just a few against many. Not just against the many Hellenized Jews, but against the great power of that time, Greece. Yet they won!
The Jews in that time won not just their freedom, but their pride in being Jewish.
Great nations have come and gone. We Jews are still around. God wants it that way.
We sat on the couch mesmerized by dad's little speech. Dad was not really a talkative type. Mom did most of the talking in the house. Dad did not use imaginative and descriptive adjectives that conjured up brave Jewish warriors pitting their meager strength against the multitudes of trained soldiers.
Dad was not from the most learned Jews; he had a scanty secular and Jewish education. He had to work hard starting when he was young to make a living. In his generation, anti-Semitism was a silent cancer that choked the Jew out of the corporate organization. Dad changed his name, but it never helped. He was just too Jewish.
Yet his hard work earned him respect and he slowly made promotions.
He was not an overtly religious man. Yet he was a Jew to the core. The concept of being a gentile did not exist for him. He was Jewish, whether he was awake or asleep, not by continuously chanting prayers, not by being book learned, but because he realized in his essence that that was him. And he made peace with his being Jewish, not by dressing in a distinct manner, or constantly speaking of Jewish topics, but by accepting who he was and never envying his gentile friends.
And strangely as it may seem, dad had many gentile friends. They respected him for his own tradition. He never acted prideful; he treated them with respect but never envied them.
Dad spoke to us in simple English, yet when he finished we sat on the sofa as if we had witnessed a star performance in the movies. After dad left the room, it took us several minutes to digest what he had said.
The days after dad's speech saw a change in me. I still liked looking in the department store windows and seeing the various toys on sale. But I never again felt the desire to partake in the Christian holidays. I could have respect for them, but I realize that our portion as Jews was better than theirs. I never again envied them.
Now I, a father, must transmit that the message that my dad gave me many years ago to my children which is the simple message of Chanukah.
from the December 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine