The One Thing I Don’t Like About Chanukah

Last night of Chanukah is the perfect time for a Chanukah blog post, right? Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Three Things I Like About Chanukah:

  1. Latkes Latkes are fried potato pancakes (there are other variations), and it’s traditional to eat them on Chanukah to commemorate the miracle of the oil. [Sufganiyot (doughnuts, typically jelly-filled) are also traditional, however, I hate doughnuts, and I don’t identify with the culture of people deeply excited for artisanal gourmet doughnuts for Chanukah at all.] But fried potato pancakes – yum!
  2. Minimal Religious Requirements – As Jewish holidays go, the religious requirements for Chanukah are minimal. No lengthy services! No special diets! No fasting! The only real commandment of the holiday is to light the menorah each night, which isn’t as onerous as other Jewish holiday requirements, like being ready for Yom Tov, cleaning your whole house for Passover, or building a sukkah.
  3. Chanukah Parties – The world of social events planned to attract young people in the Jewish community seems to think that Chanukah, Purim, and Simchat Torah should all be celebrated the same way – parties featuring lots of people, food, dancing, and drinking. I’m into it!

Two Things I Feel Neutral About

  1. Commercialization & “Christmasification” – Because Chanukah usually falls in December, Chanukah becomes more Christmas-y, more commercialized, and more assimilated. It is ironic that Chanukah has become the most assimilated Jewish holiday given that it’s a holiday about resisting assimilation. Personally, I’ve never identified with the “December Dilemmaangst. I don’t mind the dominant culture of Christmas. I find the commercialization of Chanukah, and the various hybrids ofChrismukkahsomewhat odd, but I’m not really bothered by it.
  2. GiftsChanukah has a gift-giving tradition of sorts independently of Christmas. Although I enjoy receiving gifts as much as the next person, I find shopping for gifts for other people incredibly stressful. The pressure to find the right gift at the right time overwhelms me. I’ll categorize this as neutral, because gift-giving isn’t specific to Chanukah (so much of the gift-giving culture is influenced by proximity to Christmas), there are few people I’m obligated to buy a gift for this time of year, and I won’t pretend I don’t like receiving gifts.

The One Thing I Don’t Like About Chanukah: Publicizing The Miracle

There is a Rabbinic imperative to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. The menorah is supposed to be lit by a window so that the public can see them. The time for lighting Chanukah candles was determined in part by the time when a maximum number of people would be out and could see them. Public menorah displays are common.

This isn’t compensating for something; this is a mitzvah. (I kid. This is not actually how one lights the menorah and publicizes the miracle, but I couldn’t resist a cheap joke). Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

You’d think the Big Party Judaism extrovert in me would love this kind of thing. And in fact, I do really enjoy public menorah lightings with a large group of people standing outside in the cold singing the blessings and Chanukah songs together in front of a giant menorah in a public location.

But I don’t like the requirement of publicizing the miracle by lighting the menorah from a highly trafficked, visible part of my home.

When You Publicize, People See In…

One night of Chanukah, I had reason to go to a fancy dinner at a high-end kosher restaurant in an extremely Jewish neighborhood. Walking up to the restaurant, I was struck by all the menorahs in all the residential windows.

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev from Pexels

I felt like I should have felt a sense of Jewish pride, seeing all these menorahs so proudly and visibly displayed. And I wasn’t embarrassed about being Jewish or anything. (Literally, my blog is named “Jewish Young Professional” – being Jewish is the least embarrassing thing about me)

But seeing all those menorahs meant seeing inside all these homes. Perfectly neat, pristine, functional, lovely homes. I imagined someone looking at the menorah in my window and peeking inside….and I felt sick with shame. It meant that anyone seeing our publicly displayed menorah would also be seeing inside our deeply broken and fucked up home.

Somewhat related, Public Displays of the Chanukah miracle on Social Media (this is not a religious imperative; this is just an annoying trend) also bother me. All those pictures of my friends in normal relationships and homes posting pictures of lighting the menorah with their kids…I post nothing. There is absolutely nothing photogenic about the way Chanukah is celebrated in my apartment.

My Facebook feed is filled with photos exactly like this. Photo by Aron Kremer from FreeImages

But at least I can opt out of social media. Publicizing the miracles by lighting Chanukah candles in front of an open window – that’s part of the mitzvah.

Once Upon A Time, I Didn’t Care…

I remember Chanukah in the earlier days of this relationship/marriage. There was one year, 7th or 8th night, when we lit candles and wound up fooling around front of the menorah. Meaning, I ended up completely naked, fully illuminated by all those Chanukah candles in front of an open window. *facepalm*

And yet, maybe it’s just because time has passed, but I feel like someone seeing the inside of my home today by the light of the Chanukah candles is more embarrassing than someone seeing my bare ass. Like, the neighbors from that Chanukah years ago would have thought, “Wow, that girl is ugly, but it looks like she’s gettin’ some, so good for her” and neighbors looking in our window today would think, “there is something deeply wrong and broken about the person who lives there”.

Projecting Out vs. Inviting In

It doesn’t inherently bother me to project outwards. I actually like public speaking. It doesn’t take much for me to make a fool out of myself in front of a microphone. I enjoy going out and meeting people. Heck, I have a public blog where I write deeply unflattering shit about myself.

But I don’t like inviting people into my space. I don’t like hosting guests [also, I suck at all of the talents (eg. cooking, maintaining a tidy, well-decorated space, pretending that I enjoy having guests over) required for being a gracious hostess]. Of course, this goes against all ideals of a proper Jewish home which is supposed to be a model of hospitality for guests.

If publicizing the miracle was just about projecting outwards, it wouldn’t bother me at all.

This would be perfect for me. Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Alas. At least it’s the last night of Chanukah, so no more of this till next year.

53 comments

  1. What a honest reflection! I hope you had a great Chanukah. The part where you claimed to not have any of the talents required for hosting guests, I realised youโ€™re a soul sister lol. I looove having people around but I hate having to tidy up for guests ๐Ÿ˜œ
    And yeah, festivals are becoming highly commercialised these days. Successful Business models always make it a point to exploit religious traditions.

    Truly enjoyed this honest admission of yours!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you! I am an extrovert, and I really enjoy being around other people, socializing, parties, etc. Just not at my own place where my guests are judging me.

      “Successful Business models always make it a point to exploit religious traditions.” – So true. Well said.

      How you been, girl?

      Liked by 3 people

    • Big problem in this capitalist materialist world is that Chanukah which usually falls in December it may have become more Christmas-y, more commercialized, and more assimilated and have people pushed in having to buy presents and to make the most luxurious meals. The majority of Jews forgetting to spend enough attention on the religious and human relationship part.

      Though we may not forget, it is up to ourselves to give the celebration the right meaning and even with simple things we can make the evening a nice social gathering, honouring the Elohim and making the feast one of a great social gathering, with lots of fun and witty thoughts.

      Why should people be afraid to place a symbol at their window, giving others also some moment of thought … why? …. and giving reason to think about the non-commercial aspect of the feast?

      Publicizing the miracles by lighting Chanukah candles in front of an open window โ€“ thatโ€™s part of the mitzvah.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is definitely good to focus on the actual ritual elements of the holiday. The commercialized aspects are inevitable and unfortunate.

        I don’t personally love putting the menorah in my front window, not, because it is a religious element of the holiday, and not even because it means publicly announcing my Jewish identity. I’m totally fine with, and even proud of both of those aspects. But what I don’t like is that putting the menorah in a public-facing window allows people look into my living space, which I find deeply uncomfortable. My living space is less than ideal, shall we say, and I am very private and selective about whom I invite in

        Like

        • I can understand that reservedness and when there are no glass curtains that prevent people from looking in, we would not put something like that in front of the window that attracts attention.

          If we lived in the Netherlands, it would be very different in those places where everybody has no curtains closed all year round and everybody can just look into the living room. (Though honestly, I would close the curtains too, me not liking people having a peep-show.)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I hate having people around. There I said it. I love my housemate because she’s awesome, kind, sweet, etc., but I’ll confess right here (not on my own blagh, gah) that I never invite anyone over and am secretly annoyed when she does. We had a couple game nights here with mutual friends and it completely stressed me the fuck out. I hope we find excuses never to have another (parking! parking is bad!), though there’s nothing I can do about the random friend/s she has over. I hate it! I know it’s unreasonable of me but I thought I’d respond to your honest post. And it’s not that I feel broken or anything, though of course I have failed at having a normal romantic partnership. I don’t know what it is, but there is definitely some aspect to feeling judged and not good enough. I didn’t light my menorah this year and don’t have a window to put it in anyway…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. being Jewish is the least embarrassing thing about me

    This is a really funny way of putting it ๐Ÿ˜€

    I ended up completely naked, fully illuminated by all those Chanukah candles in front of an open window.

    WOW. I wish I would see more of that around Jerusalem! Our Chanukah windows are boring!

    Heck, I have a public blog where I write deeply unflattering shit about myself.

    Yeah… but – pretty much nobody knows whose blog this actually is.

    Our apartment is constantly a mess, and I feel insecure about that, but it is what it is. Also, we’re not wealthy, and we rent in an old building… whereas some of our daughter’s classmates have nice homes in Jerusalem… and it makes me sad and insecure that she asked us “if we’re poor”… but, as I said, it is what it is.

    Also, FWIW, you can choose which window to put your chanukiot in… so just put them upstairs somewhere where people can’t see in. Problem solved.

    โค
    David

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t think much about that phrasing when I wrote this post, but now I’m reflecting on which aspects of my identity I’m proud of and which are embarrassing.

      Be careful what you wish for. There are a lot of extremely unattractive naked people out there. Unless all your Jerusalem neighbors are supermodels or something, you probably don’t want your Chanukah windows to be that interesting!

      Appreciate you sharing your honesty and insecurity about your own living space.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I was first introduced to Chanukah by my childhood friend Michael. If I recall correctly, the Schwartzman family did not display their menorah in the window of their house either. Michael also received a gift from his parents every night of Chanukah. This made me feel a bit jealous because Christmas presents only happened during one day each year.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your honesty. I feel that we habitually judge ourselves more harshly than others because we are the center of our own universe , but probably not theirs. I am a staunch introvert and like company in small doses and infrequently. Too much-forced togetherness which I call mandatory group gropes is my idea of hell. Happy rest of 2021.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fair point. People are more self-centered (meaning they mostly focus their attention on themselves and devote less attention to the people on the periphery of their lives) than we give them credit for.
      “mandatory group gropes”, that’s funny. I’m a crazy extrovert, but there are definitely limits.
      Happy rest of 2021 to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, I never even knew any of this stuff! I wish you didn’t feel inadequate about your home!! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I’d probably pass by and love it!! ๐Ÿ™‚ YAY! Happy Chanukah!! โค

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think both candlelight and Christmas tree lights are among the most flattering ways of looking at a home from the outside in. People get distracted by the pretty glow and don’t notice how unperfect it is. And if there happen to be boobs on display, all the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Do you know what a profoundly entertaining self-deprecating humor you have? Your prose is genius, both revealing and concealing at the same time. I always enjoy reading here.
    Pax,
    Dora

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I share your feelings about social media. In the end I came off Facebook and I’ve never been on Instagram (I came off Twitter too, but that was because of politics). That said, all those pictures of “friends in normal relationships and homes” — one photo or even several photos does not prove more than that they tidied up a corner of their home and stopped the kids fighting for a few seconds. It does not show who is struggling with work issues, financial issues, invisible illnesses, kids with behavioural problems etc. etc. etc. You are not alone in struggling with this time of year. And it’s absolutely OK not to look at those photos on social media!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I had Instagram for a day and I was done. Rationally, I know you’re right. It doesn’t prove anything and everyone is lying on social media. But the fact that it would take me considerable work just to be able to fake one of those stupid photos for social media is unsettling. And I don’t even feel like I have a good excuse for being a hot mess, which doesn’t help.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting post from your perspective as one who celebrates Chanukah. I never knew it had to be publicized. Are you allowed to have an electric menorah and then put the curtain behind it? I would love a latke right about now. I haven’t had one in years. I’m at the point where I feel indifferent about the commercialization of Christmas because it no longer bears any resemblance to what the holiday is about. I can’t even enjoy the season because of the stress of working in retail. It’s sad because every retail worker can’t wait for it to be over, starting in around August.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Re: electric menorahs, like pretty much everything in Judaism, there are different opinions. I believe the consensus is you can have one, but it doesn’t fulfill your mitzvah (commandment) obligation.

      Your comment is the saddest thing I have ever read about the state of the commercialization of Christmas. I would like to send you some Christmas cheer and sugarplum fairies or something. Here’s a video of my favorite Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. I know that sounds weird because I’m Jewish and this carol is a really religious one, but I just think it is beautiful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz4Yik9lCP8&t=3s

      Liked by 1 person

        • The only reason I knew the lyrics is because this was one of the songs we did in school choir in public school. I feel like today, public schools would never pick this carol for the holiday concert because it’s so religious. At the time, the lyrics even gave me a bit of pause (I think I sang some of the notes on an “ah” or hummed in places or something) but I still found the song incredibly beautiful and I’m glad I learned it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Exactly. I get the impression that public schools today are allergic to any mention of religion. I wonder if they even do holiday concerts anymore. What if you offend someone by not representing their holiday properly or by assuming they have a December holiday? Not that skipping elementary or middle school holiday concerts are a huge loss, as the students are generally terrible in those years, but still.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. I often find that holiday time can be difficult. It’s like all the show and decoration is a reflection of our own personal lives and we have to match up to it somehow. But that’s just bullshit, insecure thinking. And we all do it lavishly. I’m glad that you are able to express yourself freely. Many of us just live in the dark shadows of reality and continue to pretend that there’s nothing wrong anywhere. It’s always a pleasure to read your blogs. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. So many expectations, so much decoration and fanfare, so much lavish insecurity. So very irritating. So many people thinking the exact same thing, but we keep doing this to ourselves and to each other.

      Thanks. I figure my blog ought to be one of the few places I can be honest, you know? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  12. In our current home, the only windows that face the street are a bedroom window and a window over the kitchen sink, neither of which are good places to put our menorah. We ended up putting it by a side window in the kitchen that faces the neighbor’s house. Maybe one could see it from the street. Not sure. We leave the curtain open till the candles go out, but I’m always uncomfortable wondering who’s seeing my messy kitchen. I like privacy. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  13. So interesting. I had never thought of Jewish rituals being commercialised or out there for their “look at me” scores. It is not something I am aware of within the Jewish community here in Australia, but I suppose I really wouldn’t know. I had always thought such rituals had retained their depth over the millennia and reflected a meaningfulness that rose above superficiality. I guess capitalism, vanity and greed can get their claws into any human endeavour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think both can be true simultaneously – a ritual can reflect a long-standing tradition going back over the millenia and be deeply meaningful, and there can also be a heavily commercialized industry selling items to support that ritual. It makes for this odd dynamic of meaningful observance and commercial sales opportunity.

      Like

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