Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory, in 164 BCE of armed Jewish rebels led by Judah the Maccabee over the army of the Syrian autocrat Antiochus IV. Against all odds, the brave, imaginative, and abominably outnumbered Jewish abandon combatants, David-like, bulk the Syrian Goliath. Since that day, Jews about the apple accumulate apparent Hanukkah as a “minor” excursion, not an acknowledgment allowable by using Scripture however one this is however conventional.
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Hanukkah has accustomed Jews who were or underneath burden to digest to investigate a aureate age in which militant, absolute Jews maintained their non secular abandon and independence. Lighting candles, arena cards, and financial institution with dreidels anamnesis the accomplishment of the Maccabees and the phenomenon of the oil that austere for 8 days, a guarantee that Jews are virtually God’s alleged human beings.
For the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who came to America on the give up of the nineteenth and alpha of the twentieth centuries, Hanukkah within the New Apple took on new, cryptic and conflicted meanings. Hanukkah’s adjacency at the time table to Christmas airish accurate challenges. By the Nineties, Christmas turned into durably accustomed as America’s top of the line division for allowance giving. For abounding Americans of all faiths, consumerism and accepted animosity of “properly cheer” supplemented, if not changed, the non secular base for Christmas. The anniversary became hastily applicable a national, rather than in reality Christian, subculture.
For Jewish immigrants activity burden to come up with the money for their European approaches, changing ability with buddies at Christmastime signaled their adjustment to their new home. In 1904, the Forward quoted Jewish Christmas consumers who, back challenged, asked (in Yiddish), “Who says we haven’t Americanized?” The cardboard located, “The acquirement of Christmas capability is one of the aboriginal things that proves one is not any first-class a greenhorn.”
As historian Jenna W. Joselit notes, a few Jewish leaders criticized the dependancy of immigrant Jews to collect Christmas as an American client ritual. Writing in The Menorah in 1890, Rabbi Kaufman Kohler requested, “How can the Jew, after accident self-admire, partake within the pleasure and blithe entertainment of Christmas? Can he after self-give up, after entailing insult and abasement aloft his reputation and race, bulb the Christmas timberline in his household?”
Yet, Rabbi Kohler admitted, Hanukkah as again acclaimed by using American Jewry couldn’t authority a candle (so to talk) to Christmas. Kohler stated of the contrast, “How fearful and bush does one rise up via the ancillary of the alternative” and appropriate that Hanukkah bare brought beauty if it changed into to strive with Christmas.
Jewish bed-making adviser Esther Jane Ruskay lamented in 1902 that Christmas’s attention on ancestors celebrations, allowance giving, decorations, and Santa Claus “gives a bite to interest that every one the Hanukkah hymns, backed via all the Sunday-school teaching and apathetic apostolic [rabbinic] chiding, price always abort to offer.”
Joselit addendum that it become now not until the backward Twenties, back Jewish clearing to America became finer ended, that Hanukkah “started out to appear into its personal as a Jewish calm smash and an workout in intake.” Merchandisers to Jews began announcement their articles as ideal Hanukkah gifts. Der Tog agitated an ad in Yiddish for Hudson automobiles, which have been proclaimed “A Hanukkah Present for the Entire Family–The Greatest Bargain (metsiah) within the World.”
Colgate answer toiletries as Hanukkah potential and aliment purveyors consisting of Loft’s and Barton’s candies advertised sweets captivated in gold antithesis to simulate Hanukkah gelt [money]. Aunt Jemima abrade proclaimed itself “the pleasant abrade for latkes,” and the Hadassah Newsletter brash that “mah-jongg units accomplish normal Hanukkah items.”
With the idea of the State of Israel in 1948, Hanukkah took on a brand new — or alternatively, renewed — that means. In the after-effects of the Holocaust, the spine and success of Israeli competitive armament helped easy the angel of the Jew as fighter. Zionists proudly articular the Haganah and Irgun [pre-statehood Zionist militias] as Maccabean descendants. Adapting the angel of the competitive Jew to its Hanukkah artefact line, Loft’s Chocolate Company issued a lath ambitious alleged “Valor Against Oppression” that featured Accepted Moshe Dayan. Not to be outdone, Barton’s produced what Joselit calls “an Israelized variation of Monopoly whose lath featured a map of Israel, miniature Israeli flags, [and] menorahs.”
Despite the about-face within the acceptation of Hanukkah in ablaze of Israeli competitive success, the anniversary charcoal clashing for abounding American Jews. For adolescent Jewish children, December can nevertheless be a difficult ages as they seem to agreement with the all-knowing lures of Santa Claus. Yet, Hanukkah seems to abound in recognition because the acknowledgment of suited Jewish ritual turns into added boundless and severe.
In 1951, a California Jewish girl presented admonition that, even as acknowledging the parallels amid Hanukkah and Christmas, bridges the worlds of Jewish particularism and American borough birthday celebration: “Let this be our allegorical precept: Keeping aural the framework of our own tradition, software a blush association of dejected and argent and bird and gold, let us beautify our houses relevant and out as superbly as we will for Hanukkah, accretion aloft the vintage-time Feast of Lights.”
Reprinted with permission of the American Jewish Historical Society from “Chapters in American History.”