Now that the election is over, we can get down to business: the upcoming holiday season.
I wish there were a way to promote further Chanukah’s own identity and its importance in Jewish history. “Minor holiday,” one hears way too often. So Christians have a big holiday—the genesis of their faith—and we celebrate “just” another military victory? But like any other military victory of ours, if it had gone the other way, we wouldn’t be here. And if one studies the dominant Syrian-Greek civilization of the time, it’s chilling to consider their moral code continuing to our current era. So all beneficiaries of Western civilization—based on “Judeo-Christian values,” as our friend Pat Buchanan liked to say—should tip their hats to the Jewish heroes who fought so valiantly to preserve their Torah belief system.
It’s difficult to compete with the traditions associated with Christmas over the last several decades. The colors, the parties, the gifts, the decorations, the tree, the weather—when does Bethlehem ever get snow?—and of course, Santa Claus. With so much of the holiday aimed at children, it’s understandable that a Jewish child whose family doesn’t celebrate Christmas can feel lost or cheated. This means it’s even more important to demonstrate to a Jewish child that our tradition does matter, that we made a difference when we beat the Syrian-Greeks 2100 years ago and continue to do so.
I asked my friend and noted wise man Adam Davis about Chanukah in our modern era. His commentary:
I don't think we need a marketing ploy ala Santa Claus for Judaism as a religion. It might work, but it’s not needed. No matter where you fall in the denominational, observance or philosophical spectrum, Judaism itself has plenty of meaning that 'sells itself." The modern institutions and organizations purveying it in myriad forms, for a number of complex reasons, increasingly face some challenges with our generation and may well do so anyways. It doesn't hurt.
Our culture, a civilization, our Jewish aesthetic frowned on creating fixed images of specific individuals, lest our heroes be caricatured and lose esteem or worse, be mawkishly semi-deified.
That said, in this day and age, it should also be understood that marketing isn't simply a set of ploys. If we speak of it as putting smart strategies in place, then yes, it is needed. We can and should create tokens or platforms for Judaism, Jewish culture, life and community that affirm them, promote them in order to make our heritage more approachable, accessible and understandable.
Whether in tactical form it's Hanukah Harry, Zohan or Hebrew Hammer or something more tasteful is a more complex question that needs to be considered according to the audience, but the more meaningful touch points we offer, the more likely folks will connect with their Jewish identity.