This menorah has been in my family since before I was born. It was the one my father and mother lit, and now I keep that tradition alive.
I remember staring into the tiny flames, my head barely above the kitchen counter. I’m staring at them again, but from above.
And I wonder: who will light them when I am gone? Who will keep the tradition alive? Or does it end with me?
I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, and I keep thinking about it. Chanukah (or Hannukah, however you want to spell it) is not that important a holiday. It’s not Jewish Christmas. If anything, it’s Jewish 4th of July. The Jews were occupied by the Seleucid (Eastern Greek) empire, that destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to Zeus. They increasingly tried to Hellenize (is that a word) the Jews and strip them of their traditions and identity. A small group of rebels fought back, eventually forcing a truce with the Seluecids. It was a holy war fought by radicals, and celebrating that makes me uncomfortable, but in the modern age it’s become something more.
Jews have always been ostracized, exiled, and cordoned off from the rest of society (i.e. the Pale Settlement). Mass attacks like pogroms were pretty common, especially around Easter. And then there’s the Holocaust, which some people still deny.
But just as damaging is the cultural assimilation we face from being a small minority everywhere. This is something that all minorities go through, the pressure to fit in and be like everyone else. The pressure to throw yourself into the melting pot and remake yourself into something the rest of society feels comfortable with. To resist means isolation, ridicule, and abuse (it’s a lot like Junior High).
Chanukah became important as a remembrance of who we are. I’ve fallen to this cultural assimilation. I don’t keep kosher. I don’t wear traditional garb. I don’t go to temple. I am not dating a Jewish girl. But I am still Jewish. It’s my heritage, and I scratch and claw to hold onto something…anything…while the rest of my family melts into the grayness of assimilation.
In my county, there have been two rabbis’ cars firebombed and one jewish cemetery vandalized since October. I had to leave a bunch of local facebook groups because of all the code slurs being passed around. I live just outside of New York City. This isn’t supposed to happen here. It does.
Why do we persist? Why do we hang onto these archaic traditions?
Because “without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.”
This is not the Jewish Experience. This is the Immigrant Experience. This is the Minority Experience. This is the experience of anyone that has ever been “the other.” This is European Christmas traditions remade as American ones. This is Italian pizza remade as Pizza Hut. This is Tex-Mex and Taco Bell. This is dreadlocks. This is the Croissan’wich.
This is Humanity’s Experience, the experience of loss and death. The inevitable. We fall in love, we marry, we have children. We become blends, compromises. And I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but I’m not ready to let go.