Sunday, December 5, 2010
Hannukkah, Chanukah, Januka
This year I am celebrating Hannukkah. Lighting candles in the chanukiah, playing dreidel, frying latkes. The last time I remember taking time out of my day to remember the holiday was four years ago, as an expat in Spain. I remember the day I told my Spanish housemate that I was Jewish, and that I'd never really been to Catholic mass, and she kept blinking as if I'd shined a flashlight in her eyes. "I've never met a Jew before," she said. I wrote home and a few weeks later had received a chanukiah, candles and dreidels in the mail. I lit the first candle using the flame from our stove. My boss at the school where I worked thought I sneezed the first time I asked him about "Januka."
In the years since my return to the United States, I have forgotten what it means to observe something real. Sometimes I wonder if religion is something that grows weaker in an individual over the years, as if we don't experience a miracle early enough, or if we are crammed so full of one-sided religious indoctrination, the opportunity to reach some kind of personal resolution slowly dies out. My own relationship with faith has always been closely tied to the need to explain my family history, and with it, my own personal politics.
Now, though, I prefer to simplify things and say I just like remembering ritual, and sharing it with others. There are a half dozen Hebrew prayers that I probably will never forget. The irony is although these are the only words in Hebrew that I know, and yet I couldn't translate their meaning for the life of me. All I know is the melody that was instilled in me at a young age, the memory of yarmulkes made out of crushed paper cups, of Manischewitz grape juice and handfuls of challah, of Sunday mornings sitting in front of a bimah that looked so modest and so important all at once. I remember our annual latke parties, and the way my mom would somehow fill our kitchen with neighbors and friends, all clustered around two pans filled with hot oil, and us kids spinning tops on the Oriental rug in the next room. And my dad signing little presents for us as "Hannukkah Harry," because when we were kids, Hannukkah always had to be presented with its Christian counterpart (Hannukkah Harry worked alongside Santa Claus).
Happy Hannukkah, internet.