It happens every year at this time, the politically correct holiday season. When a community puts up a Christmas tree, one of three things happens. Either there is a battle to take it down, rename it a “Holiday” tree, or someone fights to get a Chanukkiah, Kwanzaa candles, or a symbol of some other religion’s holiday placed right next to it. Then the ACLU prepares to sue any town whose mayor even drove near a church, mosque, and/or synagogue, put up a tree in its town square, enjoyed a cup of eggnog, or grabbed a sufganiyot on the way home from work.
Give it up liberals! The First Amendment is not supposed to protect the government from religion, it’s mean to protect religion from government.
Keep in mind, as well, that the majority of Americas are Christians, so putting a Christmas tree in the town square of a mostly Christian community is not all that scandalous — and it is not an assault on other faiths. However, insisting that the government of a community where there are few Jews place a Chanukkiah next to a Christmas tree does an injustice to the message of Chanukah.
The idiocy started early this year. In Wisconsin, a huge decorated evergreen put in the Capitol rotunda in November will not be a Christmas tree but a “holiday” tree, per Governor Tony Evers. Well, governor, what holiday is the tree celebrating?
In early November, a synagogue in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, requested that a 9-foot “menorah” be placed the town’s Market Square. Last year another New Hampshire town, Durham, thankfully denied a request from a local synagogue to put a Chanukkiah next to the town’s tree — and it also cancelled an annual “holiday tree” lighting ceremony and a grand entrance by Santa Claus. The “holiday” tree will still be lit, but under the cover of darkness. And Santa might as well be the impeachment whistleblower — he will apparently just appear out of thin air, rather than be introduced. Durham also banished the wreaths that used to be displayed on town light poles. Why no wreaths? The council worries that they may be construed as being too close an association with Christmas. Oh, the horror!
Next year, explained town manager Todd Selig, Durham will look to hang something from the poles — like a “non-descript star” — to “add light and “Festivus” to the season.
Last week, I went to a wedding in a non-sectarian party hall. It was a wonderful party and it was great to see my friend filled with joy. Upon entering the hall, I noticed a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. On the coat check counter there was a Chanukkiah; it was nowhere near a window or door where the light of G-d’s miracle might shine into the neighborhood.
I politely explained Chanukah to the coat check lady, and explained the proper placement of a Chanukkiah. She asked questions and promised to tell her boss. But it’s not her fault, nor the fault of the party hall — it’s the fault of American culture, and of Jews who insist “if they get one, we should get one too.”
Stop it, please! Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas!
It makes me crazy. People see December as an opportune time for the celebration of a politically correct multicultural potpourri. Sadly, even some Jewish organizations are trying to push for a Chanukkiah next to every Christmas tree. Part of the meaning of Chanukah is the exact opposite of that multicultural rubbish.
Part of the Chanukah story was the Maccabees’ fight to get the Syrian-Greeks out of Israel, and the cleansing and dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. But the holiday is also about the fight against assimilation, a civil war among the Jews. Judah Maccabee and the boys were fighting against Jews who had turned away from their faith, watering it down by combining it with Greek/Hellenistic practices. The resulting assimilation caused a loss of Jewish faith and tradition and, eventually, the Hellenist laws against practicing Jewish rituals.
Allow me suggest that if Matthias and his sons were alive today, they would be fighting every Jew who wants a menorah next to a Christmas tree, a star of David next to a cross, or even a massive multi-holiday Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus and Winter Solstice display.
I would also suggest that Jewish people who celebrate both holidays and have a Christmas tree or Chanukah Bush or talk about Chanukah Harry are also missing the meaning of Chanukah. The Maccabees were horrified when an idol was placed in the Holy Temple. Rather than trying to fit with “modern” culture, they wanted to make sure that the House of G-d was a Jewish household. To remember the Maccabees, we should do the same with ours.
America is not supposed to be a stew out of a melting pot but more like a gumbo where all the elements exist together in the same pot and maintain their original form. As Americans, we are all different, and we should celebrate those differences, not merge them into one hodgepodge of progressive mediocrity celebrating everything at the same time. To be totally honest celebrating that way is celebrating absolutely nothing.
As Jewish holidays go, Chanukah is not as important than the big ones, the festivals of Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot, which were ordained in the Torah by G-d. If we really want our town squares to have a Jewish holiday display, we might encourage their use on one of the major festivals — with a Sukkah for Sukkot, an exodus display for Pesach, or a Torah display for Shavuot.
The rabbis tell us that we are not to use the Chanukah candles for reading or seeing, as we would with a regular candle or a light bulb. The Chanukkiah is supposed to be placed near a window, so the light of G-d and His miracles will shine outward into the world. Mixing up Chanukah with other people’s traditions is not only a display of assimilation, but it diminishes the light and message of Chanukah.
America is a great country, not because everyone celebrates the same, but because we can all celebrate differently. During this season in which different faiths celebrate different holidays, we should insist that if Chanukah is displayed in a public area it is displayed correctly as its own independent holiday and not as part of an assimilated mishmash that ignores one of the reasons the Maccabees fought.
And when a Chanukkiah is displayed it should be properly lit — which is typically the custom with the outdoor Chanukkias placed by Chabad — and properly placed so that, when lit, the light of G-d’s miracles will shine outward into the world.