Wednesday, December 08, 2004

celebrating hanukkah

Count me and my family among the number of Christians making an effort to celebrate Hanukkah. It's partly to educate the girls about other cultures and ways of doing things, partly to educate them about Judaism, and partly to build their knowledge and appreciation of what God has done for his people.

My calendar has Dec. 8 marked as the first day of Hanukkah -- stupid Gentile that I am, I believed it, when I should have realized that Hanukkah would start at sundown Dec. 7. (Actually, I did suspect that, but failed to check.)

This afternoon, the girls and I went into a Judaica shop in the next town over and bought a menorah and candles. I think I inadvertantly misled the owner into thinking that I'm Jewish. I'm not sure, but I think so. For starters, I always say the opening H in Hanukkah like the "ch" sound at the end of Bach, which is how it's supposed to be pronounced. For a second thing, I explained to E and R in some detail the significance of the menorah and the shamash, told them time and again the story of Judah the Macabbee, and of course R also has a biblical name. I think the girls' curly hair also lent us the image, although R's hair is far blonder than I've ever seen on a Jewish person.

On the other hand, E kept asking me what Hanukkah is, even on the way out. Maybe they thought I haven't been a particularly observant Jew, especially since I acknowledged I was buying the menorah a day late, or maybe that I was a Gentile who had married a Jewish woman. No idea.

E found it enthralling when I lit the candles tonight and said the prayers, although she was mortified that I wouldn't blow the candles out before they melted away. (She overcame that, and decided it was neat to watch them melt that far.) No dreidel games, although E learned a dreidel song in preschool last year, and we did eat latkes. With shellfish and pasta admittedly, but I didn't feel inclined to keep kosher, especially since dinner was rushed so my wife could get to book club on time.

No traditional doughnuts, though. I've never liked jelly doughnuts, especially a kind I can't even spell or pronounce. I might get a more regular sort of doughnuts to share with the girls, and explain that it's also a tradition we've half-borrowed.

This is actually (sort of) the second Jewish holiday we've added to our family observance. Last Easter, I tried to structure the meal around something like a Hagaddah service, focusing on the Easter story rather than the Passover one. It was a total disaster, of course, but I'm trying again next year. It occurred to me some time a couple years ago that the annual Pesach ritual is an excellent way of preserving the Jewish religion, culture and identity in alien and often hostile cultures, and that I'd have to be an idiot not to want to do that with my own faith.

Last night as I was watching the candles on the menorah burn low, I thought about a friend of mine named Josh. Josh is the son of a cantor, and the two of us had a tremendous working relationship at WCN, where we talked about our faiths openly and safely. (He said that I was a puzzle to him -- he'd never known another Christian as deeply religious as me who wasn't always trying to convert him, who told jokes about his own religion, or who agreed the Tanakh made better reading than most of the New Testament.)

We had talked periodically about the kosher rules, and Josh found it hilarious when I mentioned the amendment an ex-girlfriend of mine had had about pork. It was that pork is never kosher, unless it's eaten at a Chinese restaurant. He loved that one.

He also told me that his father had told him about a group of lost Jews discovered in South America. Their great-grandparents or whoever had been so secretive about being Jews, for fear of persecution, that their descendants didn't realize it themselves. They celebrated Mass every Sunday, and prayed to the saints and all, but on every Friday evening, they turned the pictures of the saints around until sunset Saturday, and kept other traditions usually associated with Jews. "For example," I threw in, "every Christmas, they go out for Chinese food." "That's right," Josh said. "But they have no idea why they do it, since no one else does."

No particular relevance to Hanukkah, I suppose, but I thought about them and chuckled all the same.

We also read "The Christmas Menorahs," a true story about a whole town rallying around their Jewish families who were being targeted by neo-Nazis who were throwing stones through windows where they saw menorahs. It was a nice reminder about the power of courage and love, and E seemed to enjoy it, along with the traditional story about Judah the Macabbee.

She had a hard time understanding why somebody would hate another person for being Jewish. Good for her. I hope she feels that way her whole life.

Tomorrow should be better. I figure by the eighth day, I should have it down to a science. I'd really like to get to know more of the Jewish holidays and incorporate them into our family life to one degree or another. I've always had an interest in Judaism, and it's deepened with my faith. I think I'm becoming a messianic Gentile

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