For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which begins at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift.
Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and the usual hysteria about global warming are the keynotes. One group pushing such a concept is the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. It takes the traditional story of the miracle of the one-day supply of oil in the holy Temple in Jerusalem that lasted for eight days as a metaphor for the Copenhagen climate agenda.
Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions. Even more to the point, Chanukah is the story of a particularly bloody Jewish civil war whose outcome has stood ever since as a warning against the perils of discarding faith and freedom to fit it with more popular ideological movements. This is a lesson that applied to the Maccabees, who sought to resist the pull of Hellenism more than 2,000 years ago, as well as to those fighting back against the siren song of totalitarian ideas in the last century.
As such, and as much as the specific religious message of the holiday ought to resonate with Jews, this element of faithfulness and resistance against the pull of both fashion and conventional wisdom is one that can inspire everyone, no matter what their faith or origin. Happy Chanukah!