‘Tis the Season for Solidarity

Growing up in Great Neck, NY, the “quintessential Jewish suburb” (Goldstein, 2006), December was a time for Chanukah candles, not Christmas lights. Still, I remember the few houses around town that were decked out for that holiday. I loved and hated those lights. I loved to see them twinkling through the crisp winter nights. I hated that they reminded me of this great big and seemingly amazing thing I wasn’t a part of.

Today, I live in Columbus, OH where most of my family, friends, and neighbors celebrate some derivation of Christmas. At times I have felt uneasy participating in their seasonal traditions. Afterall, as the Chanukah story teaches us the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the right to be different, not to blend in.  But, as I’ve written in this space before, I now feel comfortable sharing the joy my friends and family feel at this time of year. (See, for example: “Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home,” and “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date.”)   In turn, I’ve shared my Chanukah traditions and together, we’ve found light in the darkness.


Sharing the magic of Chanukah candlelighting with some non-Jewish friends.
(Columbus, OH 2007)

Times seem pretty dark for many of us at this moment in time, and it’s not just because the sun is up fewer than 10 hours a day. Many of us are afraid of the direction our country will go when our president-elect takes office in January.

The appointment of Stephen Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President set a lot of Jews on edge. We fear that with someone like Bannon in the White House, someone who has supported racism through the spread of white nationalist messages on Breitbart “News” Network, prejudice and violence against minorities will not only increase, but be condoned. When the story broke of Richard Spencer’s speech at the white nationalist movement conference in D.C. last month, our worst imaginings seemed even more like real possibilities.

After watching Spencer’s talk and the response from his audience, I had a sickening thought. With Chanukah around the corner, would I feel comfortable setting our menorah in the window per tradition? I voiced this fear to my husband, Dan, who was raised Catholic but does not associate himself with the church any longer. While he is not Jewish, he is supportive of my commitment to my Jewish heritage and my desire to raise our daughter, Cora, with a sense of Jewish identity. Dan assured me we would light the candles and display them for the world to see, and that we would get others to join us. (I really love that guy.)

So, here’s your invitation.

If you are Jewish and haven’t lit Chanukah candles in a while, please join us.
If you are a friend of Jews, please join us.
If you want to show the world that you are not afraid to stand up for those who have been persecuted for following beliefs that don’t mimic the dominant culture, please join us.

The Jewish calendar is lunar based which is why our holidays don’t fall on the same secular dates each year. This year we’ll be lighting candles for eight nights beginning December 24th. I’m excited by the idea of millions of chanukiot (a name for menorahs used on Chanukah which have 9, rather than 7 candleholders) taking their place beside Christmas trees, Kwanzaa Kinaras,  that night.

There are lots of ideas for DIY menorahs out there as well as well as information about the candle lighting traditions. If you have a Jewish friend or neighbor, they might have an extra one you can borrow.

Dan and I made up the following secular blessing which we welcome you to use if you are so inclined. It speaks to the spirit of the traditional Hebrew blessing, but is something we believe Jews and non-Jews can say without fear of contradicting their own religious or philosophical beliefs.

“Thank you for being here with me tonight,
to celebrate the miracle of the Chanukah light.
Peace out.”

(NOTE: I hope to come up with a catching #hashtag we can all use to connect on this project, but I need help. Please send your suggestions or post them as a comment below.)







I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home. There was no Christmas, and I was fine with that. I can remember only one or two of my friends having a tree and I had no real concept of the cornucopia of gifts they received early Christmas morning. As far as I was concerned, all that was special about December 25th was that it was my mom’s birthday. A day that all the streets in New York were eerily quite.

As my family has morphed and changed, Christmas has become part of my winter routine. (I wrote about my own coming to terms with this last year.) While I would be perfectly happy without it, I have come to embrace the parts that make sense to me – cooking and crafting with the kids, retelling old family stories, and enjoying extra time with my husband at home.

Perhaps because we celebrate both holidays, we never pit one against the other. The Chanukah I grew up with was not about competing with Christmas traditions, it was about celebrating our own. It’s ironic to me how many Jews celebrate a “Christmasy Chanukah” complete with so-called Chanukah bushes. Such an idea runs in complete contradiction to what the holiday is about–maintaining commitment to Jewish ideals when those ideals are challenged by others.

So, I was a bit disappointed when looking for a project to bring to Cora’s hippie hebrew school as part of our Chanukah celebration. So many of the ideas I found, some of which were very beautiful and well-crafted, look like Christmas projects in disguise. I am trying to give some of these ideas a chance. Afterall, if we want to make something festive with our kids, why not decorate the house? We put our menorahs in the window so others can see them; a sign of our freedom to practice our religion, out in the open. Perhaps garland and ornaments can contribute to that cause, but I can’t fight my longing for holiday projects that are distinctively Jewish. Your recommendations most welcome!