A Menorah in Winterport
The ice atop our wooden deck crackles as I venture out to the woodpile. The night is quiet, but the cracks are loud, intrusive, and it feels like a violation.
I kneel down in the snow by the shed, lifting up the blue tarp and grabbing what remains of the wood left by the house’s previous owner. This pile of logs will carry us through the rest of the winter, and thankfully, all the deadfalls and wind-downed trees from the long windstorm will carry us through the next two winters.
My old paratrooper knee yells at me for putting it down on the snow as I load our satchel with logs. I’ve changed out of my contact lenses and into glasses, which now fog unhelpfully with my breath as I labor outside.
Inside, a menorah sits on our table, its candles wickedly flickering as the ceiling fan in our great room distributes the woodstove heat around our A-frame. The shadows dance playfully about the room. My children are at peace. My wife makes latkes.
I argued with a Reform Jewish friend’s notion that this holiday is “troubling” for Reform Jews. Advancing a widely discredited theory spread by an historian who drew a contrast between increasing participation in pre-WWII Europe (Communists, German Jewish reformers) and Hellenized Jews, it’s too easy for Reform to put itself in the shoes of those who fell under Greek influence. Except we know from Josephus that it wasn’t so simple. I have my criticisms of Reform Judaism, but they’re not puppets of an occupational force or elitist sympathizers.
Sometimes, it’s okay to identify with the Maccabees. Applying shamefulness to their conduct in retrograde, especially to match a “frum vs. liberalized” narrative, is absurd. In the end, the Hasmoneans became Hellenized, too, and we’ve all inherited that influence on Judaism, in all walks of Jewish life.
We’ve all been thinking a good deal about Jerusalem lately, too. It’s easy to fall into the prevailing claptrap about Arab violence, as if there’s any excuse for enabling violent Arab histrionics. Fun fact: Jerusalem has been a majority Jewish city since shortly after the end of Ottoman control, by a variety of census accounts. We argue presently over egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, but I couldn’t imagine the discussion if it were to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority, who deny our connection to Jerusalem.
There is no long-standing Arab connection to Jerusalem, other than long-time residence. The mere exercise of claiming Jerusalem as a capital is a vehicle for Arab denial of Jewish State legitimacy, nothing more, nothing less. We’re right to assert it as our capital, as a people and as a state, and the United States is right to recognize it as such. Israel’s comportment isn’t without blemish, but that doesn’t negate our right to declare sovereignty over a city that has been the center of our tradition far longer and far stronger than it has for anyone else. We get to make it ours, because it has been ours by majority for longer than anyone living has been alive.
Sometimes I worry that in Diaspora, Zionists, faux Zionists, and outright Jewish anti-Zionists, feel burdened by Israel. For those of us who support Israel, I tire of the struggle between feelings of pride and feelings of shame. Presently, nationalism is crass, here, or there. Our hearts swell as we long for the better days of a previous administration or what might have been with another candidate, shaming those who supported the other guy, shaming Israel, while in our name, those very people we support made orphans and widows in Yemen and Libya. What we reserve our opprobrium for is often shallow and easily manipulated.
My religion and my people are not simple. We torture ourselves over gray areas, because we know while there may be absolutes, when human beings are involved, absolutes are moot. When I long for a simple answer, I meet simple people for whom there are simple answers, and I realize how insufficiently curious they generally are. What is obvious isn’t obvious to those immured in either complexity or simplicity.
For now, the glow of candles from the window is all I need. I like the latter days of Chanukah, when the chanukkiah is less lopsided, when the glow hits its peak. A table full of lighted menorot is a thing of warmth. The light in each other’s eyes, the generations before that have looked into the candles. Little lights of mystery, they recall our history. My daughter gets it right.
So I’m outside, fetching the wood. It’s cold, in the single digits. Inside, around the light, standing with family, it’s warm.
That’s the only Chanukah metaphor I really need.
Happy holidays, chag chanukah sameach, to you and yours.
ל׳ בְּכִסְלֵו תשע״ח