Second night, eleven years on

Not sure if it’s entirely clear from this photo, but it snowed about two inches today.

My ambivalent relationship with the snow is once again changing — for the first time I’m in a house on my own with a shovel and a snowblower. However, this driveway is only a fifth as long as the old one. We’ll see how it goes. Odds I could get snowed in here are a lot lower (unless there’s a really catastrophic snowstorm, in which case everyone will be snowed in, not just me).

The winter weather brings up one of my favorite retro Chanukkah songs. If you’re not familiar with Tom Lehrer, he is a US musical satirist known for songs such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “The Masochism Tango.”



I’m definitely not moving to California, though.

In honor of Steven Spielberg, here’s this year’s holiday video from Six13. You will probably find this amusing only if you are familiar with “West Side Story.”



Sticking this here, as an arrangement I like of probably my favorite liturgical song for the holiday. I sing this every night when I light the candles, after the blessings.


And one more from the Maccabeats (a BTS cover from last year, but it seems equally applicable to this year):


In case this post seems aimless, it is. I’m wrestling with two things.

First, I have frequently had the feeling that Chanukkah is the holiday I crash into — due to the academic schedule I am usually unprepared for the holiday. That is less true this year, but other things are on my mind. I’m definitely still crying when I light the candles, if for other reasons.

Second, I’ve arrived more quickly than usual at my ambivalence about the holiday. I wrote more about the history of the holiday on the second night in my first year of blogging, here. The train of thought goes like this: the Jews were purifying the Temple. Why did it have to be purified? Because it had been taken over by the Seleucids, which were a Greek “Hellenizing” dynasty, i.e., as the successor of Alexander settled into position, they imposed Greek values on the lands they occupied. Most Jews in the age of the Maccabees (2nd century BCE) were heavily assimilated. The extent to which the assimilation was forced is of some debate; in fact, probably there wasn’t a lot of resistance. The rhetoric of the holiday, though, celebrates liberation from the Greek yoke.

In point of fact, given that I have never been fully orthodox in practice even at the most serious of moments, I have always been assimilated. With a handful of exceptions, all of my close Jewish friends are assimilated. In general, the whole ethos of the center of American Jewry is one that praises assimilation (we have religious freedom — we can be fully American and fully Jewish). So I’d probably have been one of those assimilated Jews the Maccabees were beating up on. This insight is hardly unique to me. And weirdly, Chanukkah is probably the most popular holiday to celebrate among assimilated Jews (for reasons apart from religion — because the assimilated desperately need a holiday to compete with Christmas).

So we, the assimilated, either have to really twist our relationship with the historical origins of the holiday, or we have to redefine the meaning. I’ve never really succeeded in that.

Today’s Chanukkah “miracle” — the repairs to my care were only $47.78. I did not need new tires. That’s like a $700 present, at least.


I also wrote on the second night in 2011, when I was enthusing about the Hobbit trailer.  Other than that I have not specifically written on the second night in any other year.

~ by Servetus on November 30, 2021.

8 Responses to “Second night, eleven years on”

  1. Now, that was a lovely lunchtime for me: those first two videos really cracked me up!

    I find that criticism can be found in many religious stories, Jewish or Christian, and there are many things that can annoy me in all religions. I think the bottom line is to take the message out of it that is important to you and carry that.


    • I really like this sort of high-level absurd jokes.

      re: take what you want — to some extent I agree with that. I can think of several Jewish religious practices that I reject without feeling any difficulties. And Chanukkah is not a major holiday. Lots of people don’t celebrate it, or don’t celebrate it much (esp if they don’t have kids). It would be more serious if I felt a fundamental conflict about the central messages of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or Passover. At the same time, the purity dynamic at the heart of this holiday is a definite problem. I don’t like all the imagery and rhetoric that coincides with propaganda for the State of Israel. And of course, non-Jews see Chanukkah as the major holiday of Judaism because it gets the most exposure. This is not only because of Christmas, but also because it’s the only holiday where Jewish communities really represent publicly as it’s one of the mitzvot to display the menorah where passersby can see it. So outsiders are also given the Chanukkah rhetoric as a central representation of what Judaism is. That bugs me, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved the BTS cover. Religion and I aren’t speaking at the moment, thank you for the micro dose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chanukkah is a good opportunity for not thinking too much, as long as one doesn’t think too much.

      I remember a moment in my conversion class where we were talking about whether Chanukkah is a “prettier” holiday than Christmas. Someone said something about contrasting aesthetics of the two holidays, arguing that Xmas is flashier and Chanukkah is “more subtle and quiet.” The rabbi laughed and said “read about Judith and Holofernes.”

      Liked by 1 person

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