Friday, December 7, 2007

Hannukah in Medias Res: Second and Third Nights

Ah, Hannukah at semester's end.

There is nothing quite like trying to celebrate a holiday in the midst of things.

Bruce is completing an important analysis at work, and the customers have come from New Orleans to be briefed on it. He had a school star party on Tuesday night, and a Green Builders Association meeting on Wednesday night.

N. had yellow-belt testing on Wednesday, which meant getting to enought classes in the past few weeks so that he was ready for the testing demonstration.

MLC had a calculus test, a biochemistry test and a physical chemistry test, all during this supposedly "closed week."

And I had to turn in my research paper on Adult Neurogenesis and Depression on Monday, give a WAIS-III demonstration test with a real subject on Tuesday night, write an annotated bibliography on cognitive profiles in autism spectrum disorders and drive the carpool boys to Machon and take Nate for his testing on Wednesday, and (are tired just imaging this yet?) give an in-class summary of the bibliography on Thursday.

Yesterday, I finally managed to get out some of my Channukah "pretties" and get the house vacuumed, and have a normal dinner at home before lighting the candles.

It is definitely a challenge to celebrate in what the poets call "medias res." It is really difficult to manage to get family time and down time in the middle of it all.

In fact, the first lights of Hannukah found us staggering the candle lighting and present opening with different people at different times. I came home a few hours before dusk, had something to eat, and just after sunset, N. and I lit candles and he opened one gift. I was anxious because of the test I'd have to give between 7 and 9 PM--which is past my bedtime! But as we sat and watched the candles burn, and talked about the meaning of Hannukah, I found myself moving into a much needed state of relaxation. We played dreidl for a while, and then I had to leave. But the hour spent praying, talking, giving, and playing changed my outlook for the rest of the evening. Later, Bruce came home, and he and N. lit Bruce's candles, and N. opened another gift and they had some Hannukah down-time in the midst of things.

Wednesday night found us even more insane. N. and I left the house at 5 PM to drive to Edgewood to pick up the carpool boys since it was my turn to drive to Machon. Upon driving into the city, I dropped N. and his Taekwando bag off at Blackman's, the scooted down to the synagogue and dropped the boys off. Then it was back to Blackman's for the testing.

I could not really relax during at the beginning because I was anxious for N.'s success. But soon I was mezmerized by the beauty of the choreographed movements, the forms, the kicks, the falls. N. did beautifully even though he started in...well...medias res, the middle of things.

Bruce picked the boys up at synagogue and brought them back to Sedillo after his meeting. N. and I enjoyed a hamburger and fries in celebration of his test completion, and then we came home and lit candles for the second night.

But last night, things kind of came together. When I came home, intending to take N. shopping, he was watching some of his new Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season II DVD set), acquired on Wednesday evening. I sat down with him. Then we decided to defer shopping until to day, and clean a little, fix dinner and have an island of peace during candlelighting.

It was as N. was reading to us out of the Dangerous Book for Boys, sent to him by his Aunt Madge and cousin D., that I got it.

This is what Hannukah is about. Hannukah is a minor holiday, it is not the Jewish Christmas. It is not related to Christmas at all, except that it usually comes during December. As we had talked about on Monday, and Tuesday, when we commented on making Hannukah happen in the midst of things, the story of Hannukah is the story of Jewish determination to be who we are.

Judah the Maccabee, and his brothers, fought a guerrilla war because they were determined to preserve their unique identity despite the Hellenistic Syrian king's desire to make them into Greeks.

In some sense, we face the same phenomenon today, except that the war is internal. The dominant, secular culture urges us to join in with the Christmas frenzy. Not to turn us into Christians, but to turn us into unthinking consumers, and to absorb us, as well as Christians, into a culture of interchangable parts. A culture in which holidays are not Holy Days, but rather a concentrated period in which we sacrifice our uniqueness on the altar of the new Moloch, the improvement of the GNP at the expense of our humanity and our unique identity.

Lighting the candles, deliberately slowing down, reminding ourselves of the miracle of Jewish survival, reminds us that we have an identity beyond the busy-ness and the achievements, and the pressure to assimilate to a shallow, consumer culture.

When Hannukah comes in the middle of things, we must choose more deliberately to not work while the candles burn, to sit down with one another, to think about who the Eternal has created us to be. And this is the meaning of Hannukah. The reason for the lights, the latkes, and the dreidl.

Nes gadol haya sham. A great miracle happened there. The sons of Mattiyahu in Modin prevailed in remaining Jews and making a new birth of Jewish life. Many great miracles have happened in other days at this season. The Jewish people have survived crusade, pogram, and holocaust.

Nes gadol hoveh po. A great miracle is happening here. When we "light our candles, sing our songs, and play our games" in the middle of it all, we are bringing holiness and light into a dark world. We are, by the Spirit of the Eternal, putting ourselves in touch with who we really are. We are placing our lives, our bodies and our very selves on the front lines of the battle to be Jews.

Who would have thought that the letters on a simple little top, would remind us of the words of the prophet Zechariah, read in the Haftarah of the Shabbat in Hannukah?

"Not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit," says the G-d of Armies."

Year after year, during Hannukah we learn holiness in the middle of things.


Judy Aron said...

I am so glad that you wrote your post!! I can definitely relate.

Unfortunately we tend to rush through holidays as we rush through life, and just like the modern interpretation of most Jewish holidays wryly suggest:
1. They tried to kill us
2. They failed
3. Let's eat

But in all seriousness:
The Hannukah lights make us stop a moment - they almost demand your attention with their mesmerizing light. That is, I think, what Hashem intended.

Chag Sameach to you and your family Elisheva.

Maddy said...

A household of super brains! Glad to hear that you figured out how to change the pace.

A few years ago I read a book called 'how to pull the plug on the Christmas machine' [or something like that, rapidly going senile] but I'm sure it applies equally well to all faiths.

[I'm not really plugging a book but bear with me] Anyway, the reason that I liked it was because it helped me to focus on what was important and what was just so much 'hype and pressure.'

Also it pointed out that it tends to be the women / mums who call the shots [nice use of colloquial Americanism there!] and that the Dad/men's traditions tend to be trampled. [by me at least]

Hence, when you whittle it down I learned to chuck out the unimportant stuff and focus on what really matters. I think it should work for everyone.

There you go, now you don't have to go out and buy the book after that garbled summary!
Best wishes

This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

Swylv said...

this was beautiful! thanks for posting. Do you mind if I link to this post from my weblog tomorrow?

oh and are you near New Orleans?

Mama Squirrel said...

You wrote:

"In some sense, we face the same phenomenon today, except that the war is internal. The dominant, secular culture urges us to join in with the Christmas frenzy. Not to turn us into Christians, but to turn us into unthinking consumers, and to absorb us, as well as Christians, into a culture of interchangable parts."

Yes, you and me both. Happy Hannukah, and wishes for more islands of peace.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


We just recited the three steps of all Jewish holidays last night, but we used a slightly different version:
1. They tried to kill us
2. We won.
3. Let's eat.

I guess we went to different camps! :)

Maddy, I have seen Unplug the Christmas Machine displayed in the library and I have always refrained from taking it out because, well...all those Christmas celebrators and so little time.
Maybe I'll take it out in January. It sounds interesting and relevant to us, too. Unfortunately!

SWYLY--I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, but link away!
And no, I live a long ways from New Orleans, in a landlocked state in the mountains. But my husband's team works with DOE New Orleans sometimes. We worried about the people we know there so much during Katrina.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Oops. The finger is quicker than the eye! I posted before saying to you, Mama Squirrel: Amen. We need more islands of peace in this insane world!