Tuesday marked the first day of Hanukkah. Since pretty much ascertaining the Jewish origin of my mother's paternal ancestors in 2012, and acknowledging my identification with cultural jewishness mid-2014 - mind you, the process has been a lot longer and rich, this is just the gist of things -, these have been some definitely unusually interesting months.
First of all, ritualistic me has found great pleasure in the many Jewish rituals and the symbolism that form Jewish culture - viewed more as "yiddishkeyt"*, I guess. The mezuzah at the door gives me the opportunity to take a moment, to be grateful for what's waiting inside home, or to look forward to what's coming outside. The sweet foods of Rosh Hashana remind us of the sweet and joyous things I've had during the year and of the ones that may come in the year ahead. And now, Hanukkah.
Hanukkah means many things to many people. Symbolically, and as its other name implies - "Festival of Lights" -, there's a simple wish for a bright, warm time with your friends and loved ones. As for the religious interpretation, well, you're better off reading or hearing it from some other source more attuned to the subject than from this still unrepentant atheist. Then there's a more cultural interpretation - Hanukkah represents a moment of fighting for your cultural identity, of asserting and defending who you are and what you identify with (now, using violence to achieve that, as the Maccabees did, is most definitely not acceptable today, but what can we do? all old texts are full of great messages mixed with appalling violence...).
And so it seems all too fitting for secular me to reclaim the rituals of that almost-forgotten part of my family, a culture that is strangely intuitively part of me, celebrate the right of all of us to claim and defend and manifest our identities, and welcome friends for a bright Hanukkah with heart-warming things like mulled wine (with a touch of Quebec, for our beloved Canada), latkes (as a token of respect for those Eastern European roots), and ponchkes-cum-berliners filled with sweetness.
So, happy Hanukkah, to friends near and far. Those of you who are far, you're missed. Those of you who are near, thanks for bringing you warmth and love to our lives.
!חג חנוכה שמח