Hanukkah 2010

Happy Hanukkah! I don’t know about you, but I am already wondering if there is any way, when I make latkes this weekend, to avoid making the entire house smell like a fryolator for several days. Do you have any suggestions?

This year I have to make a double batch. Every year we help my wife’s college roommate and her husband, among our oldest and dearest friends, decorate their Christmas tree (neither are Jewish); our gathering is early this year, so I’ll be bringing latkes to them (they love it when it’s Hanukkah so we can light our menorah with their family). The next batch is for our annual Hanukkah gathering with my parents (who are now 93 and 92, still living on their own) in Connecticut. This year I may try some latkes made of both potatoes and butternut squash. We have a lot of great recipes to choose from on the site.

I am really pleased this year with InterfaithFamily.com’s first in-house produced video, Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah. One of our long-range goals is to provide a comprehensive set of introductory “how-to-do-Jewish” resources, and we know that many people prefer to learn from video rather than or in addition to text. We hope this will be one of the first of many helpful videos. Benjamin Maron, our new managing editor, gets the writer/director/producer credit, and we want to especially thank our on-screen talent, our good friend from JewishBoston.com Liz Polay-Wettengel, and her family. They should be movie stars!

I’m also pleased that we have a new article by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, who has also made a series of videos for us, “Rabbi Reuben’s Ruminations,” professionally produced by the Jewish Television Network. I’m happy about it because there are people who say that the meaning of Hanukkah is antithetical to welcoming interfaith families to Jewish life and community. They say that Hanukkah commemorates a rebellion by the Jews against assimilation into the Hellenistic Greek society that surrounded them – and they make the common mistake of equating intermarriage with assimilation. Rabbi Reuben explains that “Jewish civilization represents a value system that declares to every single individual human being on earth, that what they say matters, and what they do matters, and who they are matters.” The Jews were resisting assimilation into a culture where “the only rule that mattered was that whoever had the most power and carried the biggest club got to make the rules,…”  a culture of bigotry and prejudice based on “might makes right.” He concludes,

Light the lights this year with pride as we continue to stand for the enduring values that celebrate the fundamental spiritual worth of every human spirit.  That is why Hanukkah continues to matter.

That’s hardly a message that is antithetical to embracing interfaith families.

Finally, we do two surveys a year, around Hanukkah and Christmas, and again around Passover and Easter. We just released the report on our seventh December Holidays Survey. Cathy Grossman blogged about our survey on her Faith & Reason blog on USAToday.com. I really respect Cathy’s writing but I’m not sure I agree with her take on our survey results this year.

Our holiday surveys have consistently focused on interfaith families that are raising their children as Jews, to illuminate how such families deal with potential conflict between Hanukkah and Christmas, and how they participate in Christmas celebrations at all. Over the years almost all of these families celebrate Hanukkah, and about half have a Christmas tree in their own home. An extremely small percentage, as low as 1%, “tell the Christmas story” – which of course is fundamentally religious in nature, and in comments our survey respondents say that Christmas doesn’t have religious significance to them, it is just a warm family time with traditions from the parent who is not Jewish. Kind of like Thanksgiving is a warm family time that isn’t religious.

The surveys have consistently shown a higher percentage of respondents who treat Hanukkah as a religious holiday. This year, for example, 55% said they would tell the Hanukkah story. When asked to rate the religious or secular nature of their holiday participation, 23% said their Hanukkah celebrations were religious and 28% said they were secular (49% said half and half), vs. 2% who said their Christmas celebrations were religious and 89% who said they were secular (only 9% said half and half). We did note in a press release that there was an increase this year from 20% to 28% who said their Hanukkah celebrations were secular, and that is what Cathy zeroes in on in her blog post.

But there was another finding noted in our press release suggesting a different trend. We saw in increase in the percentage who said they would celebrate Hanukkah in the synagogue this year, from 62% last year to 71% this year. So I don’t think it’s quite fair to suggest that the prevailing way that interfaith families raising Jewish children celebrate Hanukkah is in a secular way without religious significance. What do you think?

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.