NEW YORK â€“ My three-year-old son is obsessed with showing people his room, sidling sheepishly over to guests and asking, “Can I show you my room?”
My son reminds me how important our “place” is – “A Room of One’s Own,” in Virginia Wolff’s words. Our rooms make us feel secure and anchor us. A room enables us to recharge before heading out into the world to do our work, and contains the objects, pictures, and music that entertain us, occupy and preoccupy us, and evoke memories of another time.
I have been thinking about this room metaphor as Chanukah nears. Chanukah means dedication. We celebrate the courage of the Hasmoneans to rededicate the Holy Temple, the center of our Jewish lives, after it was defiled by the Hellenized Assyrians. They re-established the room for the Jews to do their sacred work in the world.
What would it mean for us to dedicate a space and to make room for Judaism in our own lives? What does our “Jewish room” (read: Jewish identity) look like? What objects and pictures are in it? What is its ambiance?
Is it a place that we feel like ourselves, or do we feel stiff and formal in it? Is it more like a closet tucked away, a place that is in desperate need to be organized, the dust cleared away, and precious gems of our past revived? Is it a place that we feel a tinge of guilt each time we pass because it has fallen into neglect?
Chanukah is an opportunity to do a little rededication of our Jewish rooms and Jewish lives. What aspect of Jewish life, however, do we want to rededicate?
Classic and contemporary Chanukah music can help answer the question. We all know how central music is to enlivening a room.
One of my favorite Chanukah songs is “Ahl Hanissim,” literally “Of the Miracles.” It praises God for the “miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time.” It clearly affirms God’s centrality to the Chanukah story and renders less central the military victory of Judah and his brothers.
Another classic is “Maoz Tsur,” or “Rock of Ages,” written around the 13th century in Europe. It is a brief recounting of Jewish history and also focuses on God’s centrality: “Rock of ages, let our song/ Praise Your saving power; / You, amid the raging foes, /Were our sheltering tower. /Furious they assailed us, /But Your arm availed us, /And Your word, /Broke their sword, /When our own strength failed us.”
In a world in which we think that our own power/strength and ambition are the causes of our success, how do we let the realm of the spiritual into our lives when “our own strength fails us”?
Peter Yarrow’s 1983 folk song “Light One Candle” casts the particular story about the Hasmonean struggle for religious freedom within a universal context, and links it to other movements of defiance and protest that bring about a more just society. With the closing stanza comes the charge to use the memory of the past as a clarion call to do justice. They sing, “What is the memory that’s valued so highly,/That we keep it alive in that flame?/ What’s the commitment to those who have died?/ We cry out “they’ve not died in vain”,/ We have come this far, always believing,/ That justice will somehow prevail;/ This is the burden and/ This is the promise,/ This is why we will not fail!”
This Chanukah, how does our particular centuries-old struggle against the Assyrian Greeks to win religious freedom help motivate us to help others with their struggles?
Of course, some contemporary fare is a bit more lighthearted. Debbie Friedman’s “Latke Song” doesn’t let us forget that our celebration would be nothing without traditional foods with lyrics like “I am a latke, I’m a latke, and I am waiting for Chanukah to come!” The song reminds us how important traditional food can be to help us create rich associations (and full bellies) during the holiday.
How might you spice up your recipe repertoire with some contemporary cuisine ?
Yeshiva University’s a cappella group the Maccabeats, with its 2010 YouTube sensation “Candelight” (a take-off of Taio Cruz’s No. 1 song “Dynamite”), and the Israeli group the Fountainheads from Ein Prat with “I Gotta Feelin’ Hanukkah” (a spoof on the Black Eyed Peas hit “I Gotta Feelin'”) present us with a final challenge: How can we make traditions and stories that we tell from year to year fresh, dynamic and fun?
The Maccabeats in particular retell the story, singing “I’ll tell a tale/ Of Maccabees in Israel/ When the Greeks tried to assail/ But it was all to no avail/ The war went on and on and on/ Until the mighty Greeks were gone/ I flip my latkes in the air sometimes sayin’ ayy ohh spin the dreidel/ Just wanna celebrate for all eight nights singin’ ayy oh, light the candles.”
So this Chanukah season, crank up the volume in that Jewish room of yours. Play the music loud, even wake the neighbors and discover the power of rededication.
JTA Wire Service