“Good times and bum times, I’m still here.” So begins the venerable singer Elaine Stritch’s signature song “I’m Still Here.” Even in a White House performance where she struggles to remember the lyrics, she is still here. And I’m hoping she’ll be here for a long time!
This Hanukkah, I wonder whether this could be the Jews’ theme song. At Hanukkah, we celebrate the miracle of our survival. A small band of Jews known as the Macabbees beat the Greeks to recover the Temple in Jerusalem. After this year of the Pew survey bringing news of “good times and bad times,” as Stritch’s song says, we’re still here. After years of certain men dictating how prayer must be conducted at the site of that Temple, the Women of the Wall celebrated their 25 anniversary of saying no, there is another way.
As a people, we’ve always found another way to stay alive. (No Bee Gees please!) The irony is that when the ultra-Jews say that we must practice the “authentic” way, I wonder what they mean. As we are learning in the current string of Torah portions, Jacob had two wives and two mistresses, all living together. Is that “authentic” Judaism? In Moses’ time, Judaism was transmitted through the father. Is patrilineal decent the “authentic” way? Certainly Reform Jews feel that it is valid. The Kotel, the western supporting wall of the Temple, did not become an Orthodox synagogue with a mechitzah (separator of men and women) until well after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. So what is the “authentic” way to pray at the Kotel? Perhaps the Women of the Wall have it right.
So, why is there controversy about the latest concoction, Thanksgivikkah? Both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are based in a fight for religious freedom. Although in all fairness, the Pilgrims really wanted everyone to just observe their religion. They weren’t really into pluralism.
My friend and colleague, Juliet Barr, writes about the wonders of Thanksgivikkah in her My So-Called Blog. She says:
…my kids have always thought Thanksgiving WAS a Jewish holiday. Look at the evidence: 1. We are Jews.
2. There is ritual involved… we say the shehechyanu (a prayer expressing our thankfulness of being back together and reaching this auspicious time), candles on the table (though no blessing) and we go around the table and say what we are thankful for and we get our flu shots 3. there’s a huge meal for which 4. we are a little bit dressed up and 5. the good dishes are used.
On the other hand, Allison Benedikt wrote in Slate, “No Thanksgivukkah: The portmanteau holiday is bad for Jews and bad for America.” She writes about how she doesn’t want her kids to think of Thanksgiving and a holiday for presents.
Shemini Atzeret was barely over before my parents started asking what my children want for Thanksgiving this year.
Don’t grandparents always bring presents?
While I have found the Thanksgivikkah mantra trying, I’m happy for anything that brings more interest to Jewish celebrations. Think about it: Hanukkah has been promoted like never before. As I am writing this, I am watching a giant dreidle perched on four pieces of gelt sliding and twirling its way down Broadway in the Thanksgiving Day parade! And it was introduced by an announcer saying “as you know…” as if the entire world knows about dreidles. There are only 5 1/2 million Jews in this country, 1.74%!
So for those who are anti-Thanksgivikkah, this too shall pass. And we will still be here. And for those who are celebrating with candle lighting, turkey, and latkes, enjoy! Because, we’re still here!