A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hannukah Greetings

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight, so in my tradition of marking all the major holidays of all the major religious and national groups in the region, let me extend greetings to my Jewish readers for the coming eight-day commemoration.

I think most people familiar with the region already know this but some Americans (including some American Jews) are sometimes surprised to find that Hanukkah is a rather different feast in Israel than in America, because in America the tendency to assimilate the holiday into a sort of Jewish Christmas has made it much more a holiday for kids than it traditionally was in Jewish practice. (Purim, of course, was the holiday traditionally for kids.) (And not that there were no kid-friendly elements in Hanukkah: the dreidel and the Hanukkah Gelt certainly fit that description.) I was only in Israel once during Hanukkah, more than 20 years ago, but unless one was invited to Israeli acquaintances' homes it was easy not to notice it was taking place. Like the Sabbath eve it was more of a family affair. It's about a miracle associated with the rededication of the temple, of course, though that is often forgotten in the US, where Gentiles in particular tend to see it as some sort of Jewish version of Christmas.

And while I have acquired a lot of obscure knowledge of Middle Eastern trivia through the years (as my readers may have noticed from time to time), it was only in the last year or two I learned that the four letters on the dreidel nun, gimel, hei, shin for nes gadol hayah sham (a great miracle occurred there) — which I had known a long time, usually differ in Israel, with the fourth letter being the pei for nes gadol hayah po, "a great miracle occurred here." It makes sense, but somehow I hadn't known that.

So a happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate it.

1 comment:

Parisienne said...

Happy Hannukah to you, too and thank you for the greetings.