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December 11, 1987 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-12-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

TPURELT-COMINTA-RY

Chanukah: Imperishable Message To All Mankind

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Editor Emeritus

A

s the sun will set on Tuesday,
Dec. 15, a great joy will greet
every Jewish home and all
assembly places, houses of worship and
community centers. There will be a
symbol to glorify an enthusiasm. The
menorah will have been properly shin-
ed. The shamash candle will be in its
top spot, ready for the lighting of the
first of eight designated lights for the
eight days and nights of Chanukah.
The great eight-day event is judged
as especially excitable and enjoyable for
children. There are the games and the
special latke delicacy. The story of
heroism is sensational and never ceases
arousing cheer and pride in a sharing
of historical knowledge. It must con-
stantly resume and always remain oc-
casion for the elders to be equally ap-
preciative and enthusiastic. This latter
obligation to a great legacy was called
into being at this time of the year in a
brilliantly defined essay on the subject
of Chanukah by one of the most
qualified literary masters of our time,
Cynthia Ozick.
The New York Times made a
notable contribution to historiography
and to Jewish holiday literature with
an essay by Cynthia Ozick on the sub-
ject "Reflections on Chanukah." It was
in a special section entitled "The World
of New York." So thorough is the Ozick
essay that it will be treated as an
historical document. It will surely have
a permanent place in Jewish literature
because its significance as a commen-
tary on the Hellenistic period emerges
as a thoroughly analytical study of an
era in a conflicting time between na-
tions: the Maccabean Revolt of 165
BCE.
In the centuries that followed,
theologians, historians, sociologists
have reaffirmed that the Maccabean
triumph for religious freedom assured
it for mankind. Without the restrictive
regulations of the festivals that are
treated as "major," Chanukah permits
working, conducting business pursuits,
putting lights on and off. It is included

in the list described as "the minor
festivals!' Yet its influence on mankind,
its triumph over bigotry, elevates it in-
to great heights. It is the monumental
spiritual force that gains this definition
from Cynthia Ozick:

Hanukkah marks the
earliest battle for religious
freedom in the history of our
planet. But more than that;
Hanukkah marks the beginning
of the very concept of religious
freedom. lithe life of a little peo-
ple had been extinguished, if a
small nation had not been vic-
torious over a savagely reduc-
tive oppressor, if Judaism had
been uprooted — if the light of
Torah had been snuffed — what
would our allegiances look like
today? There would be no
legacy of monotheism. The Ten
Commandments would be ab-
sent from the treasure house of
world culture. There would be
no Christianity. There would be
no Islam. There would be no Bill
of Rights. That little bit of oil has
lasted and lasted — like the bur-
ning bush. It reflects, it stands
for the glory of God.
Or, if that phrase tends to
embarrass us skeptical moderns
(in whichever millennium our
modernity happens to fall), let
us choose words more accessi-
ble, more comprehensible — but
also more arduously deman-
ding, because they are ineluc-
tably bound to the immediacy of
human responsibility. Say, then,
that the little cruise stands for
mercy, conscience, freedom,
dedication, thanksgiving. Call it
civilization.
The egalitarian menorah is
lighted by women and men and
children. The rule is to set it in
a window — liberty's annuncia-
tion — for passersby to see. (The
rule does not apply when there
is danger of persecution, as in
ancient Babylon, when the sur-
rounding fire worshipers pro-
hibited the lighting of the

Feinberg's Menorahs

The menorahs depicted in this
article are among the ceremonial

Charles E. Feinberg

2

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1987

treasures that were rescued for
posterity by the eminent art collec-
tor and prominent Detroiter,
Charles E. Feinberg.
Many museums, art institutes
and libraries now possess some of
the treasures he rescued, especial-
ly those he acquired in the tragic
years of European Jewish suffer-
ings. He has retained one valuable
menorah he reassembled from a
17th Century collection that might
have been destroyed otherwise after
the war.
Feinberg's treasured collections
include the Walt Whitman
manuscripts that will be retained
for posterity as his gift to the
Library of Congress.

A brass synagogue menorah from Poland, 17th Century, which is 42 inches wide.

menorah, or in Inquisitional
Spain, or in certain cities of Ger-
many and Poland in the 1930s,
when a glimmering candel-
abrum might bring a rock
through the glass.) No work may
be done by the light of the
menorah — its light is for
celebration, not for com-
monplace household use — so
while the candles burn, play is
decreed. Hence the dreydl, that
four-sided medieval teetotum
carrying the initials of the
words A Great Miracle Happen-
ed There — there in Jerusalem,
long ago. Dreydl spinning is a
kind of gambling game, with
nuts for stakes; in a more
puritan era it represented a
dispensation for other frivolities
— riddles, acrostics, even card
playing. Under the menorah's
light, lightness reigns.
Well, then: Hanukkah as
cheerful lively domestic bustle
and cozy Jewish family festival?
Unquestionably. And surely
here and now, in an American
December. But when the latkes
in their frying pan, bubbling
and spurting and crackling,
suddenly sparkle with little

bursts of oil, know that those
sparks are for the redemption
and rededication of the world.

They were not all loyalists who
triumphed over the Greek forces. The
Maccabeans were a handful. All the
greater the triumph for those who
would not abandon their faith to
tyrants and to idol worshipers. There
were the Hellenists who, like the
traitors within, are the self-haters who
are often visible, those who betray their
heritage. Cynthia Ozick describes them
as well. They serve as a lesson for the
generations, as she depicts them:

The oppressor was the
Hellenized Syrian empire, as
fiercely domineering in the year
165 B.C. as Rome was to become
later on. Syrian culture, approx-
imately Greek, was nevertheless
a coarse shadow of the noble old
Greece of the philosophers: a
rough showplace of drained
values, physicality without the
inspiration of beauty, spremacy
without discourse, the Periclean
notion of the civilized polls
transmogrified into a brutishly
colonizing structure ruled by a
megalomaniac. His name was

Continued on Page 42

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