Chanukah is upon us, and, as usual, I find myself explaining to well-meaning Christians that it's not at all like Christmas. Nor is it, particularly, the celebration of the Macabees having discovered the burning-oil equivalent of the Energizer Bunny . . .
It's a lot more like Star Wars, really -- The Return of the Jedi in particular. Think of the Syrians as the Empire, the Maccabees as the Ewoks, and remember that toppling the Assyrian war elephants wasn't nearly as cute as toppling the Imperial Walkers. And also remember that things neither began nor ended with the rededication of the Temple; it took more than two more decades to finally expel the Syrians and establish the autonomous Jewish state. Interestingly enough, it required Shimon -- the last of the Maccabee brothers -- to make a deal with one of the contenders for the Syrian throne. Not a hard choice to make; he chose the one who hadn't treacherously murdered his brother Yonatan over the one who did.
'Course, that didn't stop the trouble with Syria . . .
Every Chanukah, I think about Judah the Hammer's oldest brother, Eleazar, who took on a Syrian war elephant with nothing more than a spear -- he jammed it up into the elephant's belly. The elephant collapsed on the spot; Eleazar was the spot. Which always reminds me of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Jews rushing the German Panzers with nothing more than a hand grenade to hold onto while they detonated it against the tracks . . .
Some years ago, I was asked by Judy's second-grade teacher to come in and explain Chanukah to her class. I resisted, at first -- I find the public school emphasis on Chanukah as a way of allowing Christmas celebrations there to be offensive tokenism -- but I did finally relent. The only condition I insisted on was that I'd tell the truth about Chanukah, in a way that I thought second-graders could understand, and that it wasn't going to be about candles lasting longer than their official specs.
So, I went in, and he introduced me, and talked about how Chanukah was one of the holidays that we all celebrate this time of year (I think my body language said, "Say what?").
I kept it short. "Chanukah is the time that we Jews celebrate having risen up and killed people who tried to make us celebrate their holidays. You know, like Christmas."
Lots of wide eyes in the classroom; I wasn't asked back. Not even for Purim.