Whenever I meet with a new student one of the things I make sure to tell her/him during our first session is "I am going to learn a lot more than you are." More often than not this elicits a nonverbal facial response "Are you kidding me?" But I kid you not, as all teachers know, this is the truth.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Sages) 1:6 teaches, "עשה לך רב וקנה לך חבר’, "Get yourself a teacher, secure for yourself a friend". Rabbi Rami Shapiro gets to the heart of it for me, commenting "A teacher shares what she knows; a friend helps clarify what you know"
And that is what happened yesterday in my study session with Raviv, with whom I am studying in preparation for her becoming bat mitzvah next July (we are studying via Skype, she is living in Brazil for two years with her family)
At some point in our conversation I wished her a Happy Thanksgivvikuh, and wondered if she would be celebrating both holidays in Brazil. She told me that they indeed were planning on celebrating both Thansgiving and Hanukkah, but that she prefers referring to it as Chanukiving, with the Jewish holiday being the first part of the mash.
Raviv is right. In our impulse to recognize both our Americna and Jewish claims we have erred, and in doing so have sent the wrong message to ourselves and to our Jewish-American friends. (Note that we rarely refer to ourselves as "American-Jewish")
In a blog post by my friend and colleague Rabbi Mindy Portnoy, she writes,
"This year, the entire eight days of Chanukah stand firmly on their own, a separate ritual, metaphorically marking a separate people and tradition, which might not have survived without those brave, controversial, and (yes!) fiercely anti-Hellenistic Maccabees and the creative rabbinic spiritual interpretative layer of a tiny vial of oil.
Do we really have to transform these miracles into an over-hyped, commercialized Thanksgivvikuh?"
The first time I heard the phrase Thanksgivvikuh it made me laugh - how clever, how creative. And what a great opportunity for a good drash - the quest for religious freedom, how food plays an important part in ritual in helping to raise a secular milestone to the higher level of sanctity. But Raviv is right. Jews have a older narrative, and there is power in our particularism that needs to honored first. America is not the melting pot in which we lose our identities, but one in which we re-imagine ourselves and rejoice in it through the lens of tradition.
This past week I was sent a joke that at first made me cringe.
Mr. Christian chastises his next door neighbor Mr. Cohen:
'Your son is not going near my kid again; he just has no respect for us and our religion!'
'What's the matter; what did he do?' inquired Mr. Cohen.
'I'll tell you'. said Mr. Christian in a rage. 'He saw our Christmas tree and started making fun.'
Really, what did he say?' continued Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Christian said, 'He saw our tree and started asking all sorts of ridiculous questions - which kinds of pine trees can be used for a Christmas tree? What's the minimum required height? How close to the window does it need to be? Do too many decorations render it unfit? What if it's under a neighbor's balcony?!'
At first, my reaction was probably like yours - oy, the Jews, we're so wrapped up in halacha, the proper way to do things, that we lose sight of the spirit of the thing and suck all the joy out of the moment. There is some truth to that. But isn't is also true that "G!d is in the details"? That the intention with which we do something cannot be divorced from the process of what we do? In fact, sometimes it is more important. (i.e. "It's not what you said, it's the way you said it")
Chanukiving? Thanksgivvikuh? The way we say it is important, because it says so much about how we see our Jewish identity within the broader context of living in the "land of the free". And besides, Chanukiving might be read as חנו-giving, give with grace. I kinda like that. It is something that I aspire to do.
So thanks Raviv, for being my teacher and helping to clarify what I know.
(and an early) Happy Hanukkah to everyone.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and