It’s December, which means desks are lined with Starbucks holiday cups, Christmas music is blaring out of every speaker you pass and everyone is talking about Christmas morning traditions. We call this madness the “holiday season,” but if you are Jewish, the season doesn’t have the same appeal.
I am endlessly frustrated by people inquiring about how my Hanukkah is going. From Hanukkah Harry to menorah lightings galore, a non-Jewish student would imagine that Hanukkah is vital to the Jewish faith. But let me tell you something – it’s not.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, commonly known as the High Holidays, are held at the beginning of the academic year. Sukkot – rarely celebrated among students – and Passover round out the list of the central holidays in Judaism. Hanukkah is barely even a scratch on the surface. Yet, for some reason, Americans like to treat it like it’s the centerpiece of the religion. The Jewish population at GW – which makes up roughly 25 percent of students – deserves better.
For starters, the holiday has little to do with the Jewish faith. The story of the Maccabees, which provides the basis for Hanukkah, doesn’t even appear in the central Jewish text, the Torah, but is discussed in the Bible, and appears briefly in the Talmud.
Rabbi Joshua Plaut, who leads a reform synagogue in New York City, refers to Hanukkah as “a minor holiday that America has elevated into something much more.” That emphasis is driven by America’s consumerist obsession with material goods, which has been capitalized upon by corporations that are arguably ignorant in their demand to produce endless Hanukkah-inspired products.
But Hanukkah’s widespread appeal is understandable. Unlike Passover and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah doesn’t limit what you eat, so it is easier for the masses to celebrate. Instead of requiring fasting, it essentially requires you to eat delicious fried potato pancakes called latkes and jelly-filled donuts called sufganiyot. This emphasis on treats over religion fits perfectly into the holiday season that companies use to sell their exorbitantly-priced products.
This is in no way a bash on the holiday season. Endless joy, warm treats and gift-giving are nothing to attack. In fact, in this politically polarized era, we should be focusing on these seemingly noncontroversial, heart-warming traditions.
But on a broader scale, Hanukkah’s exploitation forces the holiday – and the Jewish people – to conform to Christianity’s dominance.
Instead of focusing on the unimportant holiday of Hanukkah, we should be elevating expressions of Judaism throughout the year and on more substantial holidays. Especially with growing anti-Semitism, it is more important now than ever to celebrate the Jewish faith.
One of the beauties of Judaism, and the religious freedom that modern culture allows us, is that you can appreciate your faith in your own way. The appropriation and improper elevation of Hanukkah is disrespectful and ignorant to the Jewish faith. While some may argue that Hanukkah’s new importance elevates the prominence of Jewish people, misconstruing this holiday is demeaning to my faith. Americans and the GW community should be aware that this national trope, furthered by greedy corporations, favors profit over the true meaning of this religious holiday.
Non-Jews at GW should not embrace Hanukkah simply because it falls into another holiday season. If you really want to get a taste of Judaism, talk to your peers about our repentances on Yom Kippur, or what we appreciate during Sukkot. Join us for weekly Shabbat services, enjoy a taste of our cultural foods or ask us about our traditions.
Take the time to actually talk to us about our religion. Or don’t. Just stop asking us about how Hanukkah is going as if this holiday is the centerpiece of our religion just because it falls at a convenient time for you.
Zachary Nosanchuk, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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