Spirituality & religion

The Blazing Fire: LGBT Jewish Identity on Hanukkah

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Hanukkah, for those of you who are unaware, is the holiday where we Jews, lead by the Macklemores, defeated the Egyptians, stormed the castle, and had eight nights of drunken, pyromaniacal revelry, as god intended.

The story of Hanukkah is, like so many historical tales, twisted and reshaped to our tastes. The holy, heroic Maccabees, we’re told, won against the Greeks and certain religious annihilation, and they got some extra oil, straight from the heavens.

Only that’s not exactly the truth.

Shawna Dolansky writes:

The author of 1 Maccabees portrayed the Maccabean revolt as a rising of pious Jews against the annihilation of their religion by the oppressive, Hellenizing Seleucid king and the Jews who supported him. The author of 2 Maccabees depicted instead a brutal civil war, an internal struggle within the Jewish community between “Judaism” and “Hellenism” — words that he in fact coined. There were Jews who wanted to assimilate, and the Maccabees put an end to that by massacring them and forcibly circumcising their sons.

Winning a religious war and then forcing others to convert and assimilate? Jeez, it’s like history repeats itself or something.

When we discussed the Hanukkah historical amnesia at services last week, it reminded me of how much work the LGBTQIA community has to do. But instead of religious fevor, we carry the mantle of respectability politics. The tide of marriage equality, like soldiers in a war, threatens to trample all the other needs of queer people. We light candles to seal wedding vows, while our black trans sisters are murdered on the streets.

When I light candles with my family tonight, I’ll remember to bring the light of Hanukkah—the strong, powerful flame—into other aspects of my life. I hope that queer Jews can remember to shine a light upon each other, to bring us all to warmth and brightness. To remember that there are Jews, and queers, and queer Jews, struggling with homelessness, unemployment, racism, sexism, and bigotry. We will light our candles for their struggle, for our struggle, and for the continued energy to fight injustice. In the words of one of my favorite Jewish bloggers, Erika Davis:

If Trayvon Martin was the spark and Michael Brown the fire, let Eric Garner be the blazing fire that blazes deep not into the hearts of individuals, but into communities from NYC to Ferguson. As Jews, we like to pat ourselves on the back for the work we did in the 1950s. We talk about Heshel and King, we re-post quotes from King and talk about solidarity. I urge us to make our parent’s proud. To continue to take to the streets, to use not only our words, but also our wallets and our votes to change the system. To quote Hillel, “If not now, when?


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One Comment

  1. Deborah Goldstein says:

    I’ve always resented the fact that we lie to our children about our history just to skip over the ugly parts. I’m all about teaching our kids the truth – and STILL finding meaning and valuable lessons as you have clearly done. Thank you for shining a light on the past and our present. Happy Chanukah to you and your family!

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