Ritual, Retelling and Celebrating
There is, of course, no "Seder" Hanukkah or "Haggadah" for Hanukkah in the sense that there is one for Pesach. Nor did the Rabbis or the authors of this book intend for you to have a long, sit-down ritualized meal like the Passover Seder or to read aloud an extensive religious text like the Haggadah. Hanukkah is and should remain much more informal and modest in its family celebration.
Still there is a place for a limited "Seder" with brief readings in order to help us choreograph the half hour or so we spend around the Menorah every evening. This will lend it sanctity and substance as well as creativity and variety. In this book you will find ideas for a beautiful, simple candle lighting or for a Hanukkah dinner or party. Our target audience is not only parents of young children (see Parental Guidelines for Celebrating with Young Children in Chapter II, page 116), but also thoughtful adults and teenagers, because Hanukkah is not "for children only." We have outgrown a merely "pediatric Hanukkah" and we need a more mature and an even more entertaining version. Especially in North America, which is sometimes suffused with the commercialized "holiday spirit," Jews need a Festival of Lights that satisfies us spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. This Hanukkah Book of Celebration along with its companion volume, The Big Book of Hanukkah will empower you to celebrate in old and new ways. You can use it to customize candle lighting, gift giving and socializing over latkas to fit your needs. This how-to book is a learning experience for the uninitiated, as well as for those who thought they already knew what "little" there was to know about this "kids' holiday." This learning will be enjoyable, an experiment in growth, just as our previous book in this holiday series The Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night enlivened the seders of tens of thousands. Similarly, A Different Light will give you more pleasurable options and illumination for each of the eight days without losing the easy-going flexibility of Hanukkah.
Very simply put, our Seder Hanukkah is composed of three parts: Rituals, Retelling, and Celebration. The rituals are the traditional blessings (with transliteration) as well as medieval and modern songs. For those most frequently asked questions about exactly how and when to light the candles, see the survey of traditional views in Questions and Answers: How to Light Right (page 236).
In addition, we have written original Spiritual Meditations to accompany the candle lighting. These poems express the desire for personal and family rededication.
The retelling involves a kind of "haggadah" or "megillah" that attempts to fill the biggest gap in the Rabbinic development of Hanukkah. What has been missing is a storytelling centerpiece to a holiday that commemorates an external threat to our survival, a heroic human response, and a Divine rescue. Unlike Purim and Pesach, Hanukkah, the last of the holidays created by the Rabbis, lacks both a text and elaborate symbolic and theatrical rituals to make the memory come alive. The candles are meant to "publicize the miracles," but there are no props and narratives to accomplish this.
Therefore, we have created a Maccabees' Megillah a brief history of the Maccabees told as a series of dramatic stories. The stories drawn from the historic Books of the Maccabees are built on striking characters like Antiochus (called by his contemporaries the "Maniac"), like Hannah (the mother of seven martyrs whose eloquence was in words as well as in deeds), like Mattathias (the rebel priest and his five sons, especially Judah), and like Judith (whose erotic charms led General Holofernes to lose his head). By editing and abbreviating the historical Books of the Maccabees and the popular Rabbinic retellings of Judith, we offer readable, intriguing and dramatic sometimes melodramatic accounts of villains and heroes/heroines of the Maccabean era.
These eight brief historical readings may be read aloud, one per night, with the lighting of each candle. Please note that the language and content of the Maccabees' Megillah is most appropriate for teenagers and adults, while younger children should be read one of the many children's stories readily available in many stores. For children's cartoons and a recommended book, music and resource list see Chapter II: Family and Friends, Food and Fun, on page 113. For an easy guide to the historical background of Hanukkah separating historic fact and legend see Questions and Answers: Getting the History of Hanukkah Right Facts or Legends? (page 243). For greater historical depth see The Historians' Hanukkah in the companion volume, The Big Book of Hanukkah.
Besides the ancient tales of the Maccabees' Megillah, we have provided Profiles in Modern Jewish Courage, stories that may be read aloud each night. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage which is devoted to American models of heroic moral action, we have collected stories from modern Jewish history. The style of the profiles is not at all like encyclopedia entries in the Who's Who of Jewish celebrities. Rather, these biographical narratives portray moments of challenge, decision and action that are the substance of moral dramas. These stories offer insight into the inner struggles of individuals who are called upon to be courageous. At the same time, they inspire us by describing ingenious battles of wit and will against the enemies of humankind.
In our judgement, these men and women, while very human and fallible, are worthy of admiration and emulation. On Hanukkah we seek to celebrate Jewish heroism, not to debunk myths, but we hope these selections reflect nuanced heroes worthy of respect from mature readers. While physical and moral courage is in no way limited to a particular nation, the occasion Hanukkah has led us to focus almost exclusively on Jewish courage. For an expanded version of Profiles in Modern Jewish Courage see the companion volume, The Big Book of Hanukkah.
Right after Chapter I, The Hanukkah Ceremony, with its rituals and retelling, it is time to celebrate. In Chapter II, entitled Family and Friends, Food and Fun: Gambling, Gift Giving, Games and Gelt, you will find extensive ideas for children and adults as well as some reflections on the dilemmas of Hanukkah and Christmas. There is also a suggestion for organizing the gelt and gift giving to emphasize giving as well as receiving and giving of oneself as well as of one's material resources.
Finally, in Chapter III, Hanukkah for Today, contemporary Jewish thinkers reflect on the significance of the holiday for us. In particular we recommend the opening essays by our teacher Rabbi David Hartman who inspired and initiated the creation of this pluralistic series of holiday books.
We wish you a joyful Hanukkah with greater variety and more fun than ever before, both for the adults and teenagers as well as the younger children. May A Different Light serve to publicize the meaning of the Maccabean revolt for our generation. Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre