Jews, both adults and children, even those from culturally conscious or religiously observant homes, cannot be convinced that Hanuka (khanike in Yiddish) is a reasonable substitute for the tinsel, glitter and sentimentality that surround Xmas, the American version of Christmas that has virtually engulfed the world. Accordingly, it is not the purpose of this booklet to help project khanike as an “alternative Xmas” but, rather, to provide non-observant Jewish families with a factual understanding of the festival’s origins and traditions so that it may be celebrated meaningfully and joyously in its own right.
Why “…for the rest of us”? Increasingly, American Jews are identifying with their ethnic culture, rather than with the Jewish religion. At the same time, Hanuka is being projected more aggressively as a religious holiday, focused on the “Miracle of the Lights,” purporting to celebrate “history’s first victorious struggle for religious freedom,” to quote the inevitable editorial in your local newspaper. Actually, as we shall see, Hanuka is nothing of the sort. The issues of “religious freedom” vs. “national liberation” vs. “multicultural rights” were actually confronted back in the second century B.C.E., albeit with other terminology. This booklet seeks to separate fact from fancy so that those who identify with Jewish culture will not feel excluded from celebrating the festival.
Now, about the matter of spelling. The “right” way to spell it is חֲנֻכָּה. What is the “best” way to transliterate the Hebrew into English? The earliest “official” form was Chanukah or its inexplicable variants: Channukah and Chanukkah. Hearing non-speakers of Yiddish or Hebrew saying “tcha-noo-ka” convinced the arbiters of these things to try Hanuka and its variegated versions: Hanukah, Hannukah, Hanukkah, etc. None of these approximate the Yiddish (Ashkenazi) pronunciation for which there is a transliteration standard: khanike. That’s the form that most satisfies the author, although he has bowed to common practice in this booklet. You are free to make your own choices. The right to be different is part of what khanike is all about… —Hershl Hartman.
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