Happy Holidays!

Today is Christmas.

Sunday night was the first night of Chanukah, which will end on the 30th. Kwanzaa starts tomorrow and ends January 1st, and many other traditions are also marking important dates.(Historians tell us that many holidays occur during December and January, not because the dates of the events being celebrated are necessarily accurate, but because we need a break from the dark and cold.)

My holiday wish is pretty simple: A world in which people respect their neighbors–including those who differ from them– and wish them well. A world where we learn from each other, care for each other, and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

A world where that bumper sticker that uses symbols to spell out “coexist” is descriptive rather than aspirational.

I’m not pontificating today. I’m not even going to beat my head against the nearest wall. I hope you and your loved ones all have a wonderful holiday, and I hope those of you who are regular readers and commenters know how much I appreciate you.

I’ll be my grouchy self again tomorrow. Meanwhile, have a happy holiday!


Have a Merry

If you are celebrating Christmas today, Merry Christmas.

If you are celebrating Chanukah, Happy Chanukah.

If you are a secular soul celebrating some time off work, Happy Holidays!

If you are one of those culture warriors hysterical because everyone isn’t using the language you have prescribed–the language that you believe acknowledges the superiority and “true Americanism” of your particular faith– bah humbug to you!

I’m not a Christian, but I have great respect for the many Christians I know who spend their time (all year–not just in December) trying to model Jesus’ teachings about love and compassion, modesty and charity. As you might suspect, I have little or no respect for the “stiff-necked,” ostentatiously pious folks who brandish the label as a weapon in their fanciful “war on Christmas.”

I admire and value those good people who are Christian in the true sense of that word–those of you who look to your theology for guidance on how to live a meaningful and moral life. I hope your Christmas day is filled with love, family,  friendship and cheer.

Something tells me that those in the “stiff-necked” category–those who believe their religion is a badge of superiority entitling them to denigrate and discriminate against those they view as “lesser”– will ultimately find the equivalent of coal in their stockings.(I’ve noticed that they all seem to be unhappy–and unpleasant–people.)

Happy Holidays, everyone. Have a great day.


A Lesson from the Chanukah Story

Chanukah has just ended. In honor of the holiday, a Buddhist cousin sent me a story from the Huffington Post titled “The Real History of Chanukah is More Complicated than you Probably Thought.”

It actually was.

In Sunday School, we were basically taught that Judah Maccabee led a successful revolt against Antiochus, whose Seleucid empire had taken over Judea and was forcing the Hellenization of the Jewish people. (I dimly remember something about pigs in the Temple…). The Maccabees won, and when they commenced clean-up of the Temple, discovered that there was only  enough oil to light the holy menorahs for a day—but a miracle happened, and the oil lasted for eight days, just long enough to allow a runner to obtain more.

If my recollection is hazy (it is), my defense is that Chanukah (spelled however you like) was a very minor holiday until Christmas, celebrated around the same time of year, became so commercialized, and we Jews didn’t want our children to feel left out. The lesson of Chanukah was the importance of religious liberty, which was duly noted, and then we moved on….

According to the Huffington Post, real history was a bit more complicated. Initially, a number of the Jews embraced aspects of the Seleucids’ Hellenic culture.

“The initiative and impetus for this often came from the locals themselves,” said Shaye J.D. Cohen, professor of Hebrew literature and philosophy at Harvard and author of From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. “They were eager to join the general, global community.”…

The rising influence of hellenism was not immediately a source of open conflict within the Jewish community. In fact, hellenism permeated even the most traditional circles of Jewish society to one degree or another. A typical Judean would have worn Greek robes and been proficient in the Greek language whether he was urban or rural, rich or poor, a pious practitioner of the Mosaic faith or a dabbler in polytheism.

“Becoming more hellenized didn’t mean they were less Jewish as a result,” said Erich Gruen, an emeritus history professor at Berkeley and author of Diaspora: Jews Amidst Greeks and Romans. “Most Jews didn’t see hellenism as the enemy or any way compromising their sense of themselves as Jews.”

The rebellion came only when Antiochus pushed the more pious Jews too far, engaging in a campaign of radical hellenization–prohibiting fundamental Jewish practices, and introducing foreign rites and practices in the Temple.

“They actually rebel only when the religious persecution reached a level they could no longer tolerate,” said Cohen, who also chairs Harvard’s department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations. “The line in the sand seems to have been the Torah and the [commandments], and the profaning of the ritual of the Temple.”

Cohen characterizes these Jews not as zealots, but as “realists.” Until then, they had embraced many hellenistic norms in their own lives and accommodated the spread of practices to which they objected — such as foreign worship — among their co-religionists.

There certainly is a lesson here, and it actually goes well beyond the importance of respecting religious differences/liberties in a diverse society. Ironically, it is a lesson taught by the early Greeks—the importance of moderation, of aiming for the “mean between extremes.”

These days, we might say “Don’t push your luck,” or “Pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered.”

When will working Americans decide that they are being pushed too far? When the Walmarts and their ilk continue to resist paying a fair wage? When their wholly-owned politicians work tirelessly to deny medical care to those who are struggling financially? When their lobbyists argue for cutting social programs in order to give the rich greater tax breaks? When the bankers who precipitated the Great Recession continue awarding each other obscene bonuses…???

How far is too far?

Happy Chanukah…..


Season’s Greetings

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice or just the blessing of a couple of days off work: Have a great one!

Or–as my favorite holiday greeting this year put it–Heathen’s Greetings to you and yours!