Last week I attended my daughter's high school winter concert. She sings in the school choir. Here are the songs they performed: Siyahamba (a South African Swahili hymn), Maoz Tzur (our very own Rock of Ages), Noche de Luz (Night of Silence), I'll be There (by the Jackson 5), The Storm is Passing Over (a Gospel standard) and the Halleluyah Chorus (from Handel's Messiah). First of all let's state the obvious. A far more diverse selection of music than the days of Solomon Schechter! And also to be honest, I have still not come to terms with the conflicting feelings of seeing and hearing my daughter sing verses from the New Testament's Book of Revelation (that is what the Halleluyah chorus is structured around). My feelings are something of a mixture of "Wow, she sings so well. It makes me so proud." with "That's not what we believe. No, we are still waiting." Nonetheless the multi-ethnic quality of the occasion was wonderful to behold and despite the inability of Maoz Tzur to measure up to the music of Handel and great Gospel (I love Gospel!) I was taken in by the event's pluralism. And this of course brings me to Hanukkah. The Maccabees would have been none too pleased. This concert and the celebration of Hanukkah in the midst of a non-Jewish culture would have, to be honest to our history, angered them. David Brooks had it right in his New York Times column. The heroes of the Hanukkah story were radical in their ideology. "They were right and the rest of the world wrong" was their motto. There was nothing good to be found in the non-Jewish world. Its influences must be opposed at all costs. It is this kind of ideology that leads some to destroy, apparently, a mosque in Israel's West Bank. Read the Jerusalem Post's account here and the New York Times account of this tragic tale and its aftermath here. This destructive act appears to have been a deliberate attempt to live by the Maccabees' values. And herein lies the essence of Hanukkah in today's world. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish world celebrates Hanukkah and the victory of the Maccabees but does not call its heroes' values their own. We live in two worlds. We have one foot in the Jewish world and one in the non-Jewish world. Even at day schools where we only sing our own songs, we live in two worlds. Even in Israel, in our sovereign Jewish state, we are both Jewish and modern. In my new world we sing their songs. They sing ours. That is how I choose to live. I am thankful for the victory of centuries ago. I am thankful as well that the Maccabees did not remain in power for very long. I also hope and pray that their ideology never rules the day. There is good to be found in my world and the outside world. It is easier and simpler to be a fanatic and say "Only I am right. Only my Jewish world." I choose instead complicated and nuanced. And by the way my Shira sang beautifully!
"From the place where we are right flowers will never grow in the spring." Yehuda Amichai