Today, we’re taking a quick break from our week of poetry to wish our readers a happy Hanukkah.

Neal Ferkso lives in Alexandria, VA.

I’ve never known anyone who’s ever told a compelling Hanukkah story to me that’s in any way pertinent to the holiday or its more ancient traditions. Well, except for last year when a bunch of us lit the Menora and watched Megaforce while drinking Manischewitz. Watching Ace Hunter shoot missiles out of his motorcycle gave me one of those accidents of memory on what this holiday used to be like in Hebrew school.

When we celebrated Hanukkah as kids, it was one of those nice safe exercises in forced enthusiasm that ushers you into adulthood. Spin the dreidel again? …Sure! But there was an undeniable charm in those breaks from Torah and Hebrew lessons. It was also one of those wonderful moments when the Talmudic patriarchy cools its heels for a little while. Since it’s a holiday that’s so minor that observant Jews can work, women and children are expected to carve out some sort of slapdash Americanized holiday that makes Judaism more about warm lights and laughter and less “will god finally drop that piano on my head today?” nebbishness.

In that tradition I’d like to present to the Canoneers a semi-relevant feminist guide that sifts through our culture, this holiday and Judaism circa 2010 (er, 5771).

  • Nothing really prepares you for the moment when Orin Hatch (R-Utah) writes a jam for your holiday so you gotta roll with the punches and keep looking. Wait…the Indigo Girls covered Woodie Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukkah” this year? Pretty good, but we can do better. Ah here we go: The Shondes, Brooklyn’s seminal Klezmer-influenced queercore band. Unlike a lot of self-professed Jewish punks, The Shondes don’t use dumbed-down Prayer chants or tacky humor to express their personal ties to the music. It’s also a huge rarity to find not only an all-girl Jewish band but one that seriously engages in left-wing gender and Israeli politics.
  • There are several blogs dedicated to the issues of Jewish women but my favorite has always been The Sisterhood, which dovetails The Jewish Daily Forward‘s excellent coverage of feminist issues.
  • Jumping off that, the issue of women’s rights in the Orthodox sphere has been the most exciting story in American Jewish life for me this year, with the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously banning the ordination of female rabbis. What’s particularly insidious about the resolution is that they cloak their decision in glowing praise for the recent uptick in women pursuing Torah studies before dropping in the bizarrely mundane term, “sacred continuity” to explain the decision. It came one month too late to prevent Sara Hurwtiz from being ordained as the first Orthodox Rabba.
  • During Hanukkah time, Reform Jews are rarely taught about the Book of Judith as kids. Mostly because it’s not recognized as anything beyond fiction by almost all Rabbis from the Middle Ages onward and partially because discussing beheading in triumphant terms to 8-year-olds presents obvious problems. But even as fiction, it presents a rare female voice in Hebrew storytelling and, even more seldom seen, a strong female icon of the Judaic Biblical era untethered by family or marriage but still known for her strength and intelligence. The graphic depiction of Judith’s killing of the Assyrian General Holofernes was painted many times in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, making her the most well-known Jewish woman before Golda Meir.
  • Whatever the big Hanukah gift is for most people this year, it would be hard to imagine topping the kerfuffle generated by Rebecca Rubin, the pricey Jewish American Girl Doll released in the Spring of 2009. Rebecca’s manufactured backstory actually matches that of my great-grandmother (also Fievel Mousekewitz) who moved into New York City tenement housing in 1919 – 5 years after Rebecca.
  • This year, the sore thumb in Jib Jab’s series of Hanukkah e-cards depicts a JAP stricken in the throes of shopping. Ugh. The funny part about this is that if it was a Jewish lawyer or accountant, people would probably swim around this in Rick Sanchez fashion. As it is, it’s just a blip on HEEB’s radar.
  • If you make it to New York anytime between now and January 30, visit the Jewish Museum’s wonderful exhibit “Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism” – one of the best collections of feminist art in recent memory.
  • Finally, it’s well worth it to visit the Jewish Women’s Archive online sometime this season, or really anytime this year. While progressive Jews often lack the numerical strength and contemporary political leanings to make a sizable dent in contemporary feminism, we’ve always made up for numbers in centuries past with the advantage of age. This is the best online resource to tap into that history.
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