First, let me say thank you to the President and the First Lady for allowing us to use their lawn.
Second, the menorah was GIANT. I guess everything is bigger when it’s NATIONAL. Apparently, in fact, it couldn’t have been any bigger and still qualify as a good Hanukkiah, because if it’s too big, the average person wouldn’t be able to recognize it. Yeah, I don’t get it. Maybe it’s one of those ancient-logic-that-we-still-go-along-with-because-it’s-tradition type of things.
Now the good stuff. Mukasey, our new Attorney General and an Orthodox Jew, used the word “lighted.” I thought the correct word was lit, but he’s probably right, since I’m a Democrat and he’s a Republican. Also because he’s Attorney General and I’m not.
Apparently Chabad holds a National Menorah Essay Contest every year. The essays are judged in two age categories, something like 2nd-4th grade and 5th-6th grade. From the winner of the latter category, I learned that as long as you believe, all the bad things go away. The world is melting because of global warming, but I believe, so it’s okay. I forgot to pay attention to the winner of the younger category as soon as I realized that she didn’t include “presents!!” in her list of “what Hanukkah means.”
The evening was actually quite political. First, one of the rabbis praised the religious freedom that allows Jews/Jewish people to flourish in their own ways here. Amen to that, brother. Then, another rabbi (or it may have been the same one. Sometimes I get them all confused. Maybe they should wear numbers on their jerseys, I mean, suits) praised No Child Left Behind, which is too bad because it has actually allowed religious groups to receive money from the government for ejumacating the children, in public schools. Also because it’s actually about No Child Left UNTESTED. The National Education Association uses about the least critical language possible, while still being critical (“You’re not bad, you just behave badly”) of the NCLB legislation. American 15 year olds now rank fifteenth for average reading scores in industrialized countries. We’re behind Korea, Canada, and Poland, among others. Way to go, kids.
Also, oil. The winner of the essay contest in the older category talked a lot about how since the Maccabees believed, the oil lasted. So now I’m thinking that we don’t really have to find a way over our dependence on oil; we just need to believe that it will last as long as we need it to. And while we’re at it, we should use more! because using more will demonstrate that we have complete faith. Maybe what happened during Hanukkah was a foreshadowing of today…and that time I was driving from San Diego to LA and drove through a HUGE military base where there were, needless to say, no gas stations for miles and miles. My oil lasted 25 miles on empty. I thought I was going to be stranded for hours and hours in the hot desert sun on the side of the freeway in the middle of a military base in SoCal. But the oil lasted…a modern day miracle.
But seriously, thank you, Chabad. The first time I moved away from home was just before Purim, several years ago. When I didn’t know anyone in this city, the first thing I did was go to a Purim party on the Hill, where I met some new friends…and WON PRIZES!! I went to Chabad for Pesach that year, when I didn’t have anywhere else to go. This year, Chabad gave me a hanukkiah to light at home, and delicious food for the rest of the week (strategy when you work for really, really cheap on a campaign or in a Congressional office or at a non-profit: take empty tupperware to every party where there’ll be food, which are really the only parties worth going to anyway, and fill ’em up). But most importantly, this summer, when I found myself all alone and stranded in Croatia, with the knowledge that my grandmother had just died and that I couldn’t get home in time for the funeral, two random Chabadniks showed up next to me, literally, while I sat just staring at the sea. When I found out they were MOtT, I told them how alone I felt, and they pulled out their tzitzit and siddurim from their backpacks and dragged me to the ancient synagogue in Dubrovnik, where they helped me pray. After that, I didn’t feel so alone. So thank you.
Oh, by the way, there were Roman soldiers standing by the stage the whole evening. Ha.