We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors in other days, and in our time.
— From the Hanuka prayer “Al Hanisim (For the Miracles)”
After our Thanksgiving feasts this year, we witnessed a disturbing pattern of consumerism run amok. Trying to get a jump on the Black Friday shopping splurge — in the run-up to Christmas Day — Target, Walmart and the Mall of America announced that they would open early (variously at 10 p.m. or midnight).
At the Porter Ranch Walmart, in the Los Angeles area, Xbox video game consoles were going on sale at 10 p.m.; and one customer decided that the best way to position herself to grab a hot sale item was to clear out other shoppers with some blasts of pepper spray.
“This was customer-versus-customer ‘shopping rage,’” Los Angeles Police Lt. Abel Parga told the Los Angeles Times, regarding the incident that was broadcast around the globe.
And in Kinston, N.C., also at a Walmart store, an off-duty police officer sprayed “a puff” of pepper spray to disperse shoppers trying to grab items that Walmart employees were putting on display. A police spokesperson told NBC News that the use of the chemical irritant was intended to have the crowd “regain composure.”
Perhaps most unsettling is the story from a Target store in South Charleston, W.V., where a local pharmacist collapsed in the store’s electronics department. A TV channel reported that many shoppers paid no attention to 61-year-old Walter Vance, and some of them literally stepped over his body. An updated report said that some shoppers did what they could to care for the stricken man, who later died in the hospital.
This aberrant behavior — ostensibly related to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Christians’ prince of peace — has been referred to as the “shopocalypse” by Reverend Billy, a social satirist who represents the “Church of Stop Shopping.”
And it really has nothing to do with Hanuka — except as far as Hanuka has become something of a “Jewish Christmas” in our contemporary society, solely based on its proximity to Christmas on the Gregorian calendar.
In reality, Hanuka is a minor festival on the Jewish calendar — it is not even in the Bible. However, the story of a stalwart band of zealots, the Maccabees, prevailing against a mightier force of Yavanim (Greeks), and rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, has resonated through the generations. These days Hanuka is a cherished family celebration, with candle lighting, dreidels, gelt and steaming latkes (in Israel, the preferred greasy food item is sufganiyot, jelly-filled donuts).
This year, the latter part of Hanuka coincides with Christmas; so there again will be some blurring of the holidays. Rather than mimicking the meshugge behavior displayed on Black Friday, we Jews should celebrate Hanuka in a dignified way, and try to impart some positive lessons about the holiday. Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization, has a list of resources for celebrating Hanuka in a sustainable way. If you go to the Hazon Web site and look under the “Resources” tab, then click “Holidays,” you will find a trove of ideas for Hanuka, ranging from using environmentally sustainable candles — “Beeswax, soy and palm oil provide more natural alternatives to the traditional paraffin Hanukkah candles” — to cutting down on waste and buying fair trade products.
(If you would like to give the gift of news, a gift subscription to the American Jewish World costs just $30 per year, and the biweekly newspaper will remind your friend or relative of your thoughtfulness throughout the year. You can find a handy form on Page 14B of this issue.)
Hanuka means “dedication,” and our local Jewish community is in need of dedicated participants. From the vantage of our offices in St. Louis Park, we have seen the closures of Fishman’s kosher deli and bakery, Bnai Emet Synagogue and, soon, Brochin’s, which will conclude a 100-year run of vending Judaica at the end of this month. Fallout from the Madoff investment fraud and the Great Recession has taken a toll on Jewish philanthropy and forced Jewish agencies to tighten their belts. In short, Hanuka is a time for Jews in Minnesota to think about dedication, about how we can sustain our Jewish community in these hard times.
We celebrate the great victory of the Maccabees in ancient times; but the rest of the story, in which the Hasmonean dynasty became a cruel and corrupt regime, eventually leading to the dispossession of the Jews from their homeland for nearly 2,000 years, is not so well known. The lesson here is that power corrupts; and we are living in a time of resistance to powerful banks and corporations bending the political system to their will, to the detriment of most people, workers and the middle class: the 99 percent.
Some 23 million Americans who want to work are searching for full-time jobs; millions of families face foreclosure and nationally about 22 percent of mortgaged homes are underwater (the homes are worth less than the unpaid balance on the mortgage loan); recent college graduates struggle to repay large student loans, which will be a financial burden for 25 years in some cases; and, since the official end of the recession, in June 2009, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, on top of a 3.2 percent decline in the previous year and a half. The economic news is grim and it translates into mounting anxiety and despair for many families.
This truly is a time to dedicate ourselves to strengthening the Jewish community and the greater society, upholding the Jewish value of tikkun olam, doing what each of us can to reweave the frayed fabric of our community.
Just one more thing, as Lt. Columbo used to say. We heard from many AJW subscribers about the late delivery of the Nov. 25 edition. Apparently, the Thanksgiving holiday contributed to the delays in the mail.
We produce the biweekly newspaper and then zap the finished digital file to our printing plant, where the paper is printed, addressed and delivered to the U.S. Postal Service’s bulk mail center in Eagan. We are entirely dependent on the post office to deliver the newspaper in a timely fashion.
And the plot sickens: this week the Postal Service announced that it is closing 200 mail processing centers across the country, resulting in an additional day’s wait for many first-class deliveries. An Associated Press story on Tuesday reported that that the cutbacks “will back up deliveries from two to three days; periodicals could take up to nine days.”
I hope this does not come to pass. Again, once the Jewish World is delivered to the Postal Service, it is out of our hands. We will monitor the situation and let you know what to expect in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, the editors and staff of the American Jewish World wish all of our readers a joyous and meaningful Hanuka and holiday season.
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
(American Jewish World, 12.9.11)