Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: Hanukkah in America: A History

Hardcover: 350 pages
Publisher: NYU Press; 1St Edition edition (October 14, 2013)

Hanukkah in America: A History was written by Dianne Ashton.

Everyone knows the story.  There was not enough oil left in the Temple after its destruction but miraculously, the oil burned for eight days.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Ashton provides a very thorough cultural history of Chanukah as she traces the holiday's importance to American Jewry.  The main argument is that the holiday is so popular because of when it tends to fall in the Gregorian calendar but also because of the focus on family and the opportunities that the holiday provides when discussing assimilation.

Her book explains just how the minor holiday became one of the most visible holidays.  In doing so, it teaches is about America, religion, and Jews.  It's not a holiday mandated by the Torah.  It was one that came about following the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.  There are no Yom Tovim during Chanukah that require a day off from work unlike the major holidays of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot.

Different people have different customs when it comes to Chanukah and Ashton writes about those, such as in New Orleans, Texas, and Cincinnati.

I won't lie in that Pesach is my favorite holiday--it always falls in the spring and I have it on good authority that one of my ancestors is Aaron, meaning that Moses is a great-uncle to the nth degree.

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