I’ve celebrated Chanukah more than a few times, but I never sat down and looked closely at the Hebrew word חנוכה, which we typically translate as dedication or consecration. It’s fascinating! First, it is constructed from the exact same root letters as the Hebrew word for education (Chinuch). It also can be linked to the Hebrew word חן, which means grace, favor, or beauty.
One of my favorite things about Hebrew words is how many different shades of meaning they each contain, and how these loaded words therefore inherently lead us to both poetry and insight. In this case, the link between these three concepts became particularly poignant and relevant for me last night, as our students performed an abridged version of Fiddler on the Roof at our annual Chanukah Musical.
The link began with a conversation with the two adults who were directing the music and the play itself (Rabbi Tonti and P’nina McCabe), who identified a particular scene in the original play that we all agreed could potentially present issues for our modern pluralistic community. This was the scene (in the original) in which Chava informs her father Tevye that she would like to marry Fyedka, who is not Jewish, and after agonizing, Tevye decided that this was over the line, and tells Chava that she will be dead to her family if she intermarries. Here is what we decided to include in our play program, which was given to the audience before the show:
Dear Kehilat Gesher (Gesher Community),
Words matter. A couple of months ago, the adults managing this production had an important conversation about a particular scene from the original play which depicts a particularly harsh point of view on the subject of intermarriage. We asked ourselves how to handle this scene while balancing (1) the desire to be true to the realities of the time and story with (2) the core value of creating a warm, inclusive, pluralistic community at Gesher. We are proud to be members of a community in which this issue can (should) be raised with sensitivity to the concerns of all our children and families. Since we ended up using this conversation to make some minor edits to the material, we thought it was worth including the thought process here for your consideration. We hope you enjoy the show!
Every time we pass on a piece of our tradition or culture to the next generation, we are engaged in both Chinuch (education) and Chanukah (consecration/dedication). In this case, as in many cases, our modern circumstances require that we grapple respectfully and lovingly with that tradition in order to both preserve its integrity and to renew its relevance. This process requires Chen (grace/favor) and also produces Chen.
Last night, as we lit the Chanukah candles as a community after watching our children engage in learning and art, we were blessed to take another step forward in the meaningful practices that have sustained the Jewish community for millennia. I’m so grateful to have been part of this moment, and I wish all our community a Chanukah full of light, joy, and meaning.
Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Urim Sameach (Happy Festival of Lights),