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Despite a cheery title, the writers in this odd little holiday book tackle their subject-and its attendant traditions of family, guilt and, well, tradition-with ambivalence, a real sense of soul-searching and a bit of self-pity. Trying to make peace with their Chanukah memories, most of these writers are quick to point out its relative unimportance in the Jewish roster of holidays, inflated by its proximity to Christmas; still, their stories are clearly vivifying. There's a great deal of kvetching over the influence and excess of Christmas, and not just its consumerism; Jill Kargman, for example, writes about some casual mid-sermon anti-Semitism at a midnight mass. There's also solidarity to be found, as in Peter Orner's story of growing up in a family of "Christmas-tree Jews": "Let me be clear: we had no relationship with Christ beyond loving the mall like everyone else in America." Standouts include graphic artist Eric Orner's "Traditions Break," a compact and involving story about a young woman's first Chanukah alone; Joanna Smith Rakoff's "Dolls of the World," an accomplished troubled-family tale; and Josh Braff's "The Blue Team," which happily extols, "What a holiday.... No synagogue, no guilt, no mortar, and no real lesson to be absorbed and passed down to my Jewish offspring. Thank God."
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What a holiday. No pestilence, no slavery, no locusts, no cattle disease or atonement. synagogue, no guilt, no mortar, and no real lesson to be absorbed and passed down to my Jewish offspring. "Thank God," writes Joshua Braff, one of eighteen Jewish writers— Adam Langer, Tova Mirvis, Steve Almond, Peter Orner, and others—who extol, excoriate, and expand our understanding of this most merry of Jewish holidays and offer up nervy, irreverent, and, yes, even nostalgic takes on a holiday that has a special place in Jewish hearts . . . and stomachs.
There are profound questions: "Chanukah unearths a debate that's been going on for centuries. Yes, I'm talking about potato latkes: grated or mashed?" (Amy Klein). There are confessions: “Perhaps here is where I should mention that my 100 percent Jewish father was—and remains—obsessed with Christmas” (Jennifer Gilmore); revelations: "Shocker of all shockers, the first Jewish governor in the United States was elected in . . . Idaho! Swear" (Jill Kkargman); and tender recollections: "You are reminded of your real gifts: a family who you get to come home to" (Laura Dave). And there's even a comic strip by Eric Orner, the mastermind behind Ethan Green.
From the hilarious to the snarky, the poignant to the poetic, this collection proves there are as many ways to spell Chanukah as there are ways to celebrate it.