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Monday, December 6, 2004

Hanukkah and Unitarian Universalism.

There's really no getting around the awkwardness of lighting Hanukkah candles in a church —no matter how gently or forcefully a Unitarian Universalist minister tries to acknowledge or honor the holiday. Sometimes the holiday is bent into almost unrecognizable shape as UUs shoehorn all the winter holidays into the same Jesus-free Dickens-Christmas humanitarianism. The Maccabees singing Kumbayah, and so on. Or there it is, an object on the altar: the flaming chalice replaced for a week by the menorah or chanukiyah, soon to be replaced by the Kwanzaa candles. No wonder some "JewUs" decamp to the synagogue or just stay home during December and around Easter — just as I tend to flee to Episcopalianism during those two seasons. There are times when being all things to all people just doesn't satisfy some of the people.

It's a dilemma I wish I knew how to address more fruitfully. It's an especially acute dilemma for Christian Unitarian Universalists (who often already feel a bit on edge in most UU churches) because our ongoing presence in the UUA can seem to threaten the possibility of the post-Christian Unitarian Universalism that post-traditional or Humanistic Jews and Jews in interfaith marriages find so appealing. Or, to put it simply, can a Unitarian Universalist congregation really celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas without alienating people for whom each holiday holds real meaning?

This week, as we anticipate the start of Hanukkah, the members of the UUs for Jewish Awareness e-mail list have been engaged in a thought-provoking conversation about Unitarian Universalist Hanukkah celebrations. You can sign up and read the messages starting December 3. I don't have any great insights to offer, but I'm committed to the conversation — as a liberal Christian who sees Christian anti-Semitism as an ongoing moral challenge I have to confront, and as a Unitarian Universalist who is deeply grateful for my Jewish friends and co-religionists. Listening, however, is always a good way to begin.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 6 December 2004 at 7:52 PM

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December 7, 2004 09:35 AM | Permalink for this comment

Holy Weblog! has Hanukkah gift ideas.

Brian Duffin:

December 7, 2004 07:59 PM | Permalink for this comment

While Dickens may well have promoted a Jesus-free humanitarianism, I echo his sentiments:

"I will honor Christmas in my heart and try and keep it all the year."

A good and noble endeavor indeed!

Perhaps the spirit of the holiday season can transcend Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas?

Anyhow, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Joyful Kwanazza to all!


December 7, 2004 09:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Happy Chrismahanawkanzaakkah!

I'm curious: Would it be better to bring in more of the autumn high holy days than Hanukkah? Aren't they---and Passover---considered more important? My impression was that Hanukkah was considered a minor holiday.


December 7, 2004 09:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for the greetings, Brian! Merry Christmas to you (and please feel free to enjoy all the other holidays, too)!

Chutney, I'd agree: I've found Rosh Hashanah and Passover much more successfully celebrated by UUs than Hanukkah. The problem, of course, is how to recognize Christmas in a UU congregation without exacerbating the sense of awkwardness that Jewish-heritage UUs feel when their congregation suddenly starts acting like a church.


December 8, 2004 02:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

As a Unitarian I can honor Hanukkah with no problem at all .


December 8, 2004 03:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

But can the same Unitarian observe Hanukkah with the same intent as a Jew might? With its curriculum of vigorous religious loyalty and devotion over false gods and coersive politics, it seems an odd candidate for adoption by others.

And it that can't be repected, then it can hardly be honored.

As a non-Jew, it seems to me the appropriate posture is polite and respectful silence, not participation and never cooption.

If we'uns need a Jewish holiday to "invite ourselves to" Purim and Tu Bishvat are better options.


December 8, 2004 04:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Paul, I can honor it, too but I'm asking what they really means and how exactly we can go about it. People experience real cognitive dissonance around Jewish holidays in UU "churches" just as they experience some measure of uncertainty around Christmas and Easter so it helps if we can talk about it.

When UUs talk about religious and theological pluralism as "no problem at all," I can't relate. Our pluralism may be the most dynamic aspect of Unitarian Universalism, but it is certainly the most problematic aspect. We've barely begun to think about its ramifications.

Mark Brooks:

December 8, 2004 05:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

There's a continual debate (or unison griping) going on at the UUCF list about the tension between recognition of all paths and becoming so watered down that we stand for nothing other than tolerance itself. No, I don't think could observe any Jewish holiday with the same intent that a Jew might. But, yes, I can admire the purpose or point behind the holiday of any of them. It's a tough path to walk, this path between respect and acceptance of all religions, and becoming so wishy-washy as to have no path at all. My opinion is that most UU churches are too close to having no path at all.

Jeff Wilson:

December 8, 2004 05:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Happy Bodhi Day! Today is the anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment, as celebrated in the East Asian tradition.

I grew up honoring Hanukkah and a host of other Jewish holidays in my UU church, since my town was heavily Jewish in population. We regularly did things in tandem with the various synagogues (there are nine in my hometown). I think it is a mischaracterization to say Hanukkah is about "vigorous religious loyalty and devotion over false gods"--that's not the attitude of many of my American Jewish friends. And I'm going to a Hanukkah seder on Friday night by invitation of a religious Israeli Jew, who wouldn't have me and my wife there if he thought we were unable to observe it in some appropriate way.

I grew up celebrating Christmas--trees, caroling, pageants, Xmas Eve worship services, presents, Santa Claus, etc--even though no one in my family is Christian. Christmas holds real meaning to me, though I'm not a Christian. At this point, Christians just don't own Christmas anymore. It's a shared property.

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