Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy Chanuka!

Actually, it's not Chanuka-related, but here's the Emma Lazarus poem that's been in my head recently, especially since the news about Spain inviting back exiled Jews:


Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred,
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil'dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, "Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!"

Obviously problematic, of course, to refer to America as a "virgin world" and celebrate without criticism the European advent upon these shores. But I love the concept of a year as two-faced, and I love the reminder of what the US has represented sometimes, for some people, when it is its best self. Or, at least, of what the US should aspire to be. This sonnet also pairs really nicely with The New Colossus.

I also like to claim Emma Lazarus as a secularist, and she was definitely a Socialist. She herself is always paired - possibly due to name primarily - in my head with Emma Goldman, another Jewish woman I really admire and a community-spirited anarchist whose name seems never to have been exactly cleared.

Back to Chanuka, though, I've been thinking all year about more progressive ways of understanding a holiday that glorifies a small group of radically conservative religious zealots who murdered their secular brethren as readily as their sort-of-oppressive governors. Tonight I've thought of lighting each candle for a different aspect of the admittedly complex story - one for the secular Jews murdered by the Maccabees, one for the Jews killed fighting for what they saw as the right to practice their own heritage, one for the Greeks (many of them friendly with and welcoming of Jews) killed by the Maccabees, and then one for people nowadays not permitted to practice their own culture, and one for people nowadays not permitted by be secular, modern, free of religious oppression.

Of course, I don't know what I would do on night 8. I'm out of candle ideas. And it's all a little Pesakh-y. But I kind of like it!

I wish there were a song that tackled historical Chanuka, and what hope we can draw from it. (Does that mean I have to write one now?) Laoz Tzur/Rock of Ages is so beautiful musically (I've been telling Alex that if his caroling company needs more Chanuka songs - since all they have is Dreidl, Oh Chanuka, and some stupid carol about Chanuka lights, and so they run out of songs really fast whenever they sing around Jews - that would be a great one, right up the carol-arrangement alley), but the words are SO warmongering, martyr-y, dependent on divine aid (and retribution), ahistorical, etc. etc., it's hard to listen to. Maybe that one's due for a rewrite?

In the meantime, I'm listening to the Wailin' Jennys instead.

And Pentatonix's new arrangements of a few Christmas carols, because I love tight harmonies more than I hate Christmas carols! On that subject, I saw Pentatonix's free show at the Verizon Store in Grand Central yesterday, which was awesome, and got to meet/hug/take a picture with them and get a signed poster! Cool. So today, re-excited about them, I went and picked up tickets for Alex and me for their spring tour show in February. $25 I probably should have hung on to, but they will bring me enough joy that it's worth it!

I know I always say this, but I really do mean to post more often... we'll see how long before the next one! In the meantime, happy Chanuka!