My daughter attends a private school where there are many Jewish children. She so much wants to light a menorah. We already have an Xmas tree, is okay to light a menorah next to it?


Interesting—usually we get letters asking if it's okay to have a tree next to the menorah. I hadn't realized the question can be reversed.

Well, first of all, it sounds like a bit of a fire hazard. But there's a deeper issue here: I wonder if for you, lighting a menorah might have exactly the opposite meaning that it has for me.

What does a menorah mean to me? It's a statement of who I am. It says, there were these people came to our land and tried to assimilate us into their mega-culture, but we resisted and retained our identity. They took all we had to offer, along with odds and ends from the Athenians, Spartans, Persians, Parthians, Armenians, Assyrians, Egyptians, etc. and homogenized it all into a mushy Hellenist stew which eventually became our modern world. Yet, of all those ancient peoples, we alone remain, the only tribal entity to have survived into modernity.

The place I feel Chanukah the most is in Wal-Mart. In Wal-Mart, you get that subliminal sense of desperate anomy, of "do I really exist, or am I just another customer shopping in just another Wal-Mart that sells exactly the same stuff to the same people everywhere else in America?" Really, Wal-Mart and its sort truly represent the Hellenists of today, flattening and mixmasterizing everything unique and special in the colorful geo-demographics of America into a blurry, mind-numbing experience of today's favorite competitor sport, namely shopping. Wal-Mart is not friendly to tribal culture.

But today I walked into a Wal-Mart and saw a ten foot menorah burning there. I felt that same sense of relief as when opening Google Maps and finding my own house. That public menorah is a defiant act of the modern Maccabees—as is every act to establish the unique value of the individual in the face of global McCulture.

So what does it mean for you and your daughter to light a menorah? Isn't that just more of the same mushy unculture? Wouldn't it be more meaningful for you to find something of your own heritage that has real meaning for you, something you received from your parents and grandparents and want to pass on to your daughter?

That's one thing our Ask-the-Rabbi team here at repeat over and over: Torah has a message for everyone, but it's not that you have to be Jewish. Torah comes to shine light on everything in the world, to show you what is wise and meaningful there, so that you can discard the husk and enjoy the fruit. Torah provides basic laws of monotheism and human dignity for all humankind, so that we can all live together in the same playing field. But then it says, now go out and be who you are. Look in your own backyard, there are plenty of truths, all you need to do is throw out the junk to find them, and then to cherish them.

Yes, the message of Chanukah is universal. Like they say, Jews are just like everyone else, only more so. The experience we went through in the Greek Empire back then has meaning to every human being on this earth—especially in our globalized society now. It says that what's divine about us is not only that which makes us the same, but much more, it's that which makes each of us different and unique.

So find what unique truths there are about you, your family and your heritage. Use the Torah, G‑d's message to all humankind, to find them. Then celebrate them. In your own way, you'll be celebrating Chanukah.