Musing about χanuˈka

Musing about Hanukka, [χanuˈka], Chanukah or  Chanuka†

Maccabees, Movies and Media

Last night I experienced something, for only the second time in my life. I enjoyed a movie in a cinema where I was ‘almost’ the only viewer … and they were excellent, recommended movies. For the record the first movie was David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth(1976) and the other viewer was the bored usher who sat down beside me and we talked about things. No one was there, hence no one to disturb, because this was the last screening of a movie that had already run weeks.

Ben Affleck’s The Town(2010) was the second movie and my wife sat next to me and we talked about things. The reason the cinema was empty was that most everybody was home lighting Hanukka candles. We did finish the evening with an expensive souvgania* at a café which tasted just as good as the cheap ones sold in every supermarket.

The next morning I speculated about Hannuka, positioning in the movies and how that relates to our business as Israel advocates. For those who haven’t seen The Town, the ‘hero’ comes from the bad side of town is condemned by inheritance to be a bank and armoured car robber. Doug MacRay, played with panache by Ben Affleck, is an armed criminal. He doesn’t kill anyone until late in the movie, or at least denies he has, but terrorizes those involved in his robberies and his partners do kill and beat the defenseless. Still we love him because he’s cute (I’m a guy but I can recognize that); the ‘good’ girl (and the ‘bad’ girl) fall for him and let’s face it – he’s Ben Affleck. He’s positioned as the ‘good’ guy if not the ‘goodie’ and everyone is rooting for him and Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the reluctant Bonnie to his Clyde, to escape the FBI and make a new life together.

Sound familiar. Achmed, the ‘resistance fighter’, predestined from birth by geography and family pressure is cute and a media darling. He doesn’t kill anyone until the media has positioned him as resisting occupation and then it is in ‘self defense’. Those he does kill are anonymous, literally masked and not by the fashion accessory kheffiya he wears, police soldiers who shouldn’t be in his neighbourhood, anyway.

How does this relate specifically to Hanukka?

One of the first things I do when I boot my computer is check my Facebook where one of my FB friends noted that the American ABC network was wishing Jewish viewers Happy Hanukka. So I checked out the BBC, that makes the Muslim Hajj big news every year and apparently every day of the month of Ramadan. Two references: one an interview by a rabbi who managed to discuss the festival without once mentioning Israel, the temple, Maccabees or any traditional practice. He even manages to introduce a competing festival Mitzva Day (Heard of it? I haven’t). Rabbi Pete is the ideal BBC Jewish but not openly Zionist guest. The other reference is a picture of the Dayin Berlin!

By ‘positioning’ Hanukka anywhere but Israel the BBC manages to play right to the Palestinian narrative. The Palestinians have decided that’s it’s in their interest to deny any Jewish connection with Jerusalem and Israel . Auntie Beeb doesn’t have to repeat the lie. They ignore, a couple of thousand years of documented tradition of Jerusalem, Jews and Hanukka, and omit all mention.

Hanukkah dreidels

Photo by Ruslan Dashinsky

In every country bar one, the traditional Hanukka dreidel (spinning top) is marked by the Hebrew letters Nun נ, Gimmel ג, Hey ה and Shin ש standing for Nes – a miracle; Gadol – great (in Hebrew the adjective follows the noun); Haya – happened; Sham – over there. The exception is Israel where the Shin is replaced by a Pey פ – here. A great miracle happened here i.e. in Israel, reinforcing the national message of the festival.

The dreidel features in the Wall Street Journal, Reinventing the Dreidel as Extreme Sport


†The festival is sometimes transliterated Chanukah and variations. I decided to go for the simple. If you already know that the first letter is pronounced as a guttural ‘ch’, something like the ‘ch’ in Loch Nes‡, you don’t need the transliteration and if you don’t, you’re bound to incorrectly pronounce the ‘ch’ as in ‘choo choo train’.
As for the final ‘h’. It’s important in Hebrew because it signifies a feminine case but it’s silent.  So why waste it? Perhaps we could invent a new word hanukkahhhhhhhh and drop our aitches one at a time, for eight days? That day we would know not only what festival we are celebrating but on what day we are celebrating it.
‡ Wow: a footnote in a footnote! To stretch a point and a pun the word for miracle as in miracle of Hanukka is nes.
* Souvgania pl. souvganiot is the traditional Hanukka donut made with white flour; fried with oil and filled with jam. The Weight Watchers special!

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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