Growing up Jewish, I was intrigued by the Nativity scenes in friends’ homes during Christmastime.
Discreetly, I would gaze at the outdoor doll house-like barn. Soaking in the peaceful scene: shepherds with staffs, sheep, kings with treasures, camels, and cows. At the center of it all, in the hay, Mary and Joseph serenely looked upon their newborn son.
Or would it be Joseph’s stepson?
Regardless, the focus of all the dolls and animals was on Baby Jesus. A large star usually hung at the center of the roofline of the manger. A winged angel with a knowing look emphasized the importance of this gathering.
My hands tingled with a longing to play with the figurines, but I knew it was only for looks.
It’s a curious thing how often people walk past a beautiful Nativity scene on their way to admire the Christmas tree. Swathed in cloths, Baby Jesus lays there contentedly, letting the fancy ornaments, and twinkling lights get all the attention. A sweet, undemanding baby who probably even slept through the night by the time he was 6 weeks old.
I was envious that Jewish people didn’t have something like a Nativity scene for Hanukkah. Really, why couldn’t we? With just a few minor changes, we too could have family heirlooms and a beautiful scene to display.
The word “Nativity” could be replaced with “Destruction and Rededication of the Temple.” Maybe not as serene as the manger with Baby Jesus, but a significant event just the same.
After centuries of self governing, Jews lived for hundreds of years under foreign rulers. For much of that time, they were treated with more or less of a live-and-let-live attitude. But while Syria was under Greek rule, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes began his reign around 175BC, he made practicing Judaism punishable by death. As a result, what was not plundered and pillaged from the huge temple in Jerusalem was made into a place of pagan worship.
The wheels of Hanukkah were set in motion.
All told, the Destruction and Rededication of the Temple scene would have to include armies, destruction, chaos, rubble, olive trees, rabbis and a menorah that is eternally burning bright.
A desert strewn with miniature Hellenist Syrian soldiers defeated by the Jewish Macabee soldiers, symbolizing triumph over oppression.
Next to the war area would be, right in the center, on a hill, the temple itself. And in the center of the temple in ruins, on the altar, a battery operated menorah with real mini flame shaped light bulbs that are always lit.
As the story goes, when the Jewish people returned to rebuild and rededicate their temple, there was only enough oil to have the menorah burn 1 night, but miraculously it burned for 8 days and nights, the exact amount of time it takes to press olives and prepare new oil.
An olive tree grove would complete the scene.
I will admit it would be a little harder to pull off in front yards than a Nativity scene. Most families just wouldn’t have the storage for it. A drive-through version would require a lot of planning and organization, but as the Jewish people have proved for more than 5,000 years, nothing is impossible.
A small model for the home would be ideal. A visual reminder of the extreme lengths our ancestors went to in the name of religious freedom.
And the more guilt Jewish mothers could lavish on their children: “See how hard they had to fight just to be a Jew and you are complaining about a shtikl of your week sitting in a temperature controlled synagogue.”
I am not sure if my idea for the Destruction and Rededication of the Temple scene will ever catch on like the Nativity scene has. Maybe I will just remain captivated each December by the many Nativity scenes I stop to admire. I do love the symbol of miracles and of the promise of love.
I must not forget our own small miracles as the real scene of our family’s Hanukkah unfolds this year. The miracle that with four kids lighting a menorah, our house hasn’t burned down. The promise that when I run short of oil while making latkes, there is always more; already made at the store around the corner.
And yes, of course, the promise of love.