Hanukkah, notes Ari Lamm, seems to irk “everyone from the late Christopher Hitchens, who memorably derided it as a ‘celebration of tribal Jewish backwardness,’ to Sarah Prager, who took to the pages of the New York Times recently to explain that she won’t be teaching her kids about it.” (The latter seems to be something of a tradition, as that newspaper has published several critiques of the holiday over the past several years.) To Lamm, the Festival of Lights sticks in the craw of a certain breed of sophisticate because it is
about the rootedness of tradition against . . . cosmopolitanism. If you were a Jew at the time [of the Maccabean Revolt], you basically had two choices: you could love the beauty of your ancestral heritage and love it no matter what, or you could watch as the ruling class attempted to recreate the social order in its own universalist image—and hope that your acceptance by the powerful would somehow substitute for the loss of family, community, and tradition.
Hanukkah is a story about national and religious aspiration, about the beauty that comes from belonging somewhere in particular. And how the refusal to follow the empty pieties of the ruling class of the time kept the Jewish people together.
For it is precisely in understanding that we come from somewhere—that our past puts obligations upon us in the present—that we’ll help create an American future that is not just great, but good.