American Jews have transformed Hanukkah, Rowan author says

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Hanukkah is a relatively minor festival on the Jewish calendar. But that’s not so in the United States, where American Jews have transformed an almost forgotten celebration into the most visible of American Jewish holidays, according to Rowan University Religion Studies Professor Dianne Ashton.

Hanukkah is a relatively minor festival on the Jewish calendar. But that’s not so in the United States, where American Jews have transformed an almost forgotten celebration into the most visible of American Jewish holidays, according to Rowan University Religion Studies Professor Dianne Ashton.

In her new book, Hanukkah in America: A History (NYU Press), Ashton explores the reasons behind why Americans—more than any other country in the world—have reshaped Hanukkah into a grand celebration. In the U.S., Ashton says, Hanukkah has become a dynamic force for both stability and change for American Jews, an evolution 200 years in the making.

Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration commemorating the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Assyrians in 2nd century B.C. The holiday is observed for eight nights and days and begins early this year, on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 27.

“Hanukkah in its season looms large in the American Jewish psyche,” says Ashton, former director of the American Studies program in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences (CHSS). “I’m convinced that there’s a story here that hasn’t been told about American Judaism.

“Hanukkah has had an ability to weave itself through all of the different changes that Jews have encountered in American life. In the United States, Hanukkah’s recitations and rites were augmented, reshaped and redefined to create memories and occasions more meaningful to American Jews. Hanukkah’s strongest American advocates seem to have been those who felt the complexities of American Jewish life most acutely.”

To hear Ashton discuss her new book, visit: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFAxd35lefBQM97KiuopDM4y5El234b9_

 

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