Hanukkah is just three sundowns away and I promised to offer a positive reason for celebrating the holiday. If you’ve read the two prior installments you know that I’m not interested in Hanukkah as the Jewish War of Liberation, and I’m not happy with pitting Hanukkah against Christmas in the competition to win the hearts and minds of little Jewish girls and boys bombarded with Christmas pomp and piety. If these were my only choices, I’d drop the holiday altogether.
In fact, I’d work with the Israel Ministry of Tourism to bring all American Jews to Israel for the month of December (or, given how Christmas mania is going in this country, from Halloween through New Year’s Day). But there is an alternative: If we are going to keep Hanukkah on the scrolls, we have to reinvent it. Forget the military victory over Antiochus IV. Forget the miracle of the oil burning for eight days. The real story of the one-day’s worth of oil burning for eight days is a story of energy efficiency, and since the oil came from olives rather than long dead brontosaurs, Hanukkah is about bio-fuels as well.
When the Maccabees went to light the menorah they needed enough oil to burn for eight days, but had enough to burn for only one day. Tradition says they burned what they had, but that is stupid and wrong: “stupid” because if they only had enough to last one day and they needed enough to last eight days logic dictates that they should have waited until they pressed more oil; “wrong” because if they counted on God to take care of things, they were wrong to test God. God gets to test us; we don’t get to test God. Read the Bible: Abraham at least, Job if you really have the guts.
But the Maccabees weren’t stupid or wrong: they burned the oil because they knew it would burn longer than expected. How did they know? I don’t know, but I suspect they had invented a more efficient Menorah that could get eight npg (nights per gallon of oil) rather than the standard one npg. That’s an eight-fold increase! That’s what the Maccabees did, but they promoted the miracle story until they could patent their process and bring it to market. Since patent law wasn’t invented for thousands of years, they had to wait a long time.
Unfortunately they lost the designs for the Menorah when their buddies the Romans sacked the Temple a couple of hundred years later, made off with the only prototype, and used it as a grill for some glitzy eight horsepower chariot. All we have left is the story. For us Jews, however, stories are always enough, and it is time to make good on the true story of Hanukkah by making Hanukkah into an eight-day celebration of human ingenuity and entrepreneurism with regard to energy conservation, efficiency, and alternative fuels, a time for rededicating humanity to the quest for renewable sources of energy to light our menorahs and run our homes, factories, and chariots.
My suggestion is that world Jewry, in conjunction with the State of Israel and the International Mahjong Association create the H-Prize, or the CH-Prize if you can pronounce Hanukkah properly as Chanukah without getting phlegm on yourself. Each year we would offer eight prizes of one million dollars each (one prize given each night of Hanukkah along with a couple of chocolate coins and maybe a pair of socks) to that individual or team that has done to most to increase energy efficiency, invent new sources of energy, and green the planet.
Israel should take the lead in this by partnering with Warren Buffet (or Jimmy Buffet or Warren Beatty or whomever it is) and build giant wind-driven dreidels in the Negev (turn baby, turn!) that would produce enough energy to power the entire region with the exception of the illegal Jewish settlements in Palestine (they should be dismantled speedily in our day), and the homes of Palestinian terrorists (let their seventy-two virgins warm them up when they get to heaven after blowing themselves up at home because they didn’t have enough light to see they were putting the blue wire where the red wire goes).
Now this would be a Hanukkah worth celebrating! A Green Hanukkah where the miracle story of a single day’s oil lasting for eight days is a catalyst for creative thinking and innovation in oil conservation, fuel efficiency and alternative fuels development.
Nobody else has a holiday like this. It would show how alive and adaptable Judaism is. It would show how creative and relevant we Jews are. It would say to all those forest depleting and light polluting Christians, “See, we still matter. You may be hoping for the end of the earth, but we’re promoting her survival. You keep praying for Jesus to come back, and we’ll make sure we leave a light on for him.”
So that’s it. Let’s reinvent Hanukkah and make it a worldwide festival of energy entrepreneurism. Whatdaya say? Of course if you’ve already bought me a present for this year no need to return it. I’m not proud.