"Your OFFICIAL 'King of the Jews' . . . and King of Men, Too!"
ISSUE 32: MAZEL TOV!! IT'S THE SPECIAL CHANUKKAH ISSUE!
JEWISH CONTENT, PART ONE: THE STORY OF CHANUKKAH
Once again CHANUKKAH is here, and, once again, WIT MEMO has been made to feel dumber than a bag of hammers by well-meaning, non-Jewish friends who ask, "When is Chanukkah this year?" leaving us hemming and hawwing because, dagnabbit all, we just plain DON'T KNOW!! THEY KEEP CHANGING IT ON US!! One year, December 7, this year, December 13, and next year? Beats me! Your guess is as good as mine. So before we get to our WIT MEMO look at Chanukkah, let's take a few moments out for a simple plea: Can we please get RID of that played-out, old school HEBREW CALENDAR?
Heck, we got rid of the Mayan calendar, we got rid of the Roman calendar, and we bid a fond bon soir! to the truly wacky French revolutionary calendar that lasted less than 14 years around the turn of the nineteenth century. We got rid of slide rules, quadrophonic sound, eight-track tapes, vinyl records, typewriters, common courtesy, and the five-cent nickel. And now, WIT MEMO says it's time that the Hebrew Calendar, the unquestioned Beta format of calendars, got put out to pasture.
Sure, it'll be sad to see the old girl go, and some folks'll kick up a ruckus, but it'll be a piece of cake compared to the riots that broke out among peasants who thought that 14 days were being stolen from their lives upon the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
OF COURSE, if the Hebrew calendar was the only one around there'd be no Y2K problem, which would mean a helluva lot fewer jobs for tech wienies, but that's not about to happen, and, anyway, can we really ever expect the powers that be to let us out of work for ANY of the Jewish holidays if they don't even know when they're gonna be? 'Nuff said!!
THE STORY OF CHANUKKAH: Chanukkah (literally, Yiddish for "Hey, Why Can't We Have Xmas Too?") was created in the eighteen nineties by Reform Rabbis at the behest of big donors-to-the-building-fund merchants beset with spiritual longings for a big-buying holiday right around the time when people were having parties and not doing much work anyway. Eight days was chosen as the new holiday's duration because it was mercifully shorter than the twelve full days of merrymaking and nonstop good cheer that Christians were forced to endure, giving rise to the early Chanukkah motto, "Eight Days! Marked Down From Twelve!!"
NO, WAIT . . . THAT'S NOT IT . . . CHANUKKAH, the Festival of Lights, commemorates the Maccabees' 165 BC recapture of Jerusalem from the Seleucid rulers of Palestine, who had desecrated the Temple and imposed their Hellinistic religion. When they recaptured the Temple, the Jews had only enough ritually pure oil to fuel their menorah for one night; miraculously, this small quantity of oil burned for eight days and eight nights. Today, Jews all over the world -assuming they manage to get the word on just when this year the darn holiday starts- celebrate Chanukkah by lighting the Menorah each night, exchanging presents, and dining on latkes and on Matzoh specially prepared with the blood of a ritually murdered young Christian girl . . . NO, WAIT, THAT'S NOT IT . . . that's Passover ... or maybe I've been a little misled about that last part, I forget. On Chanukkah, young children enjoy festive gambling games that involve spinning a GOLEM, an animated manlike monster made from clay and brought to life with the Kabbalistic chant, "Golem, Golem, Golem, I made it out of clay..." and then set loose to wreak revenge upon the enemies of the Jews and to manipulate interest and exchange rates as part of the international banking conspiracy . . . SORRY, SORRY. . . I've gotten off on the wrong foot again... actually, the little ones amuse themselves by spinning a small top called a DRIEDL. Whew. Don't pay any attention to that other stuff, I don't know WHAT I could have been thinking (but see our look at The Golem, below).
FACT IS, Chanukkah (to pronounce "Chanukkah" properly, start off like you're about to hock a lugey, or learn to speak Dutch) is relatively minor holiday in the Jewish pantheon, it's only its proximity to Xmas that causes many gentiles to mistakenly elevate its importance. And when you stop to think about it, you'll see that it's not really any kind of a big deal... after all, what supposed miracle does it celebrate? The oil burning for eight days instead of one? That's it? That's the miracle? Who are we kidding? In contemporary terms, this is like, you don't pay your electric bill, the power company says they'll shut off your electricity on Monday, but they don't get around to it till Tuesday of the following week . . . Some miracle!
JEWISH CONTENT PART II: HYMIE THE GOLEM
WIT MEMO recently picked up a copy of "THE DICTIONARY OF JEWISH LEGEND & LORE" at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, and we've just been learning all kinds of new fun facts! Actually, it's more an encyclopedia than a dictionary.
F'rinstance... there's this matter of the GOLEM. We'd long known the Golem as sort of a Jewish Frankenstein, an artificial man formed from clay or earth which was brought to life by Kabbalistic chants, and by placing under its tongue the name of God or by inscribing a Hebrew word on its forehead, and which went on to wreak all kinds of havoc. But there was a lot we didn't know, and a lot we had wrong. First off, we'd thought that there was only ONE Golem, like the one Frankenstein, and, moreover, that it was all just a tall tale. Well, we were wrong on both counts. Turns out, Golems were quite common, often made by Kabbalistic practitioners, and frequently served as "Shabbas Goy" to light the lights on Sabbath. Golems weren't very smart and tended to take their instructions a little too literally, often with hilarious results. Thus, according to this book, when the Baal Shem Tov in the 1700's told his Golem to "grease his wagon," he was dismayed to discover that the thing had smeared grease over the ENTIRE WAGON!
That got us thinkin ... where have we seen that before? A Jewish, robot-like being taking a command all too literally, with knee-slapping consequences? Why, it's none other than HYMIE THE ROBOT from the classic comic spy series GET SMART! He was artificial, he was a bit slow, he took things too literally -told to "shake a leg," he'd do just that- and, with that name, he just had to be Jewish! It can't be a coincidence: Hymie the Robot was a Golem, and no two ways about it. So let's hear it for The Golem, shining exemplar of our popular culture's Jewish antecedents!
YANKING OUR OWN HORN DEPT: HEY KIDS!!! Check out the story of WIT MEMO's road trip to AMSTERDAM in the December issue of PITCH MAGAZINE . . . available at Cool Clubs everywhere!
NEXT TIME: Sooner than you think!!
Compliment? Complaint? Lemme Know!!
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