Eat, Pray, and Love and Chanukah

Looks like we could melt that snowman with our candles. Totally unintentional.

This is the time of year my patients come in with holiday questions, and I happen to see a lot of Italian people. (Thank you, thank you, thank you Sopranos). A lovely Italian man who has been seeing me for a long time sweetly asks,
"So. Chanukah. This is the holiday when you light candles because the Romans tried to sack the Temple. But the Maccabees beat them off, right?"
He asks this before we begin to talk about real stuff, real problems, talk about self. It is pre-therapy chat, much like chit chat about the weather. I ordinarily don't usually let in questions about me, but this is a question about history. And who doesn't love history?

"Almost!" I exclaim, for it is hard to contain enthusiasm. "It was the Greeks who ransacked the Temple. They didn't hold by our doing things our way, like the way we want to rest on the Sabbath, check out from our ordinary lives, and they really didn't like that we prayed in a different language (Hebrew). This emperor's rules went like this: Be like us, be Greek, or die.

I am not making this up. And I love the Greeks, don't get me wrong, but this particular ruler, well. . .

So a bunch of Jewish rebels, both men and women, got together and decided to take back their turf. And they did."

"But the Romans did take over the Temple once, right?" he asks, confused.

"Uh, yes. Much later. They decimated it, leveled the whole beautiful city of Jerusalem, too, to make a point. Might makes right. It was important to do that, make that point. I don't know why."

"I feel ashamed to be Italian," he said.

"Hold on! We don't think of Italians in this way, or Greeks, either, although some people do have a little difficulty with the Germans and won't buy a Mercedes. But who can afford one anyway, these days? It is against the Jewish religion to hold grudges.

And anyway, since Eat, Pray, and Love, everyone wants to be Italian!"

And we move on.

Eat, Pray and Love is a biographical novel by Elizabeth Gilbert. I mean, I would call it a biographical novel, but not being truly literary, meaning barely passing Rhetoric 101, I don't know for sure. But this little book is in the first person and reads like a novel and is in fine chick lit form and I love it. Liz breaks down after her divorce and takes a year to find herself. She chooses to divide her time between Italy, India, and Indonesia. She chooses Italy because she loves Italian.

This, of course, hooks me, because I didn't realize either, my love for Italian until mid-life, when it hit me that I loved opera- Italian operas. These two revelations changed my entire life and I bought disks to learn Italian, but failed miserably. You can not learn a new language after 40. Or let us say, I could not.

Anyway, if you haven't picked up all of your presents for the holidays and you know someone who likes stories about spiritual quests, this is a fabulous little book, for it does a lovely job of explaining meditation. Therapists are always recommending meditation (if you're a therapist and you don't, you really should reconsider.) Not that people have to run off and find a guru, but the quieting of the mind is a wonderful thing.

We do it in all kinds of ways, work to quiet the mind, for it takes work. Meditation is just one way.

I could write for hours about how much I love Elizabeth Gilbert's book, how funny she is, how well she describes depression and joy. How well she describes how hard it is to let relationships go, and how important it is to do that; how important it is to own your best friend, your most reliable companion, you. But we have bigger latkas* to fry today.

Holidays are therapeutic, right? But only, I think, when the family is happy together. When it isn't, we family therapy type docs use the inevitable, inescapable family reunions as opportunities for patients to try out new ways of relating to family, new behaviors. I tell people, "I'm on call, baby. If it doesn't work, and you're freaking out, just call me. If I don't answer, assume you're on your own. Of course, you have you, you know. And you are very cool."

I tell them if all else fails to go out and build a snowman, unless that's against their religion, building snowmen. Frozen images. In which case, doctors orders, but ask your rabbi, you might consider doing it anyway and leaving off the nose. Make it an imperfect frozen image.

All that, by way of introduction.


It's hard to believe that the time has flown so quickly, that it is time for the annual Chanukah post. I think all I really want to do here is focus on spelling. Let's make a game out of it.

I'm going to try consistently to spell Chanukah the same way throughout the post. See if you can find the mistakes. Down a latka as you read. Your local deli probably has them. Down a virtual one if you have to, think of it as a very large, round french fry laced with onion. Dip it in apple sauce if you wish.

First of all, let's get the differences straight between Hannukkah and all the other December holidays. Leave out birthdays.

Like the others, I think, Chanucha is a happy holiday, and we have a pretty good time, all in all. Jewish children play with a cute little spinning top and we all light candles each night. The more careful among us buy electric menorahs (theme candelabras) to be sure there isn't a fire. But the more trusting among us light an additional flame each night with abandon, often with olive oil. As years go by we make less of a mess with the oil. It glows quite nicely even if there is a mess. The excess can always be used on the skin.

My brother-in-law tells me that you can't ever have too much olive oil in your life. He may be right.

Anyway, I feel that someone has to tell you that Channucha is not Xmas. It's not an imitation, has nothing remotely to do with that festival, except the timing sometimes, and we don't have a Santa, although I, personally, love the concept. My kids didn't even know there wasn't a tooth fairy until they were sixteen, so we can totally respect the concept of Santa, some of us, for sure.

This Festival of Lights (as some call Channucah) is a festival dedicated to differences. I'm surprised everyone doesn't celebrate it, honestly.

It's the original celebration of diversity.

You can read the whole story over at Judaism 101, but basically, here's the story:

Alexander the Great, a Greek emperor, went about conquering territory, and when he did, he allowed people to continue observing whatever they liked. He didn't make everyone worship Zeus or Athena or Dionysis or any of the Greek gods. And because he was so nice and the Greeks seemed to have so much fun and stayed so fit, under his rule many Jewish people adopted some of the Greek customs and their clothing, even language.

But more than a century later, a successor to Alex, Antiochus IV oppressed everyone who didn't go with his program. He prohibited the practice of the Jewish religion, particularly, and massacred the Jews, desecrated their Temple. He required the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar, knowing it repugnant to us. The Hitler of his time.

Not a nice guy. The Jews teamed up as a nation and revolted, basically took back their holy site and rededicated the Temple by lighting the everlasting flame with a tiny bit of pure olive oil. The oil had been left over, untainted by the invaders, and should have lasted only one night. But it burned for eight. That's why we get eight nights of Chanucha, eight nights to light olive oil, and for most of us, eight nights to lubricate life with pizza and latkes, anything greasy will do. And we drink wine, some of us, each night. But we drink as Jews used to drink, meaning, not a lot, not to get drunk.

And THE WOMEN, because they were instrumental in this victory, ARE NOT ALLOWED TO WORK while the candles are glowing. We settle into a comfy chair with a book and let our minds wander to where ever they may go. Or we talk on the phone. Or catch up on our favorite blogs.

Merry Xmas, everyone, and Happy Chanucha, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year. Don't drink too much, don't eat too much, and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy, for there has to be something, there has to be something to feel good about. And if you can't find anything, search for your best friend, that person inside who is always with you, always watching you, suffering right along with you. And talk a little Italian, if you can, with one another.


*A latka is a seriously fried potato pancake, a traditional Chanucha delight. Some eat them with apple sauce.

P.S. If you happen to be looking for a present for an accountant, or anyone who likes history or the history of big firms, I just read (okay, skimmed it, bought it for my nephew) The Sex of a Hippopotamus: A Unique History of Taxes and Accounting by Jay Starkman. You can get it at Amazon or through Jay's website.

P.S.S. Thanks to for the pictures of the menorah, wicks and oil, and to clipart, for the snowman.


Leora said…
Happy Hanukkah (that's how Wikipedia spells it, I looked it up).

I feel bad for your Italian friend. I don't want all the nice non-Jews of the world (and there are many!) to feel guilty; however, antisemitism did exist and still exists, so sometimes we Jews need to talk about it. But nice non-Jews should not feel bad or guilty, just continue to listen! Thanks.

Sex of a hippo? Will have to glance at it in a bookstore.
Barbara K. said…
What a wonderful telling of the Chanukah story. Have a good one.
Lisa Marie said…
As a long time reader, first time poster I thought it'd be a good time to start. Happy Hanukkah! What a great telling of the story. Thank you for your blog. I have learned a lot over the past 18 months from you.
RAK said…
Less mess with the olive oil as time goes by? Too bad my friend hasn't learned that one yet; he spilled olive oil all over my air conditioner (on top of which are the chanukiot)!
Anonymous said…
Chag Sameach to you. Keep up the good work.
Reas Kroicowl said…
Oh dear. I thought it was Hanukkah as well...

Is it not? Or are they one in the same?
Isle Dance said…
So educational and entertaining! My favorite combo! :o)
JJ said…
The Washington Post had an article in the travel section this Sunday about a re-created Hasmonean Village in Israel where school kids can take field trips to learn more about Hanukkah. I had never known what the significance about the oil lasting eight days was, but the article says it is significant because that's how long it takes for new olive oil to be made and consecrated. Is that true?

Oh, and my sister in law and I were just discussing Eat, Pray, Love yesterday! Funny timing.
Anonymous said…
If you love Italian opera (and everyone should experience the beauty!), be sure to try Gorecki's Symphony #3, especially movements 2 and 3. Gorgeous work with a soprano soloist, the version with Dawn Upshaw singing is the best. A bit more modern than Puccini, but Gorecki is a fascinating and very accessible composer.

-a musician that likes your blog :)
therapydoc said…
Thanks, all, especially Lisa Marie for your thanks, and Leora, Barbara, RAK, Ilana, and Isldance for your respective wisdoms. ANON, I will find Gorecki, you bet.

JJ, it's always a machloket (controversy) when you're talking anything Jewish.

Reas, if you're asking about spelling, they're all fine.
jeanie said…
lol I just finished an interesting book "Outwitting History" by Aaron Lansky and (surprise) many thoughts were of you and your stories by this particular Australian mongrel of absolutely no Jewish heritage whatsoever.

Thanks for the start of the story - they need telling.
Jack said…
Chag Sameach. Want to have fun, suggest that the Hashmonaim were our version of the Taliban. It is one of those discussions that generates more than a few sparks.
Cate Subrosa said…
Hope you are having a wonderful time.

I love when you write about Judaism, because then I get double the learning I always get here, and it's double as fascinating.
Tzipporah said…
Jack, yes, that's always a good conversation-starter.

And therapydoc, I know you like to keep your holiday stories just-so, but you might be interested in the archeological/historical/political records around Hanukkah (however transliterated), which suggest the whole thing was triggered by a power play both within the Greek power structure about taxes, and within Hebrew society b/c of rival factions trying to get the lucrative foreign-appointed position of chief priest.

Antiochus, it should be noted, didn't come down so heavy on everyone, just the Jews. And only within a specific political/economic context, so it may have been less about poly- vs. monotheism than about political theater.
nashbabe said…
I like the women-not-working-while-candles-lit thing. Very educational, yet quirky and fun. Like usual. :-)
Anja said…
And the same wishes to you too. Thank you for a wonderful stream of great posts. I always love reading your thoughts.
Anonymous said…
Great post, although the sour-on-on-latkes contingency says, "Hey! Why are you leaving us out?"