Last winter I was sitting at the 1029, the northeast Minneapolis cop bar with my now-ex-girlfriend, a copywriter.
Tacky shit and women's bras hung from the ceiling. A man in the bar was furiously buying pull-tabs in excesses of hundreds, like single men do at bars in the Midwest, in winter.
My ex was working on an assignment, jotting down the names of yule-themed trail mixes for her employer, Target. I wondered what it must be like to do the dance among the labyrinth of snack food taxonomy, to keep the message straight, to keep it from toeing the lines of multiculturalism. What kind of world would it be for a Jew to be naming Christmas-themed consumables? I likely will never know and will probably never see that day lived out on the shelf.
A couple days ago, I was off to Target to pick up supplies to make afternoon latkes because, fuck it, I am a freelancer who is underwhelmingly employed, and I needed a cube-grater, a peeler for the potatoes, and what-not. You go to Target when you need things.
I was on my way to the kitchen supplies department at the Northeast Quarry location when I saw the endcap -- those little displays placed at the end of an aisle -- to end all endcaps.
It was the Chanukah endcap.
It measured about three feet wide, six feet tall, and about a thousand yards short of anything comparable to the Christmas jubilation that the Scarlet Empire barfs out among its aisles year after year after year.
It felt accurate and inadequate, like most things in life. There were some schlocky Chanukkiahs without candles nearby, an inflatable l’chaim banner (a goy's favorite Hebrew saying... probably because they think it's just like "cheers," and references drinking?), some gelt, and a few tubes of Chanukah-themed wrapping paper because, fuck it, there are gifts, right? So many of the gifts. Eight nights of gifts. WRAP THE GIFTS!
Oh, and there were cards, and at least a third of them were "Chrismukkah" crossovers (and not an endorsed OC version).
While it seemed insufficient and jarring and pathetic, I quickly defaulted to my assimilated mind as an American Jew. “What else could I want? What else really is there for Chanukah?” I thought.
I didn’t have an answer. So I kept moving, gathered my supplies, and left to resume my latke lunch.
This sent me down a familiar spiraling, one that I have felt ever since I picked up a dreidel or invited my mom into my elementary school to teach my fellow classmates about Chanukah, my effort to ameliorate my early feelings of otherness. (As much as one can in a WASP-y southern New Hampshire town.)
As it turns out, Target has a plethora of Chanukah tchotchkes; there’s at least 100 of them on their website. There are items with Stars of David; there are neon signs, plates, onesies, dreidels, earrings, and glasses. There's a shirt moonlighting as a sweater (see the ugliness above), with one half displaying gingerbread men and the other half with menorahs.
Yet none of it, or very little, was to be found in the actual arena of the red rings.
The issue is not Target. The issue is the erasure of Chanukah, and the erasure of us “others” in this country. My whole life I have felt that I have to be obnoxiously seen when it comes to Chanukah, or gentiles will miss it entirely.
Historically, Chanukah was built out of a war with the Syrians and Greeks against the Maccabees, foregrounding the notion that Jews must re-dedicate themselves to the rebuilding of the Temple and to Judaism. By the 19th century it came to be, in America at least, that rabbis felt a need to provide their Jewish children with even footing next to their gentile counterparts around the holiday season.
It has set American Jews up for a moment to compare and feel equal. Yet last year was the highest year on record for anti-semitic hate crimes. Equal footing eludes us.
I have always felt this sense of “otherness,” and a duty to explain why Chanukah matters. Why I talk about it ad nauseum. Why I would maybe even consider buying tacky Chanukah garb from Target if there were more of it to buy.
Beyond material goods and the underpinnings of capitalism that plague us each holiday, I am asking that we see each other in the light, and that we brave seeing each other in our darkness, too.