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Learn About Chanukah Through Comics

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Marvel Chanukah logo11 590x196 Learn About Chanukah Through Comics

Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility, your bi-weekly dose of Jews and comics!

I want to wish my Yiddish brothers and sisters a happy Chanukah, my American readers a happy Thanksgiving, and my peeps all around the universe a wonderful day. Due the annoyingly large amount of Thanksgivinukah jokes that have infiltrated the internet, I promise there will be no humor comparing turkeys to dreidels or latkes to pilgrims. Instead, this article will share the story of Chanukah through clever comic analogies, just what you needed to get you into the holiday spirit!

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Warning, lighting menorah candles via eyeball lasers is not actually kosher.

An important thing for everyone to know is that Chanukah is NOT the Jewish Christmas! Many other Jewish holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover and Shavu’ot, are much more significant than Chanukah, but because of its proximity to Christmas, it is the most well-known holiday. Chanukah is sort of like Marvel’s Secret Wars mini-series from the mid 80’s- most comic fans read it but the crossover was really not all that important.

The tale of Chanukah is a lot like Watchmen. Errrr, actually, it is not much like Watchmen at all. But Watchmen does have Nite Owl in it, and he is a Jew, so yay!

The origin of Chanukah starts now. Here we gooooooooo:

A long time ago in a land far, far away (unless you live in Israel. In that case, ignore this bad Star Wars reference)…Marvel Chanukah1 Learn About Chanukah Through Comics

A dude named Alexander the Great took over a crapload of the world including Syria, Egypt and Palestine. He was a little like Galactus but smaller, less purple, not as stupid looking and instead of eating planets, he only conquered other civilizations. Alexander was actually a decent guy to the Jews that lived on his lands. He let the Jews keep it real and practice their own faith. Yay, Alex!

After some time (over a hundred years), some new schmuck named Antiochus IV took over the Greek empire in 175 BCE and he was a total pain in our tuchas. He was a super racist, oppressive, monstrous butt-head. Antiochus was the ancient version of Bastion, William Stryker, Stephen Lang, Bolivar Trask, Graydon Creed and Cameron Hodge, smashed together into a very powerful murdering package. And this dude also had his own form of sentinels, aka the Greek army. Instead of mutants, this schmoogle targeted the Jewish minority, and he used his power to force Hellenism upon us.

Fast forward to 168 B.C.E., the Greek soldiers took over the Temple and turned it into a house of worship for the Greek G-D Zeus. Soon after, Antiochus outlawed Judaism and started knocking off Jews. Eventually, some Jews got sick of the bull crap and fought back. This small group of Yids, the Maccabees, went into battle against the HUGE Greek army. Maccabee comes from the Hebrew word for hammer. Like Thor’s mighty hammer, the Maccabees may have come in a small package, but we packed great strength. The Greek army was well trained, organized, brutal and armed with the latest weapons for murder. The Jewish army,… not so much. This battle was essentially Spider-Man vs his entire rogues gallery. But the brave Maccabees won and took back their land and temple.

After making the Temple nice and Jewy again, we needed oil to light our menorah. Back then, lighting the menorah was an important aspect of the daily prayer services in the temple. But we only had enough to light the menorah for one day and it would take eight days to make more. SUPER OY! Somehow, miraculously the oil burned for eight entire days, which gave us just enough time to make more oil to keep the Temple lit up, baby! The word Chanukah means “dedication,” because the Maccabees rededicated the temple.

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Jack Kirby’s Chanukah card.

Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, not our military victory, because Jews do not celebrate war.

Chanukah is called the “festival of lights.” In a world of racism and ignorance, minorities need to see the light and hope for our future. Light has been a theme throughout X-Men comics. When Professor X uses his Cerebro to look for mutant life, they appear in the form of lights. During the period after M-day, there were less than 200 mutants living in a world that feared and hated them. With mutants facing extinction, one mutant child was born. She was named Hope and had a flowing head of flaming red hair. After her “second coming,” five more mutants were born, which the X-Men called the five lights.

Kittypryde ink 549x700 Learn About Chanukah Through ComicsOn Chanukah we let our light shine for the world to see. It is a holiday of pride. We put our menorahs visibly in our windows to show we are proud of who we are and are dedicated to our faith. Most Jewish holidays are private and intimate, but on Chanukah we show the world we are proud of who we are. Pirsumei nissa means “the publicizing of the miracle.” The best mainstream representation of this in comics is Kitty Pryde , who proudly displays her Jewish pride.

Like all the great heroes, Jews yearn to be the best people we can be (OK, that is a bit of a stretch, not all of us do, but we should). The flames are symbolic of our yearning for the morals and values of our faith.

Because of the comparisons to Christmas, Chanukah is often seen more for its material and commercial aspect than its spiritual values. In actuality, historically gift giving was not such a prominent aspect of the holiday. Jews traditionally would give gelt (small amounts of money) but we never tried to compete with Santa in present giving.  I’m not about to preach to you about not giving gifts, heck, GIVE ME GIFTS. But recognize that this holiday is about more than us feeling sad that Santa never visits our houses. This year, don’t forget to give tzedakah to your favorite charities (here is a list of my favorite comic related do-gooders) and perform mitzvahs to help heal the world.

When we spin our dreidels faster than the Red Tornado, let’s remember that the original dreidels were spun because we had to hide our Jewish practices. During the time of Antiochus, Jewish children would gather around to study Torah. They would have someone on lookout, and if the Greek guards came they would hide the books and instead make believe they were playing Dreidel. Luckily, in most cases, today Jews can practice our faith openly. To get back to my corny preaching, today, we should cherish our heritage. Jew it up, baby! Let’s celebrate our traditions and culture and the diversity around us.

So eat your greasy latkes and sufganiot, love your family and munch on waaaay too many chocolate coins. Chag Chanukah sameach to mutants and flatscans alike!

Nes Gadol Hayah Sham—a great miracle happened there.

Sources:  Jewfaq, Chabad, MyJewishLearning, JewishHistory, Rich Ellis, My Brain

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Jay Deitcher, LMSW(@mrdeitcher) is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly.  You can see a listing of his incredible articles at JayDeitcher.com.

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