Learn About Chanukah Through Comics

Marvel-Chanukah-logo1

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 comparing turkeys to dreidels or latkes to pilgrims. Instead, this article will share the story of Chanukah through comic analogies, just what you need to get you into the holiday spirit.

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

First, 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 Chanukah’s proximity to Christmas, it is the most well-known holiday. Chanukah is sort of like Marvel’s Secret Wars mini-series from the mid 80s–most comic fans read it but the crossover was not that important.

The origin of Chanukah starts now:

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-Chanukah

A Greek 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 civilizations. Alexander was actually a decent guy to the Jews that lived on his land. He let the Jews keep it real and practice their own faith, hence why we still name kids after him. Yay, Alex!

After some time (over a hundred years), some schmuck named Antiochus IV took over the Greek empire in 175 BCE and he was a racist, oppressive pain in our tuchas, the ancient version of Bastion, William Stryker, Bolivar Trask, Cameron Hodge, and all the other mutant hating bigots, amalgamated into a murdering monster. And this dude also had his own form of sentinels, aka the Greek army. Instead of mutants, he targeted the Jewish minority, forcing Hellenism upon us.

Fast forward to 168 B.C.E., the Greek soldiers took the Temple and turned it into a house of worship for the Greek G-D Zeus. Soon, Antiochus outlawed Judaism and started knocking off Jews. A 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 came in a small package, but we packed great strength. The Greek army was well trained, organized and armed with top weapons. The Jewish army… not so much. This battle was essentially Spider-Man vs his entire rogues gallery. But the Maccabees won and took back the temple.

After making the Temple Jewy again, we needed oil to light our menorah, 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! Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which gave us time to make more. The word Chanukah means “dedication,” because the Maccabees rededicated the temple.

Jack Kirby's Chanukah card.
Jack Kirby’s Chanukah card.

Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil lasting, not our military victory, because Jews aren’t supposed to celebrate war.

Kittypryde_inkMost Jewish holidays are private and intimate, but on Chanukah we put our menorahs visibly in our windows to show our pride. Pirsumei nissa means “the publicizing of the miracle.” The best mainstream representation of this in comics is the X-Men character Kitty Pryde, who displays her Judaism by wearing a star of David necklace at most times.

Because of the comparisons to Christmas, Chanukah is often seen more for its material aspect than its spiritual values. In actuality, 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 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.

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!

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.

Author
Jay Deitcher is a writer and licensed social worker from Albany, NY. He is currently taking MFA courses at the College of St. Rose. You can read his other work at JayDeitcher.com.