Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Guest Post: An archaeological dig in Israel suggests how feasting became an important ritual


Natalie Munro, University of Connecticut

This holiday season millions of families will come together to celebrate their respective festivals and engage in myriad rituals. These may include exchanging gifts, singing songs, giving thanks, and most importantly, preparing and consuming the holiday feast.


Archaeological evidence shows that such communally shared meals have long been vital components of human rituals. My colleague Leore Grosman and I discovered the earliest evidence of a ritual feast at a 12,000-year-old archaeological site in northern Israel and learned how feasts came to be integral components of modern-day ritual practice.


First, what are rituals?


Rituals involve meaningful, often repeated actions. In modern-day practices they are expressed through rites such as the hooding of a doctoral student, birthdays, weddings or even sipping wine at Holy Communion or lighting Hanukkah candles.




Pompeii family feast painting Naples

Pompeii family feast painting, Naples.
Unknown painter before 79 AD, via Wikimedia Commons



Ritual practice may have emerged along with other early modern human behaviors more than 100,000 years ago. However, proving this with material evidence is a challenge. For example, researchers have found that both Neanderthals and early modern humans buried their dead, but scholars weren’t certain whether this was for spiritual or symbolic reasons and not for something more mundane like maintaining site hygiene. Likewise, the discovery of 100,000-year-old symbolic artifacts like pierced shell ornaments and decorated chunks of red ochre in caves in South Africa, was not sufficient to prove that they were part of any ritual activities.

It was only when archaeologists found these artifacts, placed in graves going back 40,000-20,000 years, that it was confirmed they were part of ritual practice.

The first feasts


We had a similar experience during our research. When Leore Grosman and I first embarked on the excavations at Hilazon Tachtit in the late 1990s, we were only hoping to document the activities of the last hunter-gatherers in Israel, at what appeared to be a small campsite. It was only over several seasons of excavation that it slowly became clear to us that this was not a site where people had lived. Rather it was a site for rituals.




Hilazon Tachtit cave interior. Naftali Hilger

Hilazon Tachtit cave interior.
Naftali Hilger, CC BY-NC-ND



No houses, fireplaces or cooking areas were recovered. Instead the cave yielded the skeletal remains of at least 28 individuals interred in three pits and two small structures.

One of these structures contained the complete skeleton of an older woman, who we interpreted as a shaman based on her special treatment at death. Her grave stood apart due to its fine construction – the walls were plastered with clay and inset with flat stone slabs. Even more remarkable was the eclectic array of animal body parts buried alongside of her. The pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of an eagle, the skulls of two martens and many other unusual body parts surrounded her skeleton.

The butchered remnants of more than 90 tortoises buried in the grave and the leftovers of at least three wild cattle deposited in a second adjacent depression excavated in the cave floor represent the remains of a funeral feast.




Hilazon Tachtit cave. Naftali Hilger

Hilazon Tachtit cave.
Naftali Hilger, CC BY-NC-ND



The outstanding preservation of the grave enabled us to detect multiple phases of a ritual performance that included the consumption of the feast, the burial of the woman, and the filling of the grave in several stages, including the intentional deposition of garbage from the feast.

Feasting at the beginning of agriculture


Archaeologists have found other sites that show evidence of ritual feasting. Many of these date to the time when humans were beginning to farm.




Site of Göbekli Tepe. Teomancimit

Site of Göbekli Tepe.
Teomancimit (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA




One of the most striking is the site of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey, dating slightly later than Hilazon Tachtit. It includes multiple large structures adorned with benches and giant stone slab carved with exquisite animal depictions in relief dating to 11-12,000 years ago. Perhaps, these were very early communal buildings. The archaeologists who excavated Göbekli Tepe argue that massive quantities of animal bones associated with the structures represent the remains of feasts.

Twelve thousand years ago humans were still hunter-gatherers, subsisting entirely on wild foods. Nevertheless, these people differed from those who went before – they were sitting on the brink of the transition to agriculture, one of the most significant economic, social and ideological transformations in human history.

Sickle blades and grinding stones used to harvest and process cereal grains are found at Hilazon Tachtit and other contemporary archaeological sites. These findings indicate that these ritual feasts started around the same time that people adopted agriculture. When people began to rely more heavily on wild cereals like wheat and barley, they became increasingly tethered to landscapes that were ever more crowded and began to settle into more permanent communities. In other words, feasting became a part of their life, once they moved away from nomadic life.

Rituals that bind


These feasts had an important role to play. Adapting to village life after hundreds of millennia on the move was no simple act. Research on modern hunter-gatherer societies shows that closer contact between neighbors dramatically increased social tensions. New solutions to avoid and repair conflict were critical.

The simultaneous appearance of feasting, communal structures and specialized ritual sites suggest that humans were seeking to solve this problem by engaging the community in ritual practice.

One of the central functions of ritual in these communities was to provide a kind of social glue that bound community members by promoting social cohesion and solidarity. Feasts generate loyalty and commitment to the community’s success. Sharing food is intimate and it builds trust.

Communal rituals would have provided a shared sense of identity at a time when social circles were increasing in scale and permanence. They reinforced new ideologies that emerged out of a dramatic reorganization of economic and social life.

Role of feasts today

Feasting plays the same essential role today. Like the earliest feasts, our holiday celebrations are replete with actions that are repeated year after year.

The holiday feast today builds family traditions. By cooking and sharing food together, telling stories of past holidays and exchanging intergenerational wisdom, holiday rituals bond extended families and give them a shared identity.The Conversation

Natalie Munro, Professor, University of Connecticut

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



Monday, December 10, 2018

Guest Post: How to survive annoying relatives this holiday season

Jamie Gruman, University of Guelph

Social allergies are a lot like seasonal allergies. They’re annoying, exhausting and hard to avoid. They’re also especially common around the holidays. That’s because the holidays put you at a high risk of exposure. Swap the dander and flourishing ragweed for your not-so-favourite acquaintances and intolerable relatives and there you have it — a full-blown case of social allergies.

Merry Christmas Polish Poland ornamentsSocial allergens are the revolting, repetitive habits of our friends and family members that rub us the wrong way and drive us crazy.

Maybe it’s the way your aunt constantly complains about frivolous things. Or perhaps it’s how your father-in-law smacks his lips and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand when he eats. Or could it be the way your cousin can’t have a conversation without droning on about himself?

All of us have allergies to people whose seemingly inconsequential behaviour repulses us. The emotional and physical symptoms these social allergens produce arise within minutes of exposure, making us want to immediately evacuate the toxic environment.

The holiday season social allergy


Like seasonal allergies, social allergies are sometimes inescapable. Triggers include the many obligatory get-togethers that come with the holidays. For many, the season, beginning with American Thanksgiving, is supposed to be a time to recharge our batteries: recover from the unreasonable deadlines, numerous pressures and other demands we face on a daily basis. Social allergies can interfere with that plan.

During the holiday season, we are faced with numerous social commitments and in some cases this means spending time with people who grate on our nerves and hinder us from refuelling. Rather than having a few days off to decompress, we spend our time away from work filled with dread, anxiety and exasperation because we have to endure people we are allergic to.

Although we can get out of some noxious social situations, there are others that are almost mandatory.

So, what are the social antihistamines that will help us cope?

Limit exposure


One effective way to prevent a social allergic reaction is to limit your exposure. In the same way a person allergic to cats should avoid snuggling up in bed with a pride of domestic felines, a person with social allergies should avoid staying in an environment full of social allergens.

By minimizing the amount of time you are in contact with the allergens, you attack the problem directly, fostering resilience and recovery by reducing your exposure to a hazardous situation.

This means leave early or come late. Have a strategy to restrict the amount of time you spend surrounded by your social allergens. While you are at the gathering, be strategic about the social situations you place yourself in. When finding a spot at the dinner table, don’t sit next to Cousin So-and-so or Aunt M and definitely don’t sit in full view of your lip-smacking father-in-law. Find a place setting that allows you to have a break from your social allergens.


Validate


We have the power to exert some control over many social allergens.

For example, when speaking with a self-centred toxic relative, she’s looking for a certain type of reaction from you. In many cases, the wanted reaction is simple: it’s support and validation.

While you may want to shut off the stream coming out of auntie’s mouth, this will not actually help calm your allergic reaction. But if you spend some time to first provide the validation she seeks, you could potentially satisfy her craving and extinguish the behaviour you find repellent.

Give feedback


If you can no longer tolerate seeing scraps of food on the back of your father-in-law’s hand, consider speaking to him about his eating habits. But remember that conversations not only convey information, they also have implications for relationships and identities.

Make it clear that you want to help him avoid embarrassing himself and that you’re speaking to him about this because you love him. And see if you can bring up the topic indirectly so that you don’t come across as intrusive. Giving feedback to people often fails to change their behaviour if we’re not sensitive about how it might be received.

Mindfulness


If giving feedback to your father-in-law doesn’t seem like the best idea, you can instead try practising mindfulness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental state of present moment awareness.

When social allergens start bothering you, pay attention to your own internal irritation without evaluating it. Don’t cling to it and don’t push it away. Just follow it. Watching the ebbs and flows of your experience has a way of putting distance between you and your reactions through a process called reperceiving.

Mindfulness won’t necessarily prevent the allergen from bothering you, but it will help you control how much it annoys you and how quickly you recover from its effects.

Social allergies can burn you out and change a relaxing holiday into a stressful test of endurance. To get a boost during holiday time, you need to make sure that you spend your time with people who recharge and revitalize you.

Also, mitigate your averse reaction to people’s annoying habits. A few simple steps can transform your holiday into one that lets you enjoy a happy, healthy break, instead of having to contend with social allergies.

The author thanks Deirdre Healey’s assistance with this article.The Conversation

Jamie Gruman, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



Saturday, December 08, 2018

Guest Post: We found grizzly, black and polar bears together for the first time

Douglas Clark, University of Saskatchewan

North America’s three bear species — black bears, grizzly bears and polar bears — don’t typically live in the same place. But in Wapusk National Park, on the west coast of Hudson Bay, in northern Manitoba, we caught all three bears on camera — for the first time.

My colleagues and I began studying the bears in Wapusk in 2011, after more polar bears than expected began visiting new field camps in the park. We used remote cameras — a widespread, economical and non-invasive tool for studying wildlife — to find out why and when the polar bears were visiting these camps.

The cameras picked up more than 366 visits by polar bears to the camps in five years. They also detected other bears.

A bevy of bears


Wapusk is best known for its polar bears. They come ashore in the summer and autumn when the sea ice in Hudson Bay melts. Some stay for the winter to den in the permafrost where they give birth. What we see on the cameras reflects that pattern.

But Wapusk also lies along the northern edge of the boreal forest, where black bears are well established. We saw them too, but we were surprised that their visits to our most southerly cameras, on the Owl River, were almost as numerous as those by polar bears.




Grizzly bears Wapusk National Park.

Grizzly bears visited all three study sites along the coast of Wapusk National Park.
(Douglas Clark), CC BY-ND



What was new to us were the grizzlies. It wasn’t just one or two transient bears, but several, and we suspect at least one of them may be denning there.

Barren-ground grizzly bears have been expanding their range across the Arctic in recent decades. In Wapusk, they’ve been increasingly frequent since the 1990s, and have even shown up in the nearby town of Churchill.

Ecosystem convergence


There’s much our observations don’t tell us, but they are significant for conservation efforts and, more fundamentally, for understanding what to do with these new ecological insights.

Three dynamic ecosystems — forest, tundra and ocean — converge at Wapusk, and all are changing quickly as the Arctic warms.

What we’ve seen in Wapusk is consistent with how researchers expect northern carnivore populations to respond to climate change. The waking life of all bear species is governed by their need to accumulate fat stores for the next hibernation, so this overlap is most likely a response to changes in the availability of bear foods. Which foods, however, we don’t yet know.




polar bears Wapusk National Park

Three polar bears walk past a camera trap in Wapusk National Park.
(Douglas Clark), CC BY-ND



We also don’t know how these species interact with each other, but we predict that grizzlies will benefit most since they dominate both other species elsewhere.

Grizzly bears have displaced and eaten black bears and polar bears in other places, and polar-grizzly hybrids have been documented in the Northwest Territories. It’s clear that the potential for hybridization exists in western Hudson Bay too.

Polar bears and grizzly bears face conservation challenges in many parts of Canada. Learning more about they way they interact with each other — and their surroundings — would probably tell us more about why they are now inhabiting the same place.

Controversial change


But how might we use this information?

When environmental changes occur in national parks, they often become controversial. People often assume the conditions present when the park was established, or the status quo, are “baselines” that must be protected, even though they may just be snapshots in ecological time.

Change has become increasingly central in ecological theory, and its implications have produced heated debate within the conservation community.




Black bears boreal forest Wapusk National Park.

Black bears are well established in the boreal forest of Wapusk National Park.
(Douglas Clark), CC BY-ND



This matters for the grizzly because its expansion into the Arctic has been portrayed as a threat to polar bears. Some argue such a threat should be removed.

In 1998, when I worked in Wapusk, I was told by a manager to get rid of the first grizzly we saw. (I didn’t.)

Such actions might not be wise since the long and complex evolutionary relationship between grizzlies and polar bears suggests their populations have, at times, benefited from the other.

Instead of looking at this new range overlap as a risk to any of the bears, my colleagues and I think it should be viewed as an ecological response to environmental change that needs to be better understood.

What’s at stake?


While locals may not be surprised by this scientific observation of the three bears, it is a novel situation that we can learn from — and one that matters beyond northern Manitoba.

Climate change will continue to move species around and create new combinations of them. It’s no easy task for wildlife or park managers to determine which environmental changes are desirable and which aren’t.

Wapusk, however, is a co-managed park that aims to integrate scientific and traditional knowledge with human values. It is equipped for addressing these hard questions. And the question of how to navigate increasing environmental variability more effectively — while recognizing the stakes local people have in these conservation decisions — is the biggest challenge environmental managers face today.

This particular story of the three bears isn’t over, and we don’t know how it will end. Consequently, we need to bring a heavy dose of humility to answering the scientific and societal questions the three bears have handed us.The Conversation

Douglas Clark, Centennial Chair in Human Dimensions of Environment & Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Guest Post: Why adult video stars rely on camming

Sophie Pezzutto, Australian National University

With pirated and amateur pornography widely available online, porn no longer provides a steady income for many working in the adult industry. During my research interviewing transgender porn stars in Las Vegas, the overwhelming majority of those interviewed said that now, more than ever, they rely on a variety of other income streams beyond the traditional porno shoot with a studio.

Being a porn star today typically involves a range of sex work, from selling self-produced clips, to offering phone sex services, being an escort, taking care of “sugar daddies” (i.e. rich, usually older men), or “camming” on the internet. Previously regarded as not worth the time for many porn stars, using a webcam from the comfort of one’s home to broadcast oneself masturbating or having sex has emerged as a popular choice.

Indeed, while just 15 years ago, pre-recorded porn such as DVDs, pay sites, and clips generated twice as much revenue worldwide as camming, today that ratio has been reversed. In 2018, the camming industry is estimated to generate US$2 billion in annual revenue worldwide, according to Stephen Yagielowicz, a spokesperson for XBIZ, the adult industry’s leading business publication.

The daily life of a cam performer


porn star coming out “Camming” can be likened to an online strip show where the cam performer uses the webcam on their computer to put on a show for anyone in their chat room. The performer usually sets tipping goals and the more people tip by pledging tokens, the more happens on screen.

Typically, it involves numerous sex toys and ultimately orgasm, but many of the shows get very creative. They can feature anything from fortune wheels and costumes, to “couple shows” with partners and guest appearances from other cam performers.

During the show, viewers get to chat with the cam performer, often requesting sexual acts and sometimes simply asking them questions about their life. There are no fixed rules on length and format of a cam show, but it usually takes anywhere from one to four hours. Many of my informants in Las Vegas cam anywhere between two to six hours a day, multiple times a week.

Cam performers usually run sessions in intervals, timing them to coincide with office hours in big cities on the east coast such as New York and Chicago: one cam show in the morning just before offices open, one during lunch break, and one just before people head home to their families.

While not all cam models shoot studio porn, many porn performers are increasingly camming. Established trans porn stars can make anywhere around US $100 - $200 an hour through camming: “As porn performers we are able to leverage our already existing fan base”, one of my main informants explained to me. For last year’s Christmas special her chat room peaked at 30,000 viewers – the average size of a Mets baseball game.

The changing structure of porn


Porn performers in the industry are generally contracted and paid on a shoot by shoot basis. Trans women in porn generally make anywhere between US$800-1,200 for a sex scene that involves penetration (which is slightly higher than the average cisgender performer, but lower than the highest paid cisgender stars). The number of shoots however, fluctuate a lot. A performer can get booked up to six times a month (in some instances even more), but other months they might not get booked at all.




Read more:
Explainer: what does it mean to be 'cisgender'?






“After they’ve shot you a bunch of times, there usually is a month or two where you don’t get any shoots”, one research participant told me. As a consequence, performers may go several months without a single shoot, which makes budgeting extremely difficult.

In addition to this income insecurity, there are numerous expenses not covered by the companies hiring the performers, such as wardrobe, STI testing, transportation, and accommodation costs. “Factoring in all my expenses and the money I lose from not camming, porn does not really make me money”, said one of my informants. “I see porn mainly as a marketing tool for myself.”

Camming is booming and here to stay


Camming has proven itself more resilient to piracy than studio pornography primarily due to the personal nature of cam shows. “For many viewers it is a unique opportunity to interact with their favourite porn star on a regular basis,” one participant remarked. “That’s something they don’t get from regular porn”.

As a consequence the camming industry has boomed and income from it can make up most of even a well-known porn star’s earnings. Work is not only more consistent, but also much safer: “If I focus on making my money with solo shows then I don’t even have to worry anymore about HIV scares in the industry,” one of my participants pointed out after a recent incident.

At the same time however, camming can be very tough work. One informant told me: “some days I end up crying because people either don’t tip you for hours at a time or tip you just to say nasty things”. Further, cam companies, which host web cam performers, take incredibly high commissions of anywhere between 50 – 70% on every dollar earned by the cam performer.

These draw-backs notwithstanding, camming is set to grow with more and more porn stars relying on it to provide a regular income. Given the various risks of much other sex work, this might not necessarily be a bad thing.The Conversation

Sophie Pezzutto, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

From the Archives: Virginia politicians rush to remember Nelson Mandela, pay tribute on Twitter

Virginia politicians rush to remember Nelson Mandela, pay tribute on Twitter
December 5, 2013 6:05 PM MST

Nelson Mandela ANCNobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, the first non-Afrikaner president of the Republic of South Africa, died on December 5 at the age of 95.

Within hours of the announcement of Mandela's death, Virginia politicians issued statements of remembrance and appreciation.

In a press release, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell called Mandela “one of the true giants of history.”

McDonnell went on to say that the man known by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, “lived a life that broke down barriers, tore down walls, and lifted up a nation, a people, and a world. All Virginians can learn from his example, and I encourage the citizens of this state, especially our young people” to study his life.

Mandela, the Virginia governor added, showed “us the incredible good one person can do; he has demonstrated the unique, positive power each life contains... This is a better world for the long and uplifting life of Nelson Mandela.”

Facebook and Twitter

Former Governor Jim Gilmore posted on his Facebook page that his “heart is filled with grief after hearing the news that one of the most celebrated leaders of our time, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, has died. My heart goes out to the nation he helped transform, to all of those who lives he touched and the generation of activists he inspired.”

Former Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who was the first African-American governor elected in any state since reconstruction, paid tribute by retweeting a video of Mandela's speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Other Virginia political leaders also took to Twitter to pay their respects.

Senator Mark Warner said “Few people in history have represented such a positive, lifelong force for change.” His colleague, Senator Tim Kaine, added that the “world has lost a great leader & advocate for equality [with the] loss of Pres. Mandela & I join millions across the globe in mourning his passing.”

'Inspirational'

Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA1) tweeted that “Nelson Mandela brought together a nation divided. He was an inspirational & uniting leader during time of challenge and disunity in [South] Africa,” adding that “today we remember his efforts in bringing a country together.”


Virginia politicians remember Nelson Mandela
Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA2) offered his “prayers for the Mandela family and those mourning in South Africa,” a thought echoed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA6), who said he was “saddened to hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela. Prayers with his family and the people of South Africa.”

So far alone among Virginia Members of Congress to do so, Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA9) issued a press release that said, in part, that “the world has lost one of its great leaders. Nelson Mandela was a leader of courage who led South Africa after apartheid. While he could have done like so many other leaders in emerging nations have done and created a country where he became a president or ruler for life, he did not turn his back on the principles of representative government. Nelson Mandela’s journey is over on this earth, but his ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ will never be forgotten.” (“Long Walk to Freedom” is a reference to Mandela's best-selling autobiography.)

'Transformative'

Eighth District Representative Jim Moran (D) said that the “world lost a great man today in Nelson Mandela. What an incredible life filled with courage and hope,” while his Eleventh District colleague, fellow Democrat Gerry Connolly, tweeted that “Nelson Mandela's passing reminds us that one transformative individual can make a profound and positive difference in this troubled world.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA7) praised Mandela for his “lifelong commitment to justice and human rights,” adding that “his legacy should serve as an example for all of us.”

The dean of Virginia's congressional delegation, Frank Wolf (R-VA10), wrote that “Nelson Mandela’s unyielding fight against apartheid was heroic and evidence of an unyielding belief in the basic dignity of every person.”


Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on December 5, 2013. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Guest Post: How Hanukkah came to America


Dianne Ashton, Rowan University

Hanukkah may be the best known Jewish holiday in the United States. But despite its popularity in the U.S., Hanukkah is ranked one of Judaism’s minor festivals, and nowhere else does it garner such attention. The holiday is mostly a domestic celebration, although special holiday prayers also expand synagogue worship.

So how did Hanukkah attain its special place in America?

Hanukkah’s back story


The word “Hanukkah” means dedication. It commemorates the rededicating of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. when Jews – led by a band of brothers called the Maccabees – tossed out statues of Hellenic gods that had been placed there by King Antiochus IV when he conquered Judea. Antiochus aimed to plant Hellenic culture throughout his kingdom, and that included worshipping its gods.

Legend has it that during the dedication, as people prepared to light the Temple’s large oil lamps to signify the presence of God, only a tiny bit of holy oil could be found. Yet, that little bit of oil remained alight for eight days until more could be prepared. Thus, each Hanukkah evening, for eight nights, Jews light a candle, adding an additional one as the holiday progresses throughout the festival.

Hanukkah’s American story


Dianne Ashton Hanukkah in America Chanukah historyToday, America is home to almost 7 million Jews. But Jews did not always find it easy to be Jewish in America. Until the late 19th century, America’s Jewish population was very small and grew to only as many as 250,000 in 1880. The basic goods of Jewish religious life – such as kosher meat and candles, Torah scrolls, and Jewish calendars – were often hard to find.

In those early days, major Jewish religious events took special planning and effort, and minor festivals like Hanukkah often slipped by unnoticed.

My own study of American Jewish history has recently focused on Hanukkah’s development.

It began with a simple holiday hymn written in 1840 by Penina Moise, a Jewish Sunday school teacher in Charleston, South Carolina. Her evangelical Christian neighbors worked hard to bring the local Jews into the Christian fold. They urged Jews to agree that only by becoming Christian could they attain God’s love and ultimately reach Heaven.

Moise, a famed poet, saw the holiday celebrating dedication to Judaism as an occasion to inspire Jewish dedication despite Christian challenges. Her congregation, Beth Elohim, publicized the hymn by including it in their hymnbook.

This English language hymn expressed a feeling common to many American Jews living as a tiny minority. “Great Arbiter of human fate whose glory ne'er decays,” Moise began the hymn, “To Thee alone we dedicate the song and soul of praise.”

It became a favorite among American Jews and could be heard in congregations around the country for another century.

Shortly after the Civil War, Cincinnati Rabbi Max Lilienthal learned about special Christmas events for children held in some local churches. To adapt them for children in his own congregation, he created a Hanukkah assembly where the holiday’s story was told, blessings and hymns were sung, candles were lighted and sweets were distributed to the children.

His friend, Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, created a similar event for his own congregation. Wise and Lilienthal edited national Jewish magazines where they publicized these innovative Hanukkah assemblies, encouraging other congregations to establish their own.

Lilienthal and Wise also aimed to reform Judaism, streamlining it and emphasizing the rabbi’s role as teacher. Because they felt their changes would help Judaism survive in the modern age, they called themselves “Modern Maccabees.” Through their efforts, special Hanukkah events for children became standard in American synagogues.

20th-century expansion


By 1900, industrial America produced the abundance of goods exchanged each Dec. 25. Christmas’ domestic celebrations and gifts to children provided a shared religious experience to American Christians otherwise separated by denominational divisions. As a home celebration, it sidestepped the theological and institutional loyalties voiced in churches.

For the 2.3 million Jewish immigrants who entered the U.S. between 1881 and 1924, providing their children with gifts in December proved they were becoming American and obtaining a better life.

But by giving those gifts at Hanukkah, instead of adopting Christmas, they also expressed their own ideals of American religious freedom, as well as their own dedication to Judaism.

After World War II, many Jews relocated from urban centers. Suburban Jewish children often comprised small minorities in public schools and found themselves coerced to participate in Christmas assemblies. Teachers, administrators and peers often pressured them to sing Christian hymns and assert statements of Christian faith.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, as Jewish parents argued for their children’s right to freedom from religious coercion, they also embellished Hanukkah. Suburban synagogues expanded their Hanukkah programming.

As I detail in my book, Jewish families embellished domestic Hanukkah celebrations with decorations, nightly gifts and holiday parties to enhance Hanukkah’s impact. In suburbia, Hanukkah’s theme of dedication to Judaism shone with special meaning. Rabbinical associations, national Jewish clubs and advertisers of Hanukkah goods carried the ideas for expanded Hanukkah festivities nationwide.

In the 21st century, Hanukkah accomplishes many tasks. Amid Christmas, it reminds Jews of Jewish dedication. Its domestic celebration enhances Jewish family life. In its similarity to Christmas domestic gift-giving, Hanukkah makes Judaism attractive to children and – according to my college students – relatable to Jews’ Christian neighbors. In many interfaith families, this shared festivity furthers domestic tranquility.

In America, this minor festival has attained major significance.The Conversation

Dianne Ashton, Professor of Religion, Rowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.