My sub-theme is Hanukkah! I initially thought I would need to interview three Jews. It was really hard to find three Jews to interview since I was visiting a private Catholic college this weekend. Instead, I interviewed people with a range of experience levels surrounding Hanukkah. I think this actually turned out being somewhat beneficial because there was a fresh take on Hanukkah as well and opened up the question of whether or not educating about other religions in schools growing up is important.
Interview 1: Katie P.
Katie is a Catholic, but had a close childhood Jewish friend growing up so she has celebrated Hanukkah multiple years.
What does Hanukkah mean to you?
I know it is a Jewish holiday with eight nights. It is a fun celebration bringing people together, but I don't necessarily know the history behind it.
Tell me about some memories you have surrounding Hanukkah.
I did celebrate with a very good friend of mine growing up actually. I remember we would play dreidel and I even got a few presents, which was awesome and the food was delicious. We'd have potato pancakes with apple sauce. I had never had them before and it was so yummy. I also remember some songs.
Tell me more about the games you played.
Dreidel was a lot of fun. It's really cool how something that simple can be that engaging, especially today where everything has to be so complicated to keep people's attention. The rules are just so simple and it is very family centered.
Why is it family centered?
I really think it brings families together. When I think of the game, I just envision chocolate coins, laughter, and everyone jointly having a great time.
Tell me about experiencing the lighting of the candles with the menorah.
It kind of reminds me of Christmas, when you have a Christmas tree lit up at night, being in a dark room and having the light be the focus of everyone's attention--it was nice.
Interview 2: Maggie W.
Maggie doesn't identify with any organized religion, but grew up with exposure to the Catholic faith. She had never celebrated Hanukkah before and didn't know much about the holiday.
Tell me about any exposure you have with the Jewish faith.
I actually didn't know any Jews growing up.
What do you think of when I say Hanukkah?
Well I really like Adam Sandler. Through his song and movie I learned the gist of Hanukkah. I guess I think of it as the equivalent to Christmas. It sounds super cool to have eight nights and presents.
How was it not growing up with exposure to a holiday that so many people celebrate?
It was weird. I kind of wish I had Jewish friends. I definitely wish I had more exposure to the holiday and religion and had less homogeneity, more diversity.
Tell me about any activities or traditions you think of related to Hanukkah.
Well, lighting the candles of the menorah. There's food--potato pancakes are so good! Since I'm Polish we make those too. Then there's praying, maybe reading from the torah? There are yamakahs. But I don't really know much. I wish I learned more about all of this in school.
I think it's important to learn about other people's religions and traditions because it gives you perspective. Comparative religions is important. Religion can be such a polarizing thing and historically has been a very polarizing phenomenon on the world. It shouldn't have to be that way. Instead, it could bring people together. If you learn about others' backgrounds, you'll have more respect for who people are and there would be less jump to prejudice.
Interview 3: Rachel D.
Rachel grew up Jewish, but identifies with the religion more culturally than religiously. She celebrated Hanukkah growing up.
What does Hanukkah mean to you?
Not much anymore, considering my family lost touch with most holidays in general.
What did it mean to you growing up?
It was a special celebration where I would see my Dad's side of the family more. It would bring that side of the family together.
Tell me about some traditions you partook in?
We would say a prayer at dinner and sing a prayer while lighting the candles. We had a lot of great food and all of that. Then we had dreidels, but we didn't really play. We also didn't really do gifts. We do the same thing for passover, just sticking to the standard prayer ceremony part of the holiday.
We're just not really into holidays as a family. Also, my family is very traditional about stuff and gifts weren't a thing for us because it was more just in the spirit of what the holiday meant. Also, we're South African and that was more the focus.
You said that for you Hanukkah brought your family together, tell me more about any fond memories you have.
Well, I just always remember it being special. The food was a big part of it. My mom would always make latkes and we would also make a lot of the traditional passover foods for Hanukkah as well. Experiencing Hanukkah all around was different for me too though since I didn't know any other Jewish friends. I always got made fun of for being the only Jewish kid in my neighborhood.
How did that feel?
Well I didn't really celebrate any other winter holidays, but I didn't feel left out because I wouldn't want to celebrate something that I don't identify with. I at least identify with Judaism culturally.
After the interviews... I observed the three participants playing dreidel. Candy was used to barter with in placement of chocolate coins. After a while, I joined in to experience the action as well. Following are some pictures of the dreidel games and then observatory/experiential notes:
- The dreidel would get stuck in the cracks of the wooden coffee table sometimes which would alter its spin.
- The dreidel often would spin off the table.
- The game really did bring players together. Lots of laughter was had!
- Extreme excitement enveloped a player when they had a really solid spin, but high feelings of defeat were observed as well when someone repeatedly couldn't get it to spin well.
- It was sometimes hard to read the symbols on the dreidel because of the poor contrast. It would take longer than everyone would have liked to distinguish what side they ended up with.
- There was lots of confusion with the meaning of the symbols, participants easily forgot their meanings, even those of the Jewish faith.
- The reward of candy or chocolate coins was very important to the game to keep up the level of excitement with this outlet for motivation. Everyone loves candy/treats!
Suggestions for Areas of Improvement:
- Maintaining quality spin of the dreidel was hard due to outside factors of the cracks of the table and the limiting size of the table. Something that would provide a better platform with boundaries would be ideal.
- The confusion with the symbols and ease of reading the symbols was another large issue. Something that makes the symbols more noticeable and more familiar would help.