Less known are the ways that Hanukka’s themes of pride, identity and fighting for your right to be who you are — has connected with the LGBT community.
Fifteen years ago, Stephen Sass and his husband, Steven Hochstadt, consecrated their commitment to each other during a religious marriage ceremony that took place during Chanukah. The timing was intentional.
“Chanukah has always resonated deeply for me as a Jew and as a gay man, since it commemorates one of the earliest fights for freedom of conscience, and celebrates the right to be different and to express one’s individual and communal identity as a member of a minority group within larger society,” Sass said.
The holiday of Chanukah celebrates the Maccabees’ military victory over the Seleucid rulers of Judea during the second century B.C.E. It also commemorates the miracle that occurred when the Jews rededicated their Temple, and a vessel of consecrated oil — enough for only one day — somehow lasted eight.
Perhaps less known are the ways that the holiday — with its themes of pride, identity and fighting for your right to be who you are — has connected with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. On Nov. 18 and 19, the New York-based transdenominational Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute held classes locally that, among other things, highlighted the connections between Chanukah and the LGBT story.
For Rabbi Karen Bender, an openly gay rabbi of San Fernando Valley congregation Temple Judea, who led a class there, displaying the chanukiyah in the window during the holiday — a tradition of the festival — is not that different from flying the rainbow gay-pride flag.
“That’s Chanukah,” she said. “This is a Jewish thing to do — to learn from the Maccabees, to demand the right to be who you are, and to be proud of who you are,” she said.
Rabbi Heather Miller, rabbinic fellow at LGBT-founded congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim in Pico-Robertson, led a similar session for her congregation. She said the flying of the flag, like the placement of the chanukiyah, demonstrates “our minority identity amidst a majority cultural world.”
Miller noted several ways in which the holiday speaks to the gay community. During several periods in history, Jews playing dreidel would pretend it was a secular gambling game so as to conceal that it was a game to teach about the holiday. This echoes the history of the LGBT movement, whose members often had to keep their orientation a secret.