3: Short story excerpt, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, “What’s the Meaning of Hanukkah?”, translation from Yiddish.
Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, more commonly known by his persona Mendele Mokher Seforim, is widely considered the founder of modern artistic prose in Hebrew and Yiddish. This story, “What’s the Meaning of Hanukkah?”, offers interpretations of the idea of miracles and the role of history in the holiday. In the passage below, Mendele describes Chanukah as a liberatory holiday for Jewish children who otherwise lead punishing lives (educational reform was a major issue for Mendele and other thinkers of the Haskole or Jewish Enlightenment. See our resource kit on kheyder, or traditional Jewish elementary education.) Chanukah gelt appears in the story as a gift that children receive to increase their luck and joy for the holiday. The expression in the excerpt, “lived like God in Odessa” refers to the boisterous port city known for its diversity, religious freedom, and economic opportunity. In the expression, Odessa is a city in which even God could have a good time – a pleasure paradise.
Suggested Activity: Discuss the following questions with your students: What, according to this short paragraph, did Chanukah mean for kheyder boys? Is there any mention of piety or religious feeling in this description, or social responsibility? What function does Chanukah gelt serve? Because this short paragraph is packed with details about the celebration of the holiday, help your students to visualize the scene by asking them to draw a picture of the narrator’s Chanukah celebration, or of one element thereof. They should include a caption.
Source: Mendele Moykher-Sforim, “What’s the Meaning of Hanukkah?”, trans. Ri Turner, Yiddish Book Center website, accessed October 16, 2018, https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/language-literature-culture/yiddish-tr....