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Spell Check/Spell Heck

Thursday, November 7, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

Chanukah or Hanukkah? Discuss.

Signed,
Spell Check/Spell Heck


Dear Spell Check,

Chanukah! My rationale is very simple: This is how I've always spelled it. I've tried to fit in with what seems like the more mainstream approach and go with Hanukkah, but it feels wrong. I feel like I'm not being true to myself. It feels compromisingly American, not authentically Jewish enough, a sad salute to the "December Dilemma" and assimilation all wrapped up into one. I always come back to the good old untransliteratable "ch." I know it's really my holiday when I spell it my way.

As overstated as I realize this sounds, this is how I feel. However, for the sake of not sounding completely nuts, or worse, valuing something totally inconsequential over a variety of things that matter (like whether faux sour cream will have a place on the Thanksgiving table this year), I'll try to see the other side: Hanukkah is proudly American. The use of an "h" over a "ch" allows people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable with the holiday and prevents embarassment when someone pronounces that old-world version the way it looks. Hanukkah as a spelling brings Judaism out of the background and into the light (Yes! Hanukkah puns!). It's a spelling you can be proud of, a spelling you can take home and introduce to your non-Jewish in-laws.

Recently, I've had several occasions to tell people "my Jewish journey," that is, how a product of small-town America with virtually no Jewish community became a leader within the young adult Jewish community in a major metropolitan area. I grew up saying, "Good Shabbos," on Friday nights. That's just what we did. When I was 16, I went to Genesis at Brandeis University, a high school summer program with much savvier Jewish peers from around the country. Our first Friday night there, I said, "Good Shabbos," and they all said, "Shabbat shalom." A fellow participant looked askance at me and said something like, "What'd you say THAT for?" which I took to mean, "How you greet people on Shabbat communicates something intrinsic about your Jewishness, your background and your family." The spelling of Chanukah has a similar feel to me — it says something about the speller. I don't think your preference communicates either a positive or negative slant, but it does seem to communicate something.

Many of my colleagues at Hillel adopted "Hanukkah" as an across the board decision a few years ago. I remained steadfast in my Chanukah-ness wherever the Grad Network is concerned, in part because I get to make those decisions in my corner of the world, and in part because I feel a little old-school when I do it, maybe even retro-hip (OK, probably not). I feel true to myself and my family in a way that makes me smile.

I'm not even going to attempt to comment on which is a more accurate transliteration of the Hebrew. I'm a big believer that Jewish ritual only matters if you can find something in it that feels like it matters to you. So pick a spelling that feels right — and for goodness sake, make sure there are enough latkes to go around.

Be well,
Miriam

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