We’d lit the candles, eaten a sumptuous meal including latkes, chicken (for the birdievores among us), a spicy bean stew, shepherd’s pie, crisply cooked green beans, and the usual assortment of desserts. We’d sung Ma’oz Tzur, S’vivon, and other Hanukkah songs. A variety of congregants delivered jokes, stories, poetry, puns, and song during dinner. Afterwards, we all collaborated on a cool craft project whose final outcome will be seen at the next Shabbat service, I am told.
Finally, during digestion, a game of “Hanukkah Waddya’ Know.”
I gave each table a minyan of questions. They were to work as a group.
“Accuracy counts,” I said, “but feel free to be creative. The winning table receives a free trade dark chocolate bar to share with each other.”
(Everyone in our community is fully aware that I believe that milk chocolate is an Abomination to the LORD.)
I wandered about listening and observing as everyone got to work. But I didn’t get too close. Otherwise people feel they have to check in with rabbinic authority, and I prefer the etz chayyim hi model, where they do their level best to find out just how much they know and how much fun they can have on their own. Jewish practice should feel like blowing soap bubbles: Start the breath flowing and all sorts of magic will sparkle before your eyes – and heart.
One table repeatedly burst into collective laughter, another remained steadfastly serious, and yet another featured individuals experiencing excited “yes” moments evidenced by jumping up and down in their seats. (This is not an easy thing to manage.) After about fifteen minutes, we gathered up the answers, a representative of each table read their answers, and the entire group was asked to declare the winning table.
The steadfastly serious table repeatedly demonstrated comprehensive knowledge of the holiday by answering all questions directly and correctly. Yes, Hanukkah means “dedication.” No, Hanukkah is not mentioned in Torah. Yes, it is the shammash candle that is used to light the others.
You get the idea.
The table of boisterous laughter proved they had a command of the material. They added definitions for “Hanukkah,” indicating that one might associate education, rest, and even grace with the term, depending on how you parse its letters.
When asked to name a popular Hanukkah song, they invented one, using the melody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” Their version: “All about the nes, ‘bout the nes, no oy…’ll.” (Nes is Hebrew for “miracle.”)
One member of the seriously-minded table immediately accused this group of being nes-sayers. But the song deserved what it got: Much in the way of appreciative applause by the under-fifty crowd. Some over-fifties seem not to have gotten the joke.
The table with excited “yes” moments were, we all decided, the clear winners of the dark chocolate bar. Here are some of their answers to our quiz questions:
- What does “Hanukkah” mean? “A weightwatcher’s setback.”
- What is the right way to light a Hanukkiah? “With fire!”
- Name something good to deep fry on Hanukkah… “Donald Trump.”
- How many times is Hanukkah mentioned in Torah? “The same number of times as gay marriage.”
- What is the significance of the number eight? “It is the number of ways to spell C/hannuk(k)a/h.”
- How should one publicize the miracle of Hanukkah? (Drumroll, please.) “With a Goodyear Blintz.”
This prompted our percussionist to break out in song: “Someday my blintz will come….”
We may be one of the smallest communities out there in the Southeast. But I would wager we are among the cutest.
At the end of the evening, we exchanged our white-elephant presents and took a few moments for a group blessing. But really, we had already blessed one another – with good will and with humor, with joy and with laughter.
May you all experience the same: Hag sameach, and may your last night of Hanukkah be filled with joy and light and all good things.