Welcome: Hanukkah Guests (Ushpizin)
One potentially powerful ritual, traditionally part of the autumn harvest festival of Sukkot, is the welcoming of guests from the Jewish past into the sukkah (the temporary booth that is set up outside the home and in which meals are often eater during the holiday). The ritual is called "Ushpizin," which means "guests" in Aramaic. One character from the Bible is metaphorically welcomed into the sukkah as an honorary guest each night of the holiday. (Because the traditional guests are all male, many people have shifted the ritual to welcome one male and one female Biblical character each night).
The ritual, however, is not particularly well-known in America, and the holiday of Sukkot in general is observed by far fewer American Jews than is Hanukkah. So we had a crazy thought. What if we imported the ritual of Ushpizin into Hanukkah? The Book of Maccabees indicates that, in many ways, Sukkot was a model for Hanukkah in the first place, so sharing rituals between the two seemed like an idea that might not be so far-fetched. Also, there is plenty of evidence that, in the course of Jewish history, practices have migrated from one holiday to another; for example, the "My father was a wandering Aramean" text from the Passover haggadah is associated with the holiday of Shavuot in the Bible!
Below you can find a variety of Ushpizin that you can welcome into your Sukkah, based on a number of different themes that resonate with different people. And feel free to come up with your own lists, and let us know. The idea is to talk about the evening's guest around the time of the menorah lighting, to discuss the person of character's example, relevance to us today, problematic nature, connection to the themes of the holiday, etc.
Classic: Import Biblical guests from the traditional custom of Sukkot into your nightly candle-lighting on Hanukkah! Note: the first list is accepted in most traditional circles and is all-male, reflecting a variety of dynamics both ancient and modern. The custom of inviting female guests has become common in many communities today, and a list of female guests directly follows this. For biographies of each of these characters that you can explore as you light the candles, you can click the corresponding hyperlink.
- Wildcard (Choose your favorite male Biblical character! Options include Mordechai, Jonah, Job, or Solomon)
Alternative Biblical Figures: Some of the Bible's most fascinating characters often fly under the radar. This Hanukkah, welcome these unheralded heroes, male and female, Jewish and not, to your candle-lighting! Click on the corresponding hyperlink to learn more about each night's guest.
Fantastic (Jewish) Beasts: In Judaism past and present, a wide variety of animals and mythical creatures have played an important role in our stories. Enliven your Hanukkah experience by welcoming one of these creatures into your home for candle-lighting each night (just be careful: some might be dangerous!).
Sports Heroes: Many groups have historically understood Hanukkah as a time to honor the victory of the Maccabees in battle. You can invite another group that seeks out victory to your candle-lighting as well -- athletes! Each night, welcome in a Jewish athlete who has made an indelible mark on the world of sports.
Jewish Characters: Jewish characters are quite common in works of fiction. Whether it's on television, in written works of fiction, or in movies, it is easy to find characters who live out their Jewish identities in a variety of different ways. Invite some of these prominent fictional Jews to your Hanukkah lighting this year!
Jew-ish: Many well-known historical figures have been Jewish without affiliating with Jewish institutions (at least, not very much). Often, this lack of institutional affiliation that has been seen as a disappointing reality by Jewish communal leaders. We think, however, that these individuals deserve an honored place at our nightly Hanukkah lighting. Judaism can and does manifest in many different ways, and our podcast has explored the idea of exit from organizational affiliation as an important form of dissent. The lives and contributions of these guests constitute alternative ways to live a meaningful Jewish life.
Social Justice Champions: Many Jewish individuals and groups have done their part to make the world a better place. Over the course of many eras and in many different locations, they have fought for justice. Invite eight of these social justice champions to join you in kindling the Hanukkah lights.