Judaism Unbound Episode 43: Hanukkah in America - Dianne Ashton


Dianne Ashton, Profession of Religion Studies at Rowan University and author of the book Hanukkah in America: A History, [1] joins Dan and Lex to describe the evolution of Hanukkah over the course of American history. The conversation ranges from the Maccabees to gift giving to the "December Dilemma." [2]

Image Credit: NYU Press

Image Credit: NYU Press

(0:01 - 14:44): To begin the episode, Prof. Ashton discusses what led her to write the book Hanukkah in America: A History. She then gives us a window into the 19th century, a crucial period in the evolution of American observances of Hanukkah, [3]  emphasizing, In particular, how various Jewish groups (with vastly different ideologies) all latched onto the narrative of the Maccabees that plays a key role in the story of Hanukkah.

(14:45 - 29:20): Ashton hones in on key elements of Hanukkah that continue to play an important role today. First, she describes and explains the increasing focus on children at Hanukkah over the 19th and 20th centuries. Next, she discusses the "December Dilemma" (the complex feelings that Jews have experienced due to Hanukkah's proximity to Christmas on the calendar). [4] Ashton then proposes a few explanations as to why Hanukkah has proven so flexible over time, both in terms of its meaning and the customs that characterize its observance.

(29:21 - 43:42): To close the episode, the conversation pivots to looking at Hanukkah observances today, along with possibilities for the future. In particular, Ashton discusses the different manifestations of Hanukkah that can occur in the home and in broader forms of Jewish community, along with ways in which digital observances of Hanukkah may continue to affect the manifestations of Hanukkah that develop in the decades to come.

[1] You can purchase Hanukkah in America on Amazon by visiting this link.

[2] For a full-length article about Ashton's book, read this 2013 article in The Forward, entitled "How Hanukkah Entered American Mainstream."

[3] For an expansive look into American Jewish history in a more general sense, listen to our Judaism Unbound podcast episode featuring historian Jonathan Sarna, of Brandeis University.

[4] MyJewishLearning has an entire section of their website that features articles related to "The December Dilemma." Access them by scrolling down the page at this link.