The American idea that Hanukkah deserves some kind of cultural parity
with Christmas is a ridiculous and cowardly piece of rationalization.
The major holidays of the Jewish calendar -- the ones comparable in
importance to Christmas and Easter -- are Passover, Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur, and the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath outclasses all the
rest, yet is ignored by many well-intentioned but essentially secular
Jews, on the grounds that "giving up" an entire night and day of every
week is just too inconvenient. Hanukkah doesn't make that VIP list. It's
very nice and all, what with all the candles and latkes and dreidels,
but it's the kind of minor holiday you generally don't even know about
unless you're a serious, full-time, practicing Jew.
Today's elevation of Hanukkah probably began with the desperate
Jewish parents of youngsters whining about missing out on the Christmas
tree and the big present bonanza. By now, it's yet another politically
correct, equality-as-sameness, absurd growth on the body politic. If you
get to have your Christmas tree in the office lobby, then I get to have
my nine-candle menorah displayed there too, nyaah, nyaah. Whatever.
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Still: a holiday is a holiday, and, as I said, it's a very nice
little holiday, and I certainly don't think Jewish people should go out
of their way not to celebrate it. Go on. Have fun. Learn all about
Hanukkah at the excellent Jewish Family and Life site. Light
the candles, adding one a day for eight days according to the ritual.
Play with the dreidels. Make the latkes. If the idea
of these yummy potato pancakes fried in oil doesn't quite appeal to
upscale or health-conscious you, lighten up and get
over it -- it's only once a year, and after all the oil is the whole
point at Hanukkah. No? So OK, experiment with the zucchini latkes
or the bake-using PAM-instead-of-frying method, both described here.
Just don't do your family the disservice of trying to make Hanukkah into
an almost-nearly-really-just-like-Christmas. There's lots of good
discussion and advice for handling the situation at JFL. Remember, the
real thing is always a lot more fun than a faked-up substitute.
No-PC Web connections
For the resolute computerphobe in your family: consider one of the
new hassle-free stripped-down Internet-only machines. Talked about for
years as a potential successor to the ubiquitous home PC, the non-PC Web
terminal -- just plug it in, wire it to the phone jack, turn it on, and
you're online -- is having its hour at last. It's not a replacement for
the full-fledged home computer: it won't run your word processor or your
financial software or your computer games. All it does is connect you to
the Web. It is a fun, useful gadget that may or may not -- like the Palm
Pilot -- ultimately catch on sufficiently to turn into a major lifestyle
accessory for the well-wired. In the meantime, it could be the perfect
way to finally get your obstinately unreconstructed, technophobic
Grandma Pearl connected to the family Web page and the grandkids' e-mail
addresses. These often elegantly designed units are priced in the $200
range. Consider the i-opener by
Netpliance, which is also available in customized kid- and teen-friendly
editions with age-appropriate Web guides and optional filtering.
Hardcore Microsoft partisans and MSN.com members may want to wait for
next year's sleek MSN Web Companion, recently shown for the first time
Speaking of Comdex, by the way, corporate types will want to take
note of eBeam,
an arresting new product presented this year that promises to transform
any whiteboard into a digital workspace. Words or images drawn on the
board appear on one or more Web-networked computer desktops in real
time, full color, and software-friendly format. It could help
revolutionize the way long-distance meetings are held.
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Check your e-mail with a phone call
lets you "turn all your email into voicemail"; you can check your e-mail
and even dictate text replies by calling a toll-free number from any
telephone. Fifteen minutes of access time a month is free, but, of
course, you can pay for more. Features include Outlook and Eudora
compatibility, phone or pager notification of incoming e-mail, and the
ability to send new or reply e-mails containing an attached .wav audio
file of your voice. When you don't have computer or Internet access --
perhaps because you're visiting Grandma Pearl's house for the holidays --
this type of service can be a major convenience.