cover image Hanukkah in America: 
A History

Hanukkah in America: A History

Dianne Ashton. New York Univ., $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8147-0739-5

American Jewish History editor Ashton (Rebecca Gratz) has written a scholarly but accessible guide to the evolution of the Festival of Lights in America. After a brief introduction to the origins of the eight-day celebration of the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks in the second century B.C.E., Ashton picks up in the mid-1800s, when the holiday “began to evolve from an often neglected occasion in the Jewish calendar to one deemed particularly relevant for American Jews.” During the Civil War, Jewish soldiers fighting for the Union identified with their brave and persistent Maccabean forebears, while competing factions of American Jewry sought to lay claim to “the mantle of the Maccabees” in order to bolster their position. Most will be familiar with modern efforts to counter the pervasiveness of Christmas by boosting Hanukkah’s significance, but Ashton’s thorough treatment of her topic is sure to enlighten—she discusses everything from the official observances of Hanukkah at the White House to how the rise of the celebration affected mainstream ad campaigns and the number of opportunities available to Jewish women. It all adds up to powerful support for her thesis that Hanukkah now enjoys “a more significant place in the American Jewish calendar than it had known” since the events it commemorates. B&w photos throughout. (Oct.)