Hanukkah: a perfect example of how America absorbs and transforms ethnic traditions. A minor sectarian holiday becomes reinterpreted and inflated into a celebration of “freedom.” And it delivers a Christmas-like cornucopia for kids. Hanukkah comes early this year. But not too early for many Jewish-Americans to worry about the fate of the Jewish in Jewish-American. Well, actually, the community has been worrying itself into a state about this for many decades. That worry partly explains the popularity of Hanukkah in America. (More college students report lighting Hanukkah candles than performing any other Jewish ritual [see p. 14, here].)
One sociologist titled an article, “Are American Jews Vanishing Again?,” expressing his skepticism about all the hand-wringing. Still, with high and rising intermarriage rates, low birth rates, and general acceptance in the wider society, the perennial question of whether Jews in America will survive as Jews presses more and more on its community leaders and rabbis.
The factors that will determine the answer are in part specific to the Jewish community, but in large part are common to all ethnic communities in America, a nation that has done a remarkable job of melding, changing, and Anglo-Protestanizing all sorts of cultures.