Identity in the Window: Visibility and Safety

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)
4 min readDec 11, 2020

Our Sages taught: The Hanukkah lamp — it is a commandment to place it at the door of one’s house, on the outside. And if one lives in an attic, place it in a window adjoining the public area. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21a)

Placing a Hanukkah menorah in the front window of one’s house isn’t a way to compete with the Joneses next door and their electricity-guzzling Christmas light display. No, it is a rabbinic mandate. It is how we fulfill our obligations as members of the Jewish people celebrating an ancient, but relatively minor, holiday.

The story of Hanukkah is complex, and its central characters, the Maccabees, aren’t necessarily the benevolent heroes we make them out to be. At its core, Hanukkah is a story about the universal and the particular, and battle staged between the two. From the fundamentalist Maccabees, who criticized not only the king Antiochus and his rules, but their own Jewish neighbors who assimilated, adopting Hellenist culture and custom, to the Jews of Enlightenment-age Europe, who put their faith in lofty but ultimately flawed and exclusionary notions of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Perhaps the most well-known such theory is the declaration of nineteenth-century Russian Jewish thinker Judah Leib Gordon: “Be a Jew in your home and a man outside of it.”

Hiding one’s identity is both a privilege and a burden, one that many people do not enjoy or bear. When your identity is linked with your skin color, when the discrimination you face is connected to the wheelchair that aids your daily mobility, you cannot simply decide when to present as your particular self and when to present as what our nation calls a “person.” A person is what Jews like Gordon wanted to be: an individual living in a nation-state influenced by Enlightenment philosophy deemed worthy of possessing rights. Read: White. Read: Male. Read: Christian (or, at least, not markedly Jewish). Read: Moneyed. Read: Educated. Read: Propertied…

But this is not what Hanukkah teaches us about our Jewish identity, at least not now, centuries removed from the Maccabees. A holiday that might have been celebrated with military parades and an emphasis on conformity has become one of the most-celebrated holidays in the Jewish diaspora, including among secular- and culturally-identified Jews. It…

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)

queer belonging. sex positivity. creative ritual. inclusive judaism.