Inspiration to Cross the Finish Line

I am so inspired.

Judith has inspired many great artists

A few days ago, at a day-after-Thanksgiving-after-party, I was explaining my manuscript to a charming young woman when she exclaimed, “Judith of Bethulia? Of course I know her. She is part of our Hanukkah celebration. What a strong woman!”  Her mother had long ago incorporated the story of Judith into their annual ritual, and they recount the story each year.

“Which account?” I asked, thinking there might be a version I haven’t yet seen. “Where did you find it?” Blank faces. “I mean, is there a bibliographic reference?” They laughed, because they had just written the story themselves, for their own holiday book.  A book that guides their own family celebrations.

That it what my Judith project is about: sharing the story, telling each other inspiring stories, our founding myths. Each time we retell a story it changes, it finds new meaning, new relevance to the community sharing it. Judith proudly held a sword atop candelabrum in European ghettos, secretly inspiring dissent. Donatello sculpted his iconic statue of the beheading as a symbol of revolt against the tyrant Medici in fifteenth century Florence.

Scholars believe that the Judith story we know was written before the Maccabean war, possibly to inspire Hebrews to stand up to the oppressive King Antiochus. In that case, the story was certainly successful. The Maccabees successfully wrested back control of Jerusalem, which we celebrate during Hanukkah. At the end of the Judith story her people promise to sing her name for eternity.

A random encounter with someone who knows Judith brings me the same excitement experienced by a teenager meeting a friend who shares the same taste in music. Really? You like the Led Zeppelin too? Awesome! Wait until I tell you about Judith and Holofernes!

Finishing a project as immense as a novel has its challenges. Writers try not to worry too much about the imaginary readers looking over our shoulders. It can prevent us from taking important risks. But it helps me tremendously to know people are interested in this story and will want to share it. This blog helps me stay connected during this lonely stage of writing. I can see the finish line up ahead and I just received a beautiful dose of the inspiration I need to sprint across it. See you there!

Five Ways to Celebrate Judith for Hanukkah

In honor of this opportunity to celebrate the Fall harvest and Hanukkah together, I am reposting my original “Five ways to celebrate Judith for Hanukkah” post. Have a wonderful holiday friends, and don’t forget the wine and cheese!

*********

This year I am exploring a new way to celebrate Hanukkah.  Alongside the well-known story of the Maccabees, I will tell another important Hanukkah story: Judith and Holofernes. According to tradition, Judith is related to Judah Maccabee, daughter of the Hasmonean priest Yochanan.  She saves her village from an invading army by demanding to meet with their bloodthirsty General, Holofernes.  Alone with Holofernes in his tent, she gives him wine and cheese. When he passes out drunk she takes his sword and with two powerful swings she decapitates him. She carries the head back to her walled city, inspiring the Hebrews to chase the invaders off into the desert. Another version mentions that Judith rose up against the practice of Greek soldiers deflowering Hebrew girls before they married. A single act of bravery against all odds saves an entire city. The story has been an inspiration for many communities for over two thousand years. Here are five things you can do to celebrate women during Hanukkah.

  1. Tell the story of Judith and Holofernes! Teach sons to be respectful. Teach daughters to be strong. Remember that we are making history by the choices we make each day.  Here is a nice refresher on the story.
  2. Celebrate the Festival of the Daughters! Traditionally on the seventh night, the night of the new moon, this Sephardi custom honors women in different ways, from singing and dancing to passing on special heirlooms. In Hebrew this night is called Chag Habanot.
  3. Enjoy Wine and Cheese!  If you keep kosher, treat yourselves to a special bottle of the delicious wines available. Jews, often in hiding or on the move, often had to make do with whatever wine they could manage. But in biblical times wine was an art form. The wine that Judith served Holofernes must have been tasty – and strong – for him to have passed out.
  4. Make cheese pancakes! We can’t eat potato latkes every night. Besides, the potato was brought to Europe from the Americas in the late 16th century and not adopted until the 19th century. Whereas the Jewish Code of Law recommends: eating cheese on Chanukah since the miracle came about through the milk that Judith fed the enemy. There are gourmet versions, or more kid-friendly ricotta cheese latkes.
  5. Give the girls the night off!  According to Jewish law no one is supposed to work while the Hanukkah lights are burning, especially the women. Come on guys, give the women a break on this night. At least the grandmothers. At my house we call it the Judith Night of Hanukkah. We all cook but the men do the serving and cleaning up.

My family will celebrate the seventh night with cheese and wine and stories. It is particularly exciting to me because I  I am in the final stages of editing my manuscript about Judith and Holofernes. How about you?  How will you invite Judith into your family celebration?

5 Ways to Celebrate Judith for Hanukkah

This year I am exploring a new way to celebrate Hanukkah.  Alongside the well-known story of the Maccabees, I will tell another important Hanukkah story: Judith and Holofernes. According to tradition, Judith is related to Judah Maccabee, daughter of the Hasmonean priest Yochanan.  She saves her village from an invading army by demanding to meet with their bloodthirsty General, Holofernes.  Alone with Holofernes in his tent, she gives him wine and cheese. When he passes out drunk she takes his sword and with two powerful swings she decapitates him. She carries the head back to her walled city, inspiring the Hebrews to chase the invaders off into the desert. Another version mentions that Judith rose up against the practice of Greek soldiers deflowering Hebrew girls before they married. A single act of bravery against all odds saves an entire city. The story has been an inspiration for many communities for over two thousand years. Here are five things you can do to celebrate women during Hanukkah.

  1. Tell the story of Judith and Holofernes! Teach sons to be respectful. Teach daughters to be strong. Remember that we are making history by the choices we make each day.  Here is a nice refresher on the story.
  2. Celebrate the Festival of the Daughters! Traditionally on the seventh night, the night of the new moon, this Sephardi custom honors women in different ways, from singing and dancing to passing on special heirlooms. In Hebrew this night is called Chag Habanot.
  3. Enjoy Wine and Cheese!  If you keep kosher, treat yourselves to a special bottle of the delicious wines available. Jews, often in hiding or on the move, often had to make do with whatever wine they could manage. But in biblical times wine was an art form. The wine that Judith served Holofernes must have been tasty – and strong – for him to have passed out.
  4. Make cheese pancakes! We can’t eat potato latkes every night. Besides, the potato was brought to Europe from the Americas in the late 16th century and not adopted until the 19th century. Whereas the Jewish Code of Law recommends: eating cheese on Chanukah since the miracle came about through the milk that Judith fed the enemy. There are gourmet versions, or more kid-friendly ricotta cheese latkes.
  5. Give the girls the night off!  According to Jewish law no one is supposed to work while the Hanukkah lights are burning, especially the women. Come on guys, give the women a break on this night. At least the grandmothers. At my house we call it the Judith Night of Hanukkah. We all cook but the men do the serving and cleaning up.

This year my family is hosting a small Hanukkah party on the seventh night. I plan to celebrate with cheese and wine and stories. It is particularly exciting to me because I have just started this blog and I am in the final stages of editing my manuscript about Judith and Holofernes.  How about you?  How will you invite Judith into your family celebration? And don’t forget to come back and let me know how it goes!