It’s definitely donut season in Israel, where even snacks are seasonal. The closer we get to Hanukkah, the more ubiquitous they become – and the more elaborate.
Sufganiyot (donuts) are the first in the list of fried, crunchy, foods that are traditionally enjoyed on Hanukkah. Then there’s dairy. And Hanukkah parties, and chocolate coins, and evenings of family, friends, and food.
And guilt. So, so much guilt.
“Do you know how many calories are in a donut?” “Should I really be eating this?” “Was that too much? Too little?” “Is something wrong with me? Why can’t I just enjoy?”
Somehow, over and over again, so many of us find ourselves stuck in cycles of resolutions, deprivation, criticism and shame, and more resolutions. What is it about a too-snug waistband that makes us question our worth?
It isn’t just the voices inside our heads. We’re surrounded by messages urging us to have a little more self control to feel deserving, telling us indulgence is sinful and abstinence is virtuous. We try recipes for kohlrabi latkes and baked sufganiyot (let’s be honest – they’re bread rolls filled with jelly).
Hanukkah is a unique holiday. There’s not a lot going on. Most of the day is a regular day: we go to work, make meals, do laundry, shop. Most of the celebration centers around one point in the evening, at candlelighting.
Historically, Hanukkah is unique as well. Both the battle of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil occurred during a dark time. The war was long and arduous, drawn out guerilla warfare that only led to a partial victory. The search for pure oil wasn’t borne out of an halakhic requirement; at that point, impure oil could have been used to light the menorah (according to many interpretations). The urgent quest for pure oil was driven by a deep desire to do one whole thing, when there was so much that was broken. This was no great revelation at Sinai, or splitting of the sea. Hanukkah is about something else.
To me, Hanukkah is about a little bit. A small jug of oil. A flicker of flame. A moment or an hour when we stop and gather to light the candles on a dark evening. It’s a little bit, and it endures.
In my work as a psychotherapist – and in my personal life as well – I meet so many women who are fighting giant battles. Women who have learned that food is threatening, or that their bodies are enemies to defeat or destroy. So many of us who just want to be a little smaller, take up a little less space, get caught up in shame and self loathing until we begin to forget who we are. We want to feel safer and more at peace with ourselves, but the sea doesn’t split and there’s no revelation. What then?
Change happens over time, especially when messages have been seeping in for so long. Learning to live in peace with ourselves, our bodies, and food can be a process that takes determination, support, practice, and time. So when we’re at a party surrounded by friends and food, or sitting at home with loved ones or by ourselves, and we want to be present but find ourselves fixated on the tug in our skirt or should I/shouldn’t I or why did I/didn’t I eat that, what can we do in the moment?
I think we can light one light. We can’t always quiet the voices around us and inside us. We might find ourselves in that familiar, self-defeating place, checking how we look and what we eat and wondering if we’re good enough. Then, we can light one light. I can find one value that’s authentically mine, that I can check in with or commit to. I can allow myself a few minutes to ask myself what I’d like to eat, noticing when I want more and when I’ve had enough. I can let my eyes rest on someone I love, or someone who loves me, and try to see myself through their eyes. I can commit to one step toward a goal that reflects who I am and what I believe in. I can direct my memory to a time I felt safe, or good, or deeply connected, and linger there for a minute or two. I might choose to do one act of nurturing myself or someone I love. I can call someone who reminds me of who I am. None of these actions will mute the loud voices completely, but they will create a new light in that moment, that over time will slowly create new thought patterns, more compassionate ways of being with ourselves and others, give us more choice in how we respond. We can light one candle, and commit to lighting it again tomorrow.
Graduated from Wurzweiler School of Social Work. She lives and works in Jerusalem, in private practice, working with teens and adults, as well as teaching social work at Wurzweiler. She specializes in issues related to adolescents and complex trauma. Atara can be contacted at Ataramsw@gmail.com