This past Sunday marked a celebration that is sacrosanct to Jewish people worldwide — Hanukkah.
The annual “festival of lights” lasts eight days every year, and this year, will end on Monday, Dec. 14. Why the lighting of the menorah and playing of the dreidel?
The eight nights of lighting the branched candelabrum represent the eight nights a one-day supply of oil miraculously lasted for a small band of Jewish people in 165 B.C.E. fighting to defeat the Greek army.
While you are looking up the holiday on your favorite browser, did you know there are actually some public relations rules of thumb to learn from the Festival of Lights? Here are five PR lessons to learn from Hanukkah. Chag Urim Sameach!
1. Origins Matter.
For those scoring at home: The story of Hanukkah is recorded in the First Book of Maccabees, which is part of the Apocrypha. If you don’t happen to have a copy laying around, the Feast of Dedication is mentioned in the New Testament Book of John, chapter 10, verse 22. Unfortunately, because the Jewish calendar (Year 5776, Kislev is our December 2015) lands upon this hallowed month, many equate Hanukkah as the “Jewish Christmas,” when it is really the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century.
It’s amazing the conversations you can have with an orthodox Jewish person, or even someone from Israel, just by knowing a little of that origin. It’s the same in PR: Your pitch must involve the basic foundation of your story. Without providing that understanding of why, you will never get to discuss the what. Ask a journalist if you don’t want to believe a former one. And, uh, Mazel Tov with that.
2. Spelling Matters Too.
Probably nothing has been misspelled more in the human vernacular than this holiday.
Hanukkah? Chanukah? Khanukkah?
There are many more if you fancy the research. There is no exact translation in English for the word we call this Jewish holiday. Nada. Nyet. None. No way, Jose. The fallacy is based on phonetics. The word starts with “H” or “Ch,” the second consonant is “nn” or “n,” the third consonant is “kk” or “k,” and the word ends with “ah” or “a.”
If you are pitching something during this eight-day celebration, you could get some slack if you choose one of the less-common spellings because of something you may have learned at Temple. For other words in the human language, journalists are far less lenient or understanding. A friendly tip: If you believe Microsoft’s spell check is the best editor or eyeballs you need on your communiques, may I recommend another line of work?
3. Oh, Meanings Matter as Well.
As previously stated, Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas.” In fact, the holiday is older than “Christmas” because the Maccabees were searching for oil long before Jesus ever made it to the manger. The menorah itself simply acts as a reminder of the one-day supply of oil that lasted eight days. The other traditions remind Jewish people of the actual victory over the Greeks. The entire span is a dedication, which is what “Hanukkah” means in the first place.
Often, when “other folk” see kids playing with a dreidel or eating a sufganiyot (that’s “oily doughnut” to you and me), they either assume it’s just silly or actually stop to ask. The same is true for a soldier and the almost obligatory “Thank you for your service.” Have you ever asked what precisely that service was? Protecting our country is heroic. Knowing how that protection came is empowering. There is meaning in any story — sorta like the stories you pitch every week. Imagine how successful your pitch would be if was empowering too.
4. Let’s Eat.
As with Christmas, there is some much-ballyhooed eating during the Festival of Lights. We’ve already discussed the diet-busting oily, jelly doughnuts, but have you ever had a latke? It’s a potato pancake, that when made right, is as fluffy as most glazed concoctions you pick up by the dozen. Bunuelos are wannabe sopapillas, and when dipped in honey, it’s Viva La Israel! Lastly, catch a Jewish mama during this celebration, and you could be treated to a Kosher brisket that could make you slap said mama.
If you’re in traditional or digital PR, you relish the times when you actually get to tear yourself away from the desk and go eat. Do that more often. Moreover, ask a vendor or a reporter to join you. The lunch has quickly become the golf course for the PR professional. There’s not much time, but break some homemade bread (or whatever you fancy) with a good acquaintance and watch the conversation (and possiblly adult beverages) flow.
5. It’s Not What You Think It Means.
When Hanukkah comes around in a PR cube farm, and there are those friends who are Jewish, the salutations come out of the woodwork. This is the Jewish Super Bowl, right? I mean, if you are Jewish, you know about Hanukkah, and you better pay respect in the office because this is some high holy stuff here. Eh, yeah, about that… not so much. Did you know that Hanukkah isn’t even mentioned in the Torah? Now, Passover, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? Bring the respect because that is the trinitarian moment of homage to many Jewish people.
Much like your mother trying to explain to her friends what her child in PR does for a living, it’s like that to our Jewish friends. I have several rabbis I consider friends and they get a good laugh over all the hubbub people make over Hanukkah. The decoration. The (over the top )respect. The greetings. But the Jewish New Year comes around and few people are screaming “Shanah Tovah.” Why is that? It’s no what you think it means, but keep digging. Do some research. Learn more about the story behind the sayings, and watch that light bulb go off. Connections are made in the light.
Hey, funny how it all comes full circle, huh?
Happy Hanukkah, everyone! And Shalom Aleichem.