This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
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Some very different videos to start getting you ready for this holiday season.
Let’s start with the basics. How do you spell the name of this holiday in English? And what’s the deal with latkes? From the senior citizens at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, some of the more pressing questions of the season:
A mashup of top hits from decades past (a different era for each night of Hanukkah?), rewritten to explain the history, story and rituals of Hanukkah:
Christmas time in our family is spent with my in-laws. Church for a 4:30 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve and then back to my in-laws’ house for an extended family, buffet-style, Christmas dinner, complete with Portuguese-style cocktail weenies and finger sandwiches. We eat around the Christmas tree while the kids (5 of them â€“ all boys!) run around downstairs. For the past couple of years, Santa has visited after dinner, ringing the doorbell and coming inside with gifts for the kids. They seem to love this and are in awe of the large man in a red suit. While I never grew up with Santa, and I don’t have the nostalgic feeling that comes from a visit from him, it is neat watching the kids get all excited. And it’s fun to look forward to their reactions.
This year, however, I’m worried.
About a month ago, my six-year-old said, out of the clear blue, “I think Cousin Johnny is Santa.”
Shocked and stunned, I had no idea how to respond. “Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, he’s never around when Santa comes to the door.” Again, I am shocked. I can ask my son 100 times to put his dirty clothes in the laundry room and not drop them on the floor, and he is incapable of doing this. But he’s perceptive enough to realize that Cousin Johnny is not in the room when Santa comes and remembers it 11 months later!
I’m not worried that by answering this I’m going to ruin Christmas for my son. I’m worried that my response is going to be repeated to my nephews and end up ruining Christmas for them. I never had to answer questions about Santa or the Easter Bunny before! I can’t check in with my mom and see how she responded. What do I do?!
I ended up mumbling something under my breath and changing the topic. This worked for the time being, but I needed to nip this one in the bud before I single-handedly ruined Christmas for my extended family.
As soon as possible, I consulted the expert, my sister-in-law. After all, her kids were the ones who would be potentially scarred for life (depending on my answer). She helped me out by telling me how she responded when her kids got confused when they saw Santa standing in front of the grocery store ringing a bell after they had just taken pictures with him at the mall. “I tell them Santa has a lot of helpers around Christmas in order to get everything done. But, he’s always watching to see if you’ve been naughty or nice.”
The threat of the omnipresent Santa looking down on the kids aside, I think the “helping Santa out” response may work. For now, I’m hoping that the question doesn’t come up again. And, if it does, maybe I can quickly shove a cocktail weenie in my son’s mouth as Santa comes in the door this year…
It’s that busy time of the year (is there ever not a busy time of the year?). Hanukkah’s over but we’re still celebrating the December holidays with friends and family, colleagues and communities. You need a break, we need a break, time for a hodgepodge of links. Happy reading!
To my joy and surprise, we’ve had a few comments on our discussion boards over the last week about the Jewish or Hebrew calendar and its often confusing and complicated particularities. So for those calendar geeks (myself included), The December Dilemma: 10 Tevet on Friday.
For something a little different, Cake Wrecks shared a bunch of disastrous Hanukkah cakes, including the one seen in the video below. (I don’t know about you, but I won’t be making that for my Hanukkah party this weekend!)
With the festival of lights starting this evening (are you ready to light the menorah? Check out our new video for candle lighting instructions, below, if you’re unsure or just want a refresher), this week I’m bringing you a Hanukkah hodgepodge.
Let’s start with the folks at BBYO/Panim, who have a great new resource. In Those Days, At This Time links the history of Hanukkah to the virtues of service and advocacy today – and tomorrow! Be sure to watch their video guide and start a conversation as you light the candles in your homes.
And, lastly, I leave you with this video, below, made by teens of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the A. J. Heschel School in New York, shared by Keshet, encouraging us all to make our communities more welcoming as we light the menorah tonight.
David Brooks wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, The Hanukkah Story. He finds the story of the Hasmonean ascendancy which Hanukkah celebrates troubling and ambiguous. It’s a surprising position from Brooks, who identifies as a conservative. (That’s with a small c–I don’t know whether he’s also a Conservative Jew) though he also takes some social positions that other conservatives don’t. In any event, it’s a provocative piece.
David Brooks’ Op-Ed, “The Hanukkah Story,” is disturbing on many levels- beyond the scrooge-like pall it seems determined to cast on the celebration of a beloved holiday. One would hope that Mr. Brook’s academic and journalistic credentials would encompass an understanding of the complexities and nuance of history – which is never the literal, objective, factual account of actual events, but rather the way human experience has been interpreted – reflecting the political or philosophical agenda of both the original chronicle and the evolving national, cultural or religious traditions that emerge from those transforming developments. The Maccabean revolt of 165 BCE reflected the debates and passions of every revolution – the tensions between noble ideals and pragmatic action, as well as the timeless conflict of “traditionalists” and “reformers.” These dynamics have been at work in the history of Christianity ( especially at the time of the split between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy in the 10th century and later, in the violent Protestant-Catholic conflicts of the Reformation); certainly in Islam ( the endless Sunni-Shiite battles); and in the history of America ( especially in the passionate partisan controversies among the Founding Fathers and later, in the Civil War)… no less than they were in Hanukkah’s story of an oppressed people’s revolt against tyranny. One might ask whether Mr. Brooks would have written such an attack on our Nation’s founders for publication on July 4, charging that Independence Day’s meaning is diminished because patriots tarred, feathered and hanged Tory “traitors” who did not share their Revolutionary zeal. Or, if he would attack Christmas, since the subsequent unfolding of history that resulted from its original story was filled with such violence and oppression in the name of the babe in the manger.
The major point is that Hanukkah, like all religious holidays and traditions, has evolved over the centuries. It came to be understood – and celebrated – and loved – by subsequent generations of Jews, far more as an affirmation of faith in the face of oppression, and courage in the struggle for justice and freedom. It is the later legend of the miracle of the oil that is remembered in popular perception -more than the military victory and the political complexities of the original events – emphasizing the spiritual themes of the festival, and reflecting Hanukkah’s even more ancient roots in winter solstice celebrations of light. In our time, Hanukkah has become a very universalistic affirmation of diversity – embodying in contemporary America a meaning that is arguably very different from the narrow interpretation Brook’s focuses upon. Today, the menorah shines as a symbol of Judaism’s confident engagement in our broader culture, rather than what may have been the Maccabee’s rejection of a tyrannically enforced imposition of alien religious values. I would invite David Brooks to shed his critical cynicism and embrace Hanukkah’s creative power as a vehicle for the celebration of Jewish identity and ideals, that also shares in the broader celebration of this season’s most universal and inclusive themes.
The eighth night of Hanukkah is tonight! If you have a minute as you’re frying up that last batch of latkes, weigh in on Rabbi Berman’s guest post, Brooks’ original essay and the meaning the holiday. We would love to hear what you have to say.
Our friend Kali Foxman is editing a new Combined Jewish Philanthropies parenting newsletter and wrote me for more ideas about Jewish parenting blogs. If you live in the Boston area and would like to get a listing of all Jewish family events, plus recipes and book recommendations, please go to CJP Family Connections and sign up!
Kali already had My Jewish Learning, which isn’t exactly a parenting blog, more like a clearing house for lots of great, accessible Jewish information for seekers at every level of knowledge. (We love MJL and have lots of links to them all over our site.) She also had Modern Jewish Mom, which has amazing Jewish parenting resources, and Jewish Everyday, by the fantastic Bible Belt Balabusta.
I added Homeshuling, which I’ve already promoted here because it’s great, Ima On (and off) the Bima, a parenting blog by a rabbi, and in a surprise pick, Metalia. Now the truth is that Metalia isn’t a Jewish parenting blog–it’s a blog by a modern Orthodox Jewish mom about pop culture and lip gloss–but she does occasional, really accessible introduction to Judaism posts that I like, and her children are very cute. (And even though I recently posted a review of a book on Spinoza, I happen to like blog posts about popular culture and lip gloss.)
Hanukkah is still happening, and I think we’re not quite out of presents at our house yet. My child has become materialistic and wants more toys. The best thing he got was Superhero in a Box, if you are looking for a present. The best Jewish present he got was probably the Kippah from Uganda made by the Abayudaya Jews. (Yeah, I know, when are Jews in other countries going to buy “special kippot by the Ashkenazi–is that how you say it?–Jews of the United States. In North America! And they’re from there!” Etc. But it’s a very nice kippah–attractive and it doesn’t need hair clips. Little kids are often not big fans of the hair clips, you know?)
The video isn’t my usual style, but I just loved the sound. My friend Mimi DuPree is fussy about how female singers sound on Jewish liturgical music–well, this is the male singer sound I like–no nonsense, just nice harmony.
It’s been hard to keep up with our Google feed, because during December nearly every publication wants to cover the story of interfaith families dealing with Christmas and Hanukkah. For example, Mindy Pollak-Fusi had a piece in the Boston Globe, Merry Happy, about how she and her husband and their children from previous marriages negotiate the various holidays. The Hartford Courant ran a story about Playing with a Dreidel Under the Christmas Tree, which featured a more syncretistic approach to the two holidays. Braiden Rex-Johnson took an even more blending approach in his Seattle Times piece, providing a special non-kosher menu of foods for a blended holiday. I mean, really, is it just my perspective as a Northeasterner that your Jewish relatives might be annoyed if you went out of your way to serve “Christmas kugel” with roast pork loin? Maybe.
My favorite piece so far was Paul Rudnick’s Holly or Challah? in the New Yorker. I find Paul Rudnick really funny. It’s a list of 12 tips; number 10 is:
10. Never refer to Hanukkah as â€śtheir Christmas,â€ť â€śMerry Wannabe,â€ť or â€śthe Goldberg variation.â€ť
Well, yeah, and that was the least potentially offensive one. I’m sure that I find this funny precisely because I’ve read so many of these articles!
I have to admit in the past I have not been the biggest Hanukkah fan. I work two jobs and take care of my 2 Â˝ year old. My husband has an even busier schedule and the last thing I want to do is when I get home is add to an already busy evening routine with greasy food and Hanukkah blessings, songs and games. I do enjoy these activities, but eight days in a row!
This year is different. My son is learning about Hanukkah at his preschool and has spent the last week practicing putting the candles in the Menorah. It is really cute to watch and a great way to practice his hand-eye coordination. Also, I have decided to make my own latkes. (If anyone has a recipe which does not include grating potatoes, please send it my way.)
Plus, we have many holiday parties. Not only do we have two preschool parties, but this Sunday we are attending three Hanukkah celebrations. Our synagogue is having a party for children. Then the JCC of Greater Boston is planning a Fiesta with crafts and a concert for children. Then we will end the day with menorah lighting in our town square.
The following week we were invited to a holiday party at an Indian family’s house. Though this year the Indian festival of lights, Dilwali, does not coincide with Hannukah, we have promised a night of lights and celebration. After a week of Hanukkah I will appreciate the diversity this Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Year’s holiday party will offer!
I am happy to report that I’ve upgraded my RSS reader to Google, so that I actually get all the blogs I’m trying to follow. I was really frustrated because my old RSS reader dropped and caused me to miss Aaron Kagan’s post about the food at his wedding on his blog Tea and Food. Remember how we ran his story about An Interfaith Engagement? He got married! Mazel tov.
I first got to know Aaron because he blogged about his experiments with yeasted pancakes and I was compelled to write to give him advice. (That is true, by the way, and not my attempt to segue neatly from my goal of promoting our writers’ blogs to my goal of giving you Hanukkah resources–because as you know, pancakes are a fried food for Hanukkah and we all love to eat latkes, the potato pancakes of deliciousness.)
I guess that The Pancake Project isn’t really a Hanukkah resource, unless you were hoping to figure out how to make a pancake in the shape of a menorah, but you have to see it because it’s cool. I can’t believe all the things he makes out of pancakes! (Hat tip to my Twitter pal and fellow fan of cool things on the internet, Baya Clare.)
I am also friends on Twitter with Ashley Rozenberg, who graciously gave us some wonderful Dutch pancake recipes when a reader asked for Dutch Hanukkah food. I am really excited about the idea of the mashed potato-rye flour ones. (I have not made them yet!)
I should definitely link you to the latke recipe on Smitten Kitchen, because that’s my work colleagues’ favorite food blog. But it’s a little more work than the method in the following video from Feed Me Bubbe–the Bubbe knows all the labor-saving steps. (This way, however, you get one version with the potatoes grated on the large holes of the grater and one with them pulverized to mush–which way do you like better?)
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