And on the Shabbat of Hanukkah…


Because there are still six more nights to fill… Hanukkah hodgepodge: part deux!

From the folks at Jewcy, Ten Songs We Wish Were For Hanukkah: songs about fire, donuts, potatoes, candles and gelt.

Today we posted a historic essay about Hanukkah in the new United States. If you want more American history, the 92nd Street Y has a post about the 19th Century trend of formal Hanukkah balls.

It’s not history, but in keeping with the Americana I have going here, check out Country-Fried Mama’s post about Hanukkah Traditions from the Deep South. I particularly enjoyed learning about the visiting “Hanukkah Man.”

Jewish Women’s Archive has a blog post about Hanukkah songs written by Jewish women. But even better? Their new Hanukkah video that tells the story of Judith and Hanukkah, and celebrates contemporary women who share her name

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!)

“And of course HHHHanukah will be blue…”

If you’ve used our video to learn how to light the menorah, but are looking for an app for your iPhone/iPad/iPod to learn the blessings (and maybe practice your Hebrew along the way), Berman House’s iHanukkah app might be for you.

How often do you hear fiddle and bass Hanukkah music? Not nearly often enough. I’ll leave you with this final ditty:

For the first night of Hanukkah…


So. Much. Hanukkah.

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.

Hanukkah always bring out new music, and this year there’s plenty to choose from:
[*] – Matisyahu turns pop singer with “Miracle,” his new Hanukkah song;[/*]
[*] – the a cappella group from Yeshiva University, the Maccabeats, has reworked “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz to bring us Candlelight;[/*]
[*] – from Chana Rothman, Naomi Less, and Sara Aroeste comes “A New Light,” recorded in Hebrew, English, and Ladino (available streaming or as free download);[/*]
[*] – Fa La Freezing by My First Earthquake is a cute holiday song – with a bonus interfaith angle;[/*]
[*] – and Bible Raps brings us Light Is in the Air.[/*][/list]

And if you want to sing your own songs, Original Jewish has compiled a whole bunch of them, and offers up the songs for download in English, Hebrew, and transliteration.

Looking for a new spin on the Hanukkah story?  chanukah:s9ln24lm">G-dcast Spins Hanukkah in this retelling of the history of the holiday. Meanwhile, PunkTorah gives you the whole story in 62 seconds, below. (You can also check them out doing a live candle lighting tonight, Dec. 1st at 7pm EST, on Meanwhile, Storahtelling has Judy the Maccabee for the preschooler in all of us.

Jennie at ModernTribe has some fun Hanukkah swag (and you might recognize our favorite kosher pig amongst the gift ideas!).

For those of you who are creative DIYers, check out the Lifehacker DIY Holiday Contest. (My favorite entry thus far? The Peznorah!)

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.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah Dark or Light


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.

Rabbi Howard Berman, Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism and a good friend of IFF, finds Brooks’ piece narrow and cynical. He considers Hanukkah especially significant to American Jews.  He writes:

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.

Parenting Blogs and Hanukkah Presents


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.)

I wanted to be sure to promote Susan Goldberg’s blog, Mama Non Grata, because without it I would never have found her to write the two lovely articles she wrote for IFF. The book she edited, And Baby Makes More Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families has been published in Canada, and you can read a sampler from it at the publisher’s website.

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.

Tis the Season for Articles about Interfaith Families


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 “their Christmas,” “Merry Wannabe,” or “the Goldberg variation.”

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!

Your favorite will probably be the piece on non-Jewish chefs in interfaith marriages in the New York Times because it has recipes. (True, they are recipes for things like latkes with beets in them, more evidence of the bewildering beet fad among foodies. But who knows? Real chefs created the recipes so they ought to taste good, and there’s no pork loin involved.)

Hanukkah is coming!


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 ½ 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!

Hanukkah Pancake Post


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?)

So Much Funukah


For me the holiday season doesn’t start after Thanksgiving or when the black Friday sales are advertised or even when the Christmas tree is lit on our town common. No, for me the holiday season starts the first time I hear Adam Sandler’s Hanukah Song on the radio. That day was today!">" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="325">

As a kid growing up Jewish, surrounded by many Jewish friends and family, I never had the feeling of being a minority or an outsider. It wasn’t until I went to college that I experienced what it was like to be one of the few rather than one of the many. Having had this experience, I realized I want my children to have that sense of community and belonging I had surrounded by others like me. Being the Jewish part of an interfaith family and raising Jewish children it’s important to me to pay more than lip service to their Judaism. It was important for me to find a temple that will welcome our interfaith family (which we did at Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, Mass.) and to celebrate holidays and teach my children what it means to be Jewish.

This Sunday I will have my husband’s Roman Catholic family over for our annual Hanukkah party. We will eat latkes and jelly donuts, play dreidel, sing songs, give the kids gifts and tell the Hanukkah story. Sharing what it means to be Jewish, not only with my children but with my extended family, is a blessing for me. They are excited to learn about it and I’m happy to teach (at least as much as I know!)

I sat in my car this morning, driving to work belting out lines like “David Lee Roth lights the menorah. So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah,” (here are the rest of the lyrics) and got that warm feeling of being part of something. For that I say THANK YOU ADAM SANDLER.

Hanukkah is Gonna Be All Right


A lot of my blogging this December is going to fall into three categories: embedding gratuitously entertaining Hanukkah videos, linking you to Hanukkah resources, and promoting the blogs of our writers. This post does all three.

First, I think everyone should read Amy Meltzer’s blog Homeshuling (and that I should get more writing from her on our site!) Whether or not you are in an interfaith family, if you’re parenting Jewish children in a majority non-Jewish environment you will relate to her post Playing Christians. (Sometimes when I read these blogs I come down with blog envy–I wish people had written their posts for IFF instead. That happens to me a lot when I read Fifty Percenters, a new blog by people in interfaith couples and families.)

Aliza Hausman, one of my favorite IFF writers and author of the insightful Memoirs of a Jewminicana, asked on her Facebook page yesterday whether anyone had good songs for non-Jewish children to learn about Hanukkah. It turns out it’s for a friend of hers who is a pre-school teacher, but I thought it would be relevant to a lot of our readers.  I thought immediately of “I Had a Little Dreidel,” (MP3) the quintessential non-religious Hanukkah song in English. (The link is to a cool acapella group from Chicago, Listen Up! Acapella.)

In recent years, my favorite non-religious English song about Hanukkah has been Woody Guthrie’s Hanuka Dance. (The link there is to a Youtube video of a very earnest young man covering the song–it’s sweet!) Subsequent to my discovery of the Woody Guthrie recording of that song, one of my favorite bands of all time, The Klezmatics, covered Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah songs in an album, Happy Joyous Hanukkah. (I wrote this post yesterday and actually heard the title song being piped over the loudspeaker in my local supermarket! Now that’s weird.)

You’re going to think this is bizarre, but I’m embedding a video that makes me cry. The Leevees, a bunch of indie rock musicians who do Hanukkah music, sang “Latke Clan,” at a synagogue nursery school. It’s dark, it’s December, it looks cold and grey, all the parents are hugging their kids, and the band is singing, “everyone’s together tonight.” I don’t know, it’s a happy, silly song and everyone’s happy and making jokes. I’m just touched because this is really how it is–we like to all be together. Hope that’s how it is for you. (Next Hanukkah post–pancakes!)

Who is a Jew? (Do you want your government to answer that?)


Last week, a British Court of Appeals ruled that an individual’s Jewish beliefs, not birth or conversion, determines Jewishness, and that to deny a child admission to a Jewish school due to the circumstances of his birth is racism. This was in response to a British court case in which the parent of a child was denied admission to JFS (formerly known as the Jews Free School), a publicly-funded Jewish school, because his mother’s conversion to Judaism was through an independent progressive synagogue that the Orthodox United Synagogue didn’t recognize. This is the second time that the case has been heard. JFS has said that it will appeal the case to the House of Lords, which functions like the US Supreme Court in being Britain’s court of last appeal.

If the appeals court decision stands, the 97 Jewish schools in Britain, all of which are Orthodox, will have to create new criteria to determine who is eligible for admission into Jewish day schools. A spokesperson from the British Board of Deputies (the equivalent of the United Jewish Communities in the US) told Haaretz that Jewish schools could be compelled to use “faith tests” similar to those done by publically-funded church schools in Britain. These faith tests could include home visits and attendance checks at the local synagogue. I can envision it now, desecrate the Sabbath, get kicked out of school!

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