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By Rabbi Robyn Frisch and Rabbi Malka Packer
Just like the approach of the secular new year, the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year,Â is a great time to reflect on the past year and to make resolutions about how you can be better in the year ahead. (Click here to read how Jewish new year resolutions are different from secular new year resolutions.)
We propose that synagogues use this time to take stock of how theyâ€™ve been welcoming and inclusive to interfaith couples and families over the past year, and how they can be even more welcoming and inclusive in the year ahead. One way toÂ do this is to participate in InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI). But even for those not participating in IILI, this is a great time of year to come up with an action plan of how they can be more welcoming and inclusive. Below are suggestions based on a webinar on â€śLanguage and Opticsâ€ť that we are presenting to IILI participants. These suggestions are the combined work of a number of InterfaithFamily staff members over the years based on our vast experience working with interfaith couples and families. What is your synagogueâ€™s response to each of the following questions? Based on your responses, you can see where you have work to do.
Hopefully these questions can help guide your synagogue in institutional cheshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul) at this time of the year and encourage an action plan for becoming more welcoming and inclusive of interfaith couples and families in the year ahead.
To learn more about InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative click here.
Passover is coming, which means that Passover-themed parodies of pop songs are showing up on my Facebook news feed, and possibly yours too. I love watching these videosâ€”theyâ€™re a nice break from cleaning out the chametz (leavened products) from my kitchen and thinking about what Iâ€™m going to serve at my seder.
Last year, I wrote about my Top 7 Passover Song Parodies. This year, Iâ€™ve got another listâ€”with some new parodies as well as some that Iâ€™ve discovered since last year.
1.Â In the final paragraph of my blog post last year I wrote, â€śWith Passover less than a month away, Iâ€™m disappointed that I still havenâ€™t seen any good 2016 Passover pop song parodies. Maybe the Maccabeatsâ€¦will release a video before Passover. I can hopeâ€¦â€ť Well, my hope was fulfilled. The Maccabeats DID release a music video before Passover in 2016: A â€śJustin Bieber Passover Mashup,â€ť which was a parody mashup of Beiberâ€™s â€śLove Yourself,â€ť â€śSorryâ€ť and â€śWhat Do You Mean?â€ť
2. Another great parody that was released for Passover 2016 was by a group called the Y-Studs, an all-male a cappella group from Yeshiva University. The Y-Studsâ€™ â€śSeder â€“ Passoverâ€ť was based on Michael Jacksonâ€™s groundbreaking â€śThrillerâ€ť video. I, for one, canâ€™t resist anything based on the â€śThrillerâ€ť video.
3. Congregation B’nai Shalom and Friends also released a fun video in 2016, â€śNow We’ve Got Matzo,” a Passover-themed parody of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”
4.Â The catchiest Passover song parody of 2016? In my opinion, it was Six13â€™s â€śGod Split the Ocean (2016 Passover Jam),â€ť based on â€śCake by the Oceanâ€ť by DNCE. Warning: Be careful if you listen to this songâ€¦itâ€™s hard to get the catchy tune out of your head.
5.Â Just as Passover 2014 was all about parodies of â€śLet It Goâ€ť from the Disney movie Frozen (for example, see here, here and here), not surprisingly, in 2017, Disney’s MoanaÂ served as inspiration for a Passover parody. Congregation Bâ€™nai Shalom and Friendsâ€™ â€śWhy Seders Are Slowâ€ť is based on the movieâ€™s â€śHow Far Iâ€™ll Go.â€ť
6. If you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” you’re sure to love Six13â€™s â€śSeder Crew (2017 Passover Jam).â€ťÂ I’ve already listened to it countless times, and Passover is still several days away.
7.Â My favorite movie in 2016 wasÂ La La Land and my favorite Passover parody video of 2017 is definitely the Y-Stud’s “La La Passover,” which I can’t seem to get out of my head…and I don’t even mind!
Hang on:Â one last video. Itâ€™s not a parody, but itâ€™s a great video. Trust me, you donâ€™t want to miss it. Itâ€™s a creative multi-genre twist on the classic Passover seder song â€śDayenuâ€ť recorded by the Maccabeats in 2015.
Chag Sameach! Have a happy Passover! And let us know: Whatâ€™s your favorite Passover song parody?
I am a rabbi and I love Christmastime. I love the twinkling lights in the cool dark nights. I love listening to carolers sing of joy and hope as I sip my spiced cider or hot chocolate. I love that everyone greets each other more than any other time of the year. (I am, however, terrified of Santa Claus because of a run in with a mall Santa as a child.) And one of my favorite songs is â€śIâ€™m Dreaming of a White Christmas.â€ť Itâ€™s not my favorite because of its religious theme, or even because of its references to snow (Iâ€™m an Arizona kid after all). Itâ€™s my favorite because it was my dadâ€™s favorite.
Hereâ€™s a little backstory on my family: My dad converted to Judaism when he married his first wife, decades before I was born. All my life he was extremely committed to being Jewish and for the last several years of his life he was dedicated to Jewish study and worship at his local synagogue. But he sang that song like it was his personal anthem. We even had it playing on the stereo during the luncheon after his funeral. Iâ€™m pretty sure that was the first (and last) time his synagogue has had Christmas music playing at a funeralâ€¦ and maybe the only time itâ€™s ever played at any funeral in August. But it was his favorite, and now that itâ€™s Christmastime again Iâ€™m hearing it on the radio every day and thinking of my dad.
This year the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve. Some people are very excited about this since it means that for the first time in decades Hanukkah has similar â€śstatusâ€ť as Christmas. To some people it means that Jews still get to take advantage of Christmas shopping sales, which doesnâ€™t happen when Hanukkah falls in November. But for some interfaith families it is a source of a lot of conflict.
When the holidays are separate on the calendar it is easier to separate their celebrations. For my family, it doesnâ€™t matter that Hanukkah is on Christmas because Hanukkah is always on Thanksgiving for us. Growing up in a family that was geographically dispersed, Thanksgiving was the one weekend that we were all usually together. No matter when Hanukkah fell on the calendar, you could find us eating latkes and exchanging gifts on the Friday after Thanksgiving. In my family, Hanukkah was primarily about spending time with family, eating delicious food from family recipes, and presents.
To me, Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday from a religious perspective and does very little to define my Jewish identity. Which means that loving Christmastime does little to threaten my Jewish identity.
Because of my relationship with Hanukkah, when a friend recently asked me if it was OK for Jewish people to like Christmas movies and music, I chuckled thinking about my own annual tradition of watching â€śElfâ€ť and my childhood memories of driving around town to see Christmas lights. And then I thought more closely about the question: IS it OK for Jewish people to like Christmas movies and music? What about lights? Trees?
As a Reform rabbi I do not feel it is my place to tell people whatâ€™s â€śOKâ€ť for them to do Jewishly. I do feel itâ€™s my role to guide people along their path and offer expertise and opinions where appropriate. It is not my job to tell people not to listen to Christmas music, or not to have a tree or to keep kosher. It is my job to help people see how positive Jewish experience can impact your life and shape familiesâ€™ lives.
When it comes to the winter holidays, there is so much more at play than religious beliefs. To one family Christmas music may symbolize songs of hope for a savior or faith in God. To another family it may symbolize beautiful melodies and joyful tunes. To me, it reminds me of my father who sung those songs with a huge smile and especially now that heâ€™s gone, I want to listen to that music to remind me of him. I spoke with an interfaith family recently whose kids identify as Jewish, and who have a tree to honor one parentâ€™s family tradition. They feel no guilt and they do not feel that having a tree in any way compromises their Jewish identity, but rather that it helps them represent their entire family.
Meanwhile, I hear rabbis and others tell scary tales of Christmas trees leading to diminishing Jewish communities and threatening Jewish identity. Iâ€™ve heard the sermons from rabbis who are committed to the survival of the Jewish people. Iâ€™ve read the articles describing how Jewish families (or interfaith families) having a Christmas tree is a threat to Jewish identity. I understand the argument that Jewish identity is important and the survival of Jewish community is essential. However, I believe that when many of our families are already embracing the tradition of the Christmas tree, despite the best efforts of some to discourage it, the real threat to our Jewish community is the dismissal and judgment of these families.
I think that if our Jewishness is defined by a tree or a movie or a song, we need to rethink our religious identity and spend the rest of the year strengthening it. There is more to a religious identity than physical symbols. It is about a way of life, a set of values and a tradition, and the ways in which we enact that tradition.
This piece is a heartfelt, fictionalized snapshot of one personâ€™s experience. It is not meant to be a judgment about having a Christmas tree. I would love to read about other peopleâ€™s experiencesâ€¦
Sarah had only been to her dadâ€™s house a couple of times since he married Joanne, and her heart raced as she rang the bell. Quincyâ€™s barking calmed her some. She knew that dog loved her.
Joanne wasnâ€™t home, but her presence filled the rooms. Sarah saw her in the framed family photos of strangers, and her dad. She saw her in the decorative plate collection framing the kitchen archway, and in the silver thimbles on tiny shelves in the dining room. And she was in the treeâ€¦
Sarah had always loved Christmas trees. She loved helping her friends decorate them, and she loved hearing stories about treasured ornaments. She loved the way they smelled and the way the lights looked in the dark. She loved the warm cozy feeling they evoked in Christmas movies, but this tree was different.
This tree kicked her in the heart. This tree was proof of just how far her dad had strayed from their family. She didnâ€™t see the dad who wouldnâ€™t let her quit Hebrew school in this house. She couldnâ€™t find the dad who only let her date Jewish boys in this house. She couldnâ€™t find the dad who had raised her in this house.
Sarah was surprised by the strength of her reaction. The tree brought tears to her eyes. She sat on the floor with Quincy, and buried her face for a lingering moment in his soft fur.
She wanted her dad to be happy, but she also wanted her dadâ€™s house to feel like home. She knew it never would. She also knew that she would make her peace with it, but for now, it just felt like another loss.
Two years ago, I was sitting at a table on a warm summer evening with five young couples. They were the newest cohort of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphiaâ€™s â€śLove and Religionâ€ť workshop for interfaith couples.Â None of the couples had ever met before, and everyone listened quietly as we went around the table and each couple introduced themselves, sharing how theyâ€™d met and what had originally attracted them to each other.
Then I asked each couple to share when the issue of religion first came up in their relationship. Sarah (all names have been changed) said: â€śIt was the first December. Weâ€™d just moved in together. He really wanted to have a Christmas tree and I made it very clear that I would never have a Christmas tree in my home.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m with you!â€ť said Joan, who was sitting across from Sarah. â€śIâ€™d never allow that!Â Itâ€™s just wrong for a Jewish person to have a Christmas tree in their home!â€ť And with that, Sarah and Joan high fiveâ€™d across the tableâ€¦ newly bonded by their refusal to let their significant others have Christmas trees.
Meanwhile, I watched another couple, Amy and Dan, squirm uncomfortably in their seats.Â It was Amy and Danâ€™s turn to share next and I happened to know that after much discussion Dan had agreed to Amyâ€™s request to have a Christmas tree in their home the prior December, even though it made Dan, whoâ€™s Jewish, uncomfortable. Realizing that I needed to jump in as facilitator, I reminded the couples of one of the â€śground rulesâ€ť of our group: That we werenâ€™t discussing what was â€śright or wrongâ€ť or judging each other, but creating a safe space for discussion for all of the couples to communicate openly and figure out what was best for them. Fortunately, we were able to move on, and the five couples bonded over the following weeks, sharing openly about the challenges and blessings of their interfaith relationships.
Iâ€™ve been thinking back to that summer evening a lot in recent weeksâ€”as the topic of Christmas trees has come up multiple times in my meetings with interfaith couplesâ€¦ even though itâ€™s July!
What is it about Christmas trees? Why are they so often such a big source of conflict for interfaith couples? Hereâ€™s some of what Iâ€™ve learned from working with many Christian/Jewish couples.
For the Christian partners:
-Some of their best childhood memories are of Christmas. Christmas trees remind them of family togetherness and warmth. They often want to have a Christmas tree not just for their own sake, but so that their children can experience the magical feeling that they had when they woke up on Christmas morning and found lots of presents under their tree. So many families have special traditions and rituals for decorating their trees, opening presents, etc. Parents who have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child often want to be able to re-create their experiences for their own children, even if their children are being raised as Jews.
-Many (though certainly not all) parents who grew up celebrating Christmas say that they donâ€™t think of a Christmas tree as â€śreligious.â€ť They canâ€™t understand why their Jewish partner is uncomfortable having something in their home that to them is all about family togetherness and fond memories, and doesnâ€™t have religious significance.
For the Jewish partners:
-They often see having a Christmas tree as â€śselling outâ€ť their Judaism;Â the final step to full assimilation into the majority Christian culture. No matter what Jewish practices they do or donâ€™t follow, they view having a Christmas tree in their own home as a boundary that theyâ€™re not comfortable crossing.
-Many Jews are concerned about what other Jews (often their own parents) will think or how theyâ€™ll feel coming into their home if it has a Christmas tree.
Recently, Sue and Mark, an interfaith couple, shared with me the frustration theyâ€™re both feeling as they discuss whether or not to have a Christmas tree in their home this December. Sue lamented: â€śItâ€™s July, and we find ourselves sitting on the beach arguing about Christmas.â€ť She said that every time they start to discuss whether or not theyâ€™ll have a Christmas tree, they both start talking over each other and just shut each other out. Mark looked at me and wondered: â€śWhat should we do? Whatâ€™s the right solution?â€ť
Of course only Sue and Mark can determine whatâ€™s right for them as a couple, and whatâ€™s right for them this December may not be whatâ€™s right for them next Decemberâ€”and it certainly may not be whatâ€™s right for a different couple.Â But thereâ€™s one thing I could tell them is right for sure: to take the time to truly listen to each other and to each try to understand the emotions behind what their partner is saying.
Whether or not theyâ€™ll have a Christmas tree may be something that they finally resolve and come to agree on over time, or perhaps the issue will be a source of conflict for years.Â But if they can each respect where the other is coming fromâ€”and discuss the issue from a place of love and respect rather than anger and intoleranceâ€”then their relationship will be much healthierâ€¦ in Julyâ€”and in December.
If you are an interfaith couple where one partner is Jewish and one is Christian, do you plan to have a Christmas tree? Has having/not having a tree been a source of conflict in your relationship?Â Do you have other reasons than the ones Iâ€™ve mentioned above for having/not having a Christmas tree?
My grandma Zelda taught me many things about Judaism and preparing for the Jewish holidays. However, what she did not teach me was her recipes. In fact, in all the years I watched and helped her cook, I donâ€™t ever remember seeing her follow a recipe or consult a cookbook. Whenever she cooked, she did it from memory.
For her huge fluffy matzah balls, I remember her telling me to mix together the matzah meal, schmaltz (chicken fat) and water. â€śIf itâ€™s too thick,â€ť she said, â€śadd more water. If itâ€™s too wet, add more matzah meal.â€ť There was no recipe to follow, just the steps she had learned from her mother, which were the steps she used her entire life and the same ones she shared with me.
Often she would tell me stories about what it was like growing up strictly kosher or what it was like living in a family of eight children.
Looking back now, I see that my grandmother taught me how to cook from memory. For the most part, if I learn how to cook something once, I can pretty much cook it again without the recipe. I know what â€śseason with salt and pepper to tasteâ€ť means, and I do not measure exactly how much goes in of this or that ingredient. When I bake a chicken, I donâ€™t usually use a timer since I know how itâ€™s supposed to look and taste when itâ€™s ready. ThatÂ is how I learned to cook from Grandma Zelda.
More than how or what to cook, much of what I learned from my grandmother was about how to build a Jewish home (even if I donâ€™t follow the rules of keeping kosherÂ in exactly the same way she did). I learned how to let Judaism be a framework for my life, how to follow the seasons and celebrate the holidays and how to make room within that structure for my own personality and creativity. I learned the value of taking the time to prepare for holidaysâ€”not just physically cleaning and cooking, but spiritually, too. I learned from her how to gather my family around me and how to make the observance of a holiday meal more meaningful. I learned how to open the door to those who come from other backgrounds and traditions.
This will be our first Passover since my grandmother passed away and my first time hosting Passover in my own home. It feels like an honor, a duty to carry on this tradition and a very large task for which I will need a lot of help. In large part, itâ€™s about the food, but itâ€™s also about the rituals and about the memories.
I know that our Passover seder this year will look and feel different from the Passover meals we used to have at Grandma Zeldaâ€™s. It will be the first time not being in her home and the first seder without her. I will think of her every step of the way as I clean my house and prepare for my guests. We will light her Sabbath candles on the first night of Passover, we will fill her Miriamâ€™s cup and I will prepare and teach in her honor. I will cook with my memories, and I will cook from memory, just like she taught me.
This article was reprinted with permission from Jewish Food Experience.
Passover meant a big seder, with my grandfather chanting at the end of the table. My cousins and I would scramble around the house, hunting for the afikomen. Then my uncle would play the piano in the basement while we all sang. It was a wonderful holiday.
Passover also meant skipping my usual PB&J and taking buttered matzah to school, wrapped in aluminum foil. I remember how the butter would melt into shiny globules, and Iâ€™d rub them in with my finger. There was something nice about being â€śThe Jewish Kidâ€ť in the class, with my special food. I loved the rituals. I liked the hyper-awareness of Passover, the symbolism of the seder plate. Mortar and tearsâ€”the sense that everything mattered.
And while we didnâ€™t celebrate Easter religiously at our house, I did get a basket from my (Catholic) mom, filled with jellybeans and chocolate eggs. This was nice, tooâ€”that while I got to be â€śThe Jewish Kidâ€ť I also didnâ€™t feel totally left out of Easter. Sometimes there was a neighborhood parade and we made Easter hats from cardboard, glue and feathers.
Then came a year when the holidays overlapped. My parents were newly divorced, and not communicating well. My mom did her best with Passover. If memory serves, I took my matzah to school like usual. But then on Sunday morningâ€¦ I got my Easter basket. Filled with bright jelly beans.
I tore into it, of course, mouth filled with sweetness, until I crunched through a blue candy shell into the crisp goodness of a malted robinâ€™s egg. And suddenly, it hit me. Easter wasnâ€™t Kosher for Passover! I spit the candy out into my hand, confused. What should I do?
For the next few days, my Easter basket sat on top of the fridge, waiting for me. I remember staring up at it, thinking about how it wasnâ€™t fair, that nobody else I knew had to wait to eat her candy. But the truth was, my dad wasnâ€™t there to enforce the rules anymore. It was all me. I had put the basket on top of the fridge, and I felt conflicted, but also firm in my resolve.
Years later, as an adult, the holidays overlapped again, and remembering the basket on the fridge, I did a funny thing. I assembled a Kosher-for-Passover Easter basket for myself. I did a good job, hunted down fruit-gels and made chocolate-covered matzah. The basket looked lovely.
But you know what? It was no good. It didnâ€™t make me happy at all. Staring at that basket of fruit slices and jelly rings didnâ€™t feel the same as waking up to an Easter basket. Not remotely. It feltâ€¦ wrong.
I think sometimes, in the interfaith community, we seek to smooth the ruffled feelings, to reconcile all our conflicts and contradictions. We want to believe that weâ€™re creating families in which everything can blend, fit and make sense. But hereâ€™s the thingâ€”some things are distinct, even mutually exclusive. Some years, choosing to keep Kosher for Passover means not eating Easter candy. And thatâ€™s annoying, but also OK. Things donâ€™t have to be easy to matter.
In a way, I feel like I undermined the essence of each holiday in that Eastover Basket I made. For me (and I can only speak for my own experience), Passover is about the restrictions, the rigor. Passover feels powerful because of its deprivation. And for me, Easter baskets are the oppositeâ€”about abundance, sheer pleasure.
This is fine! These two holidays donâ€™t have to blend. Each holiday holds a special place in my memory. Easter and Passover can co-exist without merging. And you know what? The truth is that all the most meaningful experiences of my life have included conflict. Every deep relationship Iâ€™ve had has been imperfect, particular and occasionally inconvenient. Often, rituals matter most when we have to wait for them, or forego something else. Sometimes, conflict serves a purpose.
When I was a kid, I stared up at my Easter basket on the fridge and thought about both holidays. I owned them both and recognized that they both mattered to me. That year, for the first time, I truly decided to keep Kosher for Passover. It mattered more than it ever had before. And then a few days later, I decided to eat my robinâ€™s eggs.
They were delicious.
We love Mo Willems books in our house! My little one just brought home one of his gazillions of titles called, I Really Like Slop. As I have written before, I now see the world through interfaith family lenses. When we read this story, all I could think about was interfaith couples at Passover! How in the world did I make that leap?
The book tells the story of Piggie presenting her friend Gerald, the elephant, with a pot of her slop. Gerald looks at the smelly concoction with trepidation. He asks some questions about the make-up of the slop. Piggie begs him to try some. She explains that itâ€™s part of Pig culture! Gerald touches his tongue to the slop and chokes and gags. Piggie asks Gerald if he likes it. Gerald explains that he does not like it, but he does like Piggie. And he is happy he tried it.
As are all of Mo Willemsâ€™ books, this story is precious and even poignant. It made me think about someone who didnâ€™t grow up with, letâ€™s say, gefilte fish, being presented with it for the first time at a Passover seder. This person is no doubt sitting with a significant other at their parentsâ€™ house, surrounded by family and trying to fit in and make a good impression. This person is trying to avoid any cultural faux pas. They may be worried that the haggadah (the book read during the Passover meal) will be read aloud going around the table and that there will be unfamiliar words and transliterated Hebrew to navigate (on four cups of wine, no less). And, now this person is presented with this foreign, kind of smelly food, with a gel-like substance wiggling around on top.
If you were brought up with this food and donâ€™t like it, it is easier to dismiss it. But, for a newcomer, how does one politely excuse themselves from trying it? (Especially if is homemade. This usually makes it a lot better than if itâ€™s cold from the jarâ€”although some people love that. Who am I to yuck your yum, as my childâ€™s feeding therapist implores.)
What Piggie and Gerald teach us is that we donâ€™t have to like our partnerâ€™s cultural things. They donâ€™t have to become ours. We donâ€™t have to feel comfortable eating the food or donning certain garb. We donâ€™t automatically have to feel comfortable with the language, traditions or dances. Maybe after experience and time, we will come to like things. We will make them our own. But, maybe we never will. And, thatâ€™s OK. Showing respect, asking questions, learning about and even trying aspects important to our loved ones is what matters.
Happy prepping for Passover!
Hanukkah is a holiday full of fun and meaningful traditions, like eating foods made with oil such as latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts); playing the dreidel game; and of course lighting the hanukkiah (the nine branched candelabrum, commonly called a â€śMenorahâ€ť in English). And of course there are the traditional songs â€“ like Maâ€™oz Tsur (“Rock of Ages”), â€śI Have a Little Dreidelâ€ť and â€śHanukkah, O Hanukkah.â€ť
In modern times, there have been some great Hanukkah songs, some for children (though still loved by adults), such as Debbie Friedmanâ€™s â€śThe Latke Songâ€ť and others for a wider audience, like Matisyahuâ€™s â€śMiracles.”
Hanukkah music rose to a whole new â€“ and much funnier â€“ level on December 3, 1994, when Adam Sandler performed “The Chanukah Song” on Saturday Night Liveâ€Ť‘â€‹s Weekend Update. The original song was followed up by â€śPart IIâ€ť (1999),Â â€śPart 3â€ť (2002) and a new updated version this year. In all four songs, Sandler sings about celebrities who he claims (often, though not always correctly) are â€śJewish,â€ť â€śnot Jewish,â€ť or â€śhalf-Jewish.â€ť To learn more about all four of Sandlerâ€™s songs check out the Wikipedia entry on â€śThe Chanukah Songâ€ť which includes a listing of the celebrities mentioned in the songs, the truth about whether they are or arenâ€™t Jewish and links to covers and spoofs. Here’s the latest version.
Starting around 2010, a new kind of Hanukkah song became popular: The Pop Song Haunkkah Parody. Even though it’s been aÂ few years after the first really popular parodies started circulating around the internet, I still remember most of the words to each of the parody songs – though I couldnâ€™t even remember who sang the song originally, let alone the words to the original song. So, in keeping with the number eight for the eight nights of Hanukkah, here are my eight favorite Hanukkah Pop Song Parodies (in chronological order):
1. Â The Fountainheadâ€™s â€śI Gotta Feeling Hanukkah,â€ťÂ the 2010 parody of The Black Eyed Peasâ€™ â€śI Gotta Feeling.â€ť The Fountainheads are a group of young Israeli singers, dancers and musicians who are all graduates and students of the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership.
2. Â The one that really brought Hanukkah song parodies into the big leagues was â€śCandlelight,â€ťÂ a 2012 parody of Taio Cruzâ€™s â€śDynamiteâ€ť by The Maccabeats, Yeshiva Universityâ€™s all-male a capella group.
3. Â â€śEight Nights â€“ Hanukkah Mashup,â€ťÂ a 2012 Hanukkah parody/mashup of three songs: â€śSome Nightsâ€ť by Fun, â€śDie Youngâ€ť by Ke$ha and â€śLive While Weâ€™re Youngâ€ť by One Direction. StandFour is another all-male a capella group, composed of four former members of The Maccabeats.
4. Â The B-Boyz â€ś(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Dreidel),â€ťÂ a 2012 parody of The Beastie Boysâ€™ â€ś(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)â€ť by three young brothers – Ben, Jake and Max Borenstein.
5. The Maccabeats again with â€śBurnâ€ť – their 2013 version of Ellie Gouldingâ€™s song. They didnâ€™t change the words, but they made it into a Hanukkah video.
6. Â â€śChanukah Lights,â€ťÂ The Jabberwocks of Brown Universityâ€™s 2014 song, which is a play on Kanye Westâ€™s â€śAll of the Lights.â€ť The Jabberwocks are Brownâ€™s oldest, all-male a capella group.
7. Â Six13â€™s 2014 â€śChanukah (Shake It Off)â€ť parodying Taylor Swiftâ€™s â€śShake It Off.â€ť Six13 is an all-male Jewish a capella group from New York.
8. Â And the Maccabeats yet again, with 2014â€™s â€śAll About that Neis,â€ťÂ a parody of Meghan Trainorâ€™s â€śAll About the Bass.â€ť
I canâ€™t wait to hear and watch what these groups and others have in store for Hanukkah 2015. And I hope to see more women (of the six groups whose parodies I listed above only one, The Fountainheads, included women) and girls coming out with some awesome parodies.
Whatâ€™s your favorite Hanukkah song or song parody? Please share a link so we can all enjoy.
This year our sukkah is unkosher. It has no walls.
According to traditional Jewish law, a sukkah is supposed to have walls â€“ four of them, actually, though one of them can be the side of a house if itâ€™s been built up against a house. The walls can be made out of any material, but they have to be strong enough to withstand some wind without falling down.
Our sukkah has no walls because, in the midst of many challenges, we didnâ€™t get around to putting them up. But thatâ€™s not the only reason. I confess that my wife and I also kind of like the way the sukkah looks and feels inside this way. A sukkah without walls is an appropriate religious symbol for our family.
Our nuclear family consists of four people and two dogs. Itâ€™s me, a liberal rabbi; Melissa, my spouse, who was my intermarried partner for part of the time I was a rabbinical student, before she converted; and Clarice and Hunter, neither of whom was born Jewish, and both of whom were old enough at the time of the adoption to have the right to decide whether or not to become Jewish. So far, they havenâ€™t, at least not formally. On a day to day basis they alternate between identifying Jewishly and not. So, while neither of our kids identify with another religion, because, at least halakhically (according to Jewish law), theyâ€™re not Jewish, we are what gets referred to as an interfaith family.
For me, our sukkah without walls symbolizes Melissaâ€™s and my core value of openness to welcoming the stranger deeply into our home and life. Thereâ€™s a framework, a structure to our sukkah, as well as a roof made of foliage, and a lulav and an etrog too. Anyone who knows what a sukkah is who saw ours would know that it is a sukkah, or someoneâ€™s good try at erecting a proper sukkah. But our sukkah, perhaps inspired by Abraham and Sarahâ€™s tent, is literally open on all sides. Like a sukkah with the traditionally prescribed walls that wonâ€™t fall down in a gust of wind, our â€śopen architectureâ€ť sukkah also can withstand a gust of wind, but it accomplishes that feat not by resisting the movement of the air with sturdy barriers; rather, the changing winds blow right on through. (Metaphor now fully expressed, and possibly even overdoneâ€¦)
Our sukkah without walls also speaks to me because our extended families consist of a really wide assortment of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living on different continents, practicing different religions, and speaking different languages.Our open sukkah reminds me of the huppah at our wedding, where Melissaâ€™s down home conservative evangelical country relatives mixed with my loud and effusive Moroccan-Israeli clan. Everyone was welcome. Jewish traditions, practiced with some creative deviation from traditional Jewish law (Melissa wasnâ€™t Jewish at the time, after all), defined the space, but with very open access to people of many faiths and identities.
Our sukkah also represents, for me, what I call our local family of choice. Our dear friend, Ariel,* was the single mother of four kids when we first met her and began helping each other parent our collective half dozen children with different challenges. Because of what our kids went through to end up in the foster care system, we needed the strength and support of others to parent them without falling apart. And because Ariel, who was accepted to law school and is the hardest working person we know, grew up in foster care herself, sheâ€™s a great model of resilience to our kids, and she really gets them in ways that we donâ€™t. Weâ€™ve been able to help each other out in countless ways, and our daughter practically thinks of Ariel as another parent.
Ariel, by the way, is Bahaâ€™i. A little over a year ago I officiated at her wedding to Nathan,* who is Christian, and he and his son from a previous marriage are now part of this growing hybridized nuclear fusion Brady Bunch. (Full disclosure: One of our two dogs is actually their dog, staying with us for the time being.)
The boundaries between our two families are kind of like, well, our sukkah without walls. There are structures there between our families that are real and that operate every day. And yet, thereâ€™s also a very easy flow between our families and our homes, even our vehicles. (You can tell this because the empty cups and food wrappers on the floors of our cars are a mixed multitude of representatives of our various bad food choice preferences.)
Iâ€™m not seeking pity with what Iâ€™m about to say, but one of the painful things in my life, as a rabbi and even just as a Jew, is that Iâ€™m all too aware that for a part of the Jewish community, itâ€™s not just my sukkah thatâ€™s unkosher, but our family is kind of unkosher too. A previously intermarried rabbinical student? Thatâ€™s not kosher! A spouse of a rabbi who converted but not in an Orthodox way? For some, that means Iâ€™m still an intermarried rabbi. Totally unkosher (well, maybe not anymore). A rabbiâ€™s family and their kids arenâ€™t Jewish?! Itâ€™s like itâ€™s raining pork and shellfish. On Shabbos.
There are some Jewish thought leaders who argue that itâ€™s families like ours that are putting the future of the Jewish people at risk. There are too many different identities in the household, they say, and the boundaries arenâ€™t strong enough to promote Jewish children, and arenâ€™t rabbis supposed to be exemplars of Jewish lives that are more emphatically and unambiguously Jewish? Well, I suppose I canâ€™t prove that these critics are wrong, though the truth is that they donâ€™t know for a certainty what will or wonâ€™t make for a vibrant and meaningful Jewish future. I think their claims tell us more about their values and preferences than about how the future is or isnâ€™t going to unfold.
The same can be said about my values and preferences, I admit. My values and preferences favor a Judaism of open and welcoming structures, of joyful and sincere practices shared with people of any background freely, and of flexibility and trusting the unknown. Perhaps my marriage will not produce any children who become Jewish adults raising Jewish children, and perhaps, therefore, weâ€™ll be judged by some as a failed Jewish family, a Jewish continuity dead end.
But hereâ€™s the thing. Because of our life choices, itâ€™s not just our two kids who know what a sukkah is and have helped build and decorate a sukkah and have heard Melissa and me talk about the themes of trust and welcoming guests and vulnerability. Itâ€™s not just our kids who have, again, broken the pitom (the stem) off ouretrog halfway through the holiday, thus rendering the etrog unkosher like our sukkah, and who have had to hear me discover this and yell, â€śDammit! Who the hell broke off the pitom!? Thatâ€™s the first thing you learn youâ€™re not supposed to do! And it cost, like, forty dollars!â€ť Itâ€™s also Arielâ€™s kids, whoâ€™ve had great fun in our sukkah over the years, as have Nathan, and his son, and some of our neighbors. And because the rabbinical seminary I attended didnâ€™t turn me away, despite my way of doing Jewish, and neither did the synagogue I served for 8 years, Iâ€™ve taught and worked with well over a hundred kids in helping them to develop a Jewish identity of warmth, pride, and ethics. And sorry to be all bragging on myself, but Iâ€™ve also had two Jewish non-fiction books published, both of which strive to open access to Judaism to people of all faiths.
So maybe our unkosher family and our unkosher sukkah is a symbol of the demise of liberal Judaism. Could be. Or maybe itâ€™s something else, maybe even something wonderful.
* names have been changed