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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Join the San Diego Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Family Service to explore the interfaith family experience, including a screening of the film Out of Faith followed by a facilitated discussion. Out of Faith is a feature-length documentary that follows three generations as they struggle with complex and emotionally-charged conflicts over intermarriage, familial duty, ethnic identity, and cultural continuity and survival.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
In the Hebrew school parking lot on Wednesday night, my son and I witnessed another little boy howling at the moon. “Sure glad I’m not a Jewish werewolf,” I said to my kid. “You would miss all the holidays.” It’s true–the Hebrew calendar assures that many Jewish holidays fall on the full moon, including Passover, Sukkot and Hanukkah. If you transform into a wolf when the moon is full, no matzah or latkes for you.
Tonight minor yet intriguing holiday, Tu Bishvat, called Hag La-Ilanot, the tree holiday, is no exception. Even its name, the 15th of Shevat, is a clue–because all Hebrew months start on the new moon. The holiday could be called the birthday of trees, since it was the date that Jews in ancient Israel used to figure out the age of their trees in order to know when to bring fruit from them to the Temple in Jerusalem on Shavuot. A highly technical date, Tu Bishvat has been transformed into a holiday celebrating agriculture in the land of Israel, kabbalistic theories of the universe and environmental consciousness.
When I was a kid, we celebrated Tu Bishvat by eating raisins and almonds in Hebrew school and by buying trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund. We also sang a little song in Hebrew about almond trees, “Ha-Shkediyah Porachat.” (It’s not easy to transliterate the Hebrew word for almond tree.) The lyrics mean something like, “the almond trees are blooming, the golden sun is shining, on the top of every roof, birds sing to herald the holiday.” My friend taught me an alternate version that fits the weather here much better:
The almond tree is freezing, the apple tree is sneezing
If you think that this is spring, I can sell you anything
Tu Bishvat is here, Hag La-Ilanot
Tu Bishvat is here, where’s my overcoat?
I went searching for the original version of the song, and found this adorable Spanish-speaking family getting all excited about the almond trees and cyclamen in Israel:
Today, it’s become increasingly common for people to celebrate Tu Bishvat with a seder, a mystical practice that compares the peels and seeds of fruit to the inner nature of everything. We ran a great piece by Aaron Kagan about his interfaith Tu Bishvat seder that he had last year. I also found a cool little article with recipes on The Jew and the Carrot A Tu Bishvat Seder for Every Personality.
We’re actually invited to a Tu Bishvat seder tonight at my havurah–but we aren’t going. I can’t imagine how we are going to have enough energy even to eat the stuffed cabbage I prepared last night. (Which has fruit in it! Yes!)
If you are interested in an opportunity to think about the environment, to appreciate your local trees, and to think about mystical connections–and most important if you are not a werewolf– Tu Bishvat is the holiday for you.
My husband found this blog, Sephardic Food, where culinary expert Janet Amateau posts Sephardi cultural lore and recipes. Some of the blog posts are in Spanish because Amateau lives in Spain. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it, because I know a lot of our readers want Sephardi recipes, and these are great–with great explanations.
The truth is, all the Jews in the US aren’t all Eastern European, and even those of us who are Ashkenazi Jews love Jewish food traditions from elsewhere. Interfaith families are totally part of this. If you’re married to someone Italian who isn’t Jewish, it’s pretty cool to read Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edna Servi Machlin, just as an example. If you’re a Jew by choice, it’s nice to find ways to incorporate your old food traditions into new kosher rules.
I am always looking for ways to include recipes on the site, so if your family has kosher-ized some of the recipes from the non-Jewish side, or has revved up an Ashkenazi dish with the spices of another culinary tradition, or done any tasty sort of thing with food and culture, contact me.
I cannot believe that Sukkot starts tonight and I have nothing cooked. I’m afraid that I’m going to be bringing a bag of unpeeled carrots to the potluck at our Havurah. At least I don’t have to feel guilty that I didn’t help build the sukkah. My son loves to build things so he was willing to go on two successive nights as we adults struggled to put the thing up in the dark. I am trying to exploit his enthusiasm for anything that involves building (and weirdly, geometry–”It’s a rectangular prism, Mommy!”) to get myself psyched up for this holiday. It is the holiday of hospitality–after all, the sukkah, the ritual hut for the holiday, is open to the world. It’s a good symbol for us.
We had a great piece by Jane Larkin about making Sukkot meaningful for her family by tying it to the harvest of their home vegetable garden. After we published it, she wrote me to say that her family is also donating vegetables from her garden to a local food pantry in Dallas as part of their holiday observance. Contact your local food bank to find out whether they take garden produce. In my area in Boston, you can donate leftovers from catered events to the Greater Boston Foodbank. If you are having a wedding or a bar or bat mitzvah celebration, this is something worth investigating.
Hospitality isn’t only about feeding hungry people, though that’s a mitzvah one can never do too often. It’s also about extending welcome to new people. You might bring meaning to Sukkot through the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs topical Family Experience Guide for Sukkot, a pamphlet on immigration reform. My Havurah has made protecting immigrants a core social action issue, so I’m stoked to have this as a way to tie the issue to the holiday.
I just want to brag for a moment about my friend Steven Edelman-Blank, a newly minted Conservative rabbi, putting a message of welcome to interfaith families into his first High Holiday sermon, in which he discussed passing along the welcome he experienced in synagogue to other people.
Most years I spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur sitting in a synagogue. Sometimes, I feel inspired by the singing and spirit of the congregation, but in recent years that has not been the case and I have wished I was someplace else. It is not that I would like to be at work or a mall, but I would rather be on a hike or exploring my own questions and interests within Jewish spirituality. As we start Sukkot/Sukkot_101.shtml">Sukkot, the holiday where we build sukkahs (temporary dwellings outside which are reminiscent of biblical times) and celebrate the coming of autumn and the traditional fall harvest, I am hoping to find some time to go on a hike and enjoy the change.
This week I had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Finkelstein of Adventure Rabbi, a Denver based organization that brings Jews back into communal religious life through innovative religious programs which combine the outdoors and Jewish practice. Adventure Rabbi offers many programs including retreats for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. You can also book a private ski weekend, in which Rabbi Jamie Korngold not only guides you on the slopes but through Jewish spirituality. To me a weekend exploring the Colorado slopes and my own spirituality sounds ideal.
It feels like an inexplicable coincidence. On July 8 I wrote an appreciation of Gary Tobin, a leading Jewish thinker and supporter of outreach to interfaith families who just passed away. I remembered his support for us and our tactical disagreement about how much to promote conversion to non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages. On the same day, the New York Jewish Week wrote about a major shift in the Conservative Movement about … how much to promote conversion as part of interfaith outreach. Continue reading →
During Passover–which began Wednesday night–Jews are commanded to make a “mishna,” or commentary, on the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The rabbis who drew up the Passover rituals demanded that each successive generation find ways to connect the ancient story of enslavement and freedom to their lives.
One of today’s parallels has less to do with restrictions of freedom on Jews than it has to do with restrictions on their partners of different religious backgrounds. Perversely, other Jews are the ones restricting their freedom.
… it was not Moses but his non-Jewish wife Zipporah who took into her own hands, quite literally, the task of circumcising their sons.
Today, we know of many intermarried households where the partner who is not Jewish is an equal contributor in raising Jewish children. In many cases the non-Jewish partner has the greatest influence over the children’s Jewish identities. Yet it is not difficult to imagine that if Moses and Zipporah were alive today, some synagogue administrator would be sitting them down to explain why their household of four is eligible for an individual membership because only Moses can join, and that only Moses’ name will appear on temple mailings to their home.
There is a very interesting discussion going on on a listserv for Jewish professionals maintained by our friends at the Jewish Outreach Institute. I wanted to share here the (very slightly edited) posting that I put on that listserv today.
I believe it is of utmost importance for Jewish organizations and communities to offer programs targeted to interfaith couples and families. It is more than a little dismaying to see uncertainty among the Jewish professionals on JOI’s listserv. Continue reading →
The Reform movement made a public announcement today that it is closing its regional offices and replacing existing program departments in its national office with teams of specialists. Everyone who cares about outreach to interfaith families should be deeply concerned about the implications of these developments on outreach to interfaith families, which the Reform movement pioneered and has led for more than 25 years.
Prior to 2003, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ, the Reform movement) had a national outreach department and a part-time regional outreach director in each of its 14 regions around the country. Then the outreach department was combined with synagogue membership, and in 2003, because of stated budgetary concerns, most of the regional outreach positions were eliminated. At IFF we started a “Save Reform Outreach” campaign at the time, which some people say played a significant role in preserving some of the positions. Continue reading →
Jonathan Tobin is a fiercely intelligent, exceptionally eloquent Jewish journalist who was recently appointed editor of Commentary, an esteemed conservative (small-c) Jewish magazine. I would be a big fan, if it weren’t for his equally fierce, equally exceptional retrograde politics on Jewish issues. Intermarriage, unsurprisingly, is one of his favorite bugbears.
In his first op-ed as editor of Commentary, Tobin makes the remarkable argument that intermarriage and assimilation are bigger villains than Bernard Madoff. Moreover, he says, the whole notion of marketing Judaism to Jews “on the fringe”–the “outreach model”–has been a failure. Therefore, in this brave new world of shrunken philanthropic resources, Jewish givers should abandon outreach and focus only on inreach, like Jewish day camps, day schools and the like.