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!
Romemu (roh·meh·moo) seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit. We are a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, or social action, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
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.
After doing the program, I have to say, I still think âChrismukkahâ is a bad idea. Basically, for interfaith couples who are raising their children as Jews, mushing Hanukkah and Christmas into one hybrid holiday blurs and eliminates the meaning and integrity of each holiday, and risks confusing children. In our recent December Holiday Survey, 89% of these respondents said they planned on keeping their holiday celebrations separate, or mostly separate.
But InterfaithFamily.com doesnât pass judgment or tell people that what they are doing is wrong. Ron Gompertz and his wife, who is not Jewish, are active members of a synagogue community in Bozeman, Montana, and they are raising their daughter as a Jew. Ron is a very thoughtful person and Iâm not worried that his daughter will be confused. But if any interfaith couple asked for advice, our advice at InterfaithFamily.com would be â keep the holidays distinct.
The program also included Karen Boyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, who was raised Jewish by a Jewish mother and a father who was not Jewish, now also practices Buddhism, and was married to a Muslim from West Africa, and Imam Aslam Abdullah, the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada. Dr. Abdullahâs description of his response to interfaith marriage among Muslims and others sounded similar in many ways to our approach â especially in his expression of hope and invitation to such couples to raise their children with one religious identity.
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.
Happy Hanukkah! I donât know about you, but I am already wondering if there is any way, when I make latkes this weekend, to avoid making the entire house smell like a fryolator for several days. Do you have any suggestions?
This year I have to make a double batch. Every year we help my wifeâs college roommate and her husband, among our oldest and dearest friends, decorate their Christmas tree (neither are Jewish); our gathering is early this year, so Iâll be bringing latkes to them (they love it when itâs Hanukkah so we can light our menorah with their family). The next batch is for our annual Hanukkah gathering with my parents (who are now 93 and 92, still living on their own) in Connecticut. This year I may try some latkes made of both potatoes and butternut squash. We have a lot of great recipes to choose from on the site.
I am really pleased this year with InterfaithFamily.comâs first in-house produced video,Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah. One of our long-range goals is to provide a comprehensive set of introductory âhow-to-do-Jewishâ resources, and we know that many people prefer to learn from video rather than or in addition to text. We hope this will be one of the first of many helpful videos. Benjamin Maron, our new managing editor, gets the writer/director/producer credit, and we want to especially thank our on-screen talent, our good friend from JewishBoston.com Liz Polay-Wettengel, and her family. They should be movie stars!
Iâm also pleased that we have a new article by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, who has also made a series of videos for us, “Rabbi Reuben’s Ruminations,” professionally produced by the Jewish Television Network. Iâm happy about it because there are people who say that the meaning of Hanukkah is antithetical to welcoming interfaith families to Jewish life and community. They say that Hanukkah commemorates a rebellion by the Jews against assimilation into the Hellenistic Greek society that surrounded them â and they make the common mistake of equating intermarriage with assimilation. Rabbi Reuben explains that âJewish civilization represents a value system that declares to every single individual human being on earth, that what they say matters, and what they do matters, and who they are matters.â The Jews were resisting assimilation into a culture where âthe only rule that mattered was that whoever had the most power and carried the biggest club got to make the rules,âŠâ a culture of bigotry and prejudice based on âmight makes right.â He concludes,
Light the lights this year with pride as we continue to stand for the enduring values that celebrate the fundamental spiritual worth of every human spirit. That is why Hanukkah continues to matter.
Thatâs hardly a message that is antithetical to embracing interfaith families.
Finally, we do two surveys a year, around Hanukkah and Christmas, and again around Passover and Easter. We just released the report on our seventh December Holidays Survey. Cathy Grossman blogged about our survey on her Faith & Reason blog on USAToday.com. I really respect Cathyâs writing but Iâm not sure I agree with her take on our survey results this year.
Our holiday surveys have consistently focused on interfaith families that are raising their children as Jews, to illuminate how such families deal with potential conflict between Hanukkah and Christmas, and how they participate in Christmas celebrations at all. Over the years almost all of these families celebrate Hanukkah, and about half have a Christmas tree in their own home. An extremely small percentage, as low as 1%, âtell the Christmas storyâ â which of course is fundamentally religious in nature, and in comments our survey respondents say that Christmas doesnât have religious significance to them, it is just a warm family time with traditions from the parent who is not Jewish. Kind of like Thanksgiving is a warm family time that isnât religious.
The surveys have consistently shown a higher percentage of respondents who treat Hanukkah as a religious holiday. This year, for example, 55% said they would tell the Hanukkah story. When asked to rate the religious or secular nature of their holiday participation, 23% said their Hanukkah celebrations were religious and 28% said they were secular (49% said half and half), vs. 2% who said their Christmas celebrations were religious and 89% who said they were secular (only 9% said half and half). We did note in a press release that there was an increase this year from 20% to 28% who said their Hanukkah celebrations were secular, and that is what Cathy zeroes in on in her blog post.
But there was another finding noted in our press release suggesting a different trend. We saw in increase in the percentage who said they would celebrate Hanukkah in the synagogue this year, from 62% last year to 71% this year. So I donât think itâs quite fair to suggest that the prevailing way that interfaith families raising Jewish children celebrate Hanukkah is in a secular way without religious significance. What do you think?
The blogosphere is lit up with Supreme Court nominee Elena Kaganâs response to a question at her confirmation hearing. The Washington Post reported that a senator asked, ââChristmas Day bomber. Where were you at on Christmas Day?â Kagan âŠ seemed confused by his query and started answering him seriously. But Graham cut her off and said, âNo. I just asked where you were at on Christmas.â Kaganâs response â âLike all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurantâ — was brilliant in its humor, timing and the self-effacing manner in which it was delivered.â
Most of the commentary is about Kaganâs sense of humor, like that from JTA, the Jewish Week, and the Christian Science Monitor. Over at Jewcy, Jason Diamond said âa serious burst of pride shot through my being when a person who is possibly (hopefully) going to sit in the highest judicial seat in the land, made mention of one of my favorite Jewish traditions.â
I also hope that Elena Kagan is confirmed. Iâm proud that sheâs Jewish. Iâm even proud of her association with one of my alma maters â yes, I have a degree from Harvard Law School, something I donât ever emphasize in my current position.
But Supreme Court justices shouldnât make factual errors, and she ought to know, and the commentators ought to know, that we are way past the time when âall Jewsâ are at Chinese restaurantsâ at Christmas. In fact, we all ought to realize that we are either at the time, or close to the time, when half of young adults who identify as Jews will have grown up participating in Christmas celebrations with their interfaith families. The Jewish partners and children in interfaith families arenât going to Chinese restaurants for Christmas â theyâre having Christmas dinner with their relatives who arenât Jewish.
December is our busiest season at InterfaithFamily.com. We’ve already had over 30,000 unique visitors to our site this month, and the most popular content is about the December holidays.
With Hanukkah over and Christmas coming this week, with many interfaith couples getting ready to celebrate Christmas and many Jews not comfortable with that, I’d like to highlight the lessons of our sixth annual December Holidays Survey. We started doing these surveys in response to a book by Sylvia Barack Fishman called Double or Nothing, where she argued that interfaith families who said they were raising their children as Jews, really weren’t, because they had Christmas trees in their homes and as a result the children turn out not to be Jewish. I felt that was a ridiculous conclusion, that she did not understand the couples she interviewed, and set out to ask our readers about their experiences.
Our respondents have been strikingly consistent over six years: high percentages of interfaith couples raising their children as Jews participate in Christmas celebrations, close to half with Christmas trees in their own homes, but doing so in a secular, non-religious manner, and confident their children’s Jewish identity is not compromised.
This year we looked for trends in over recent years and found that more of these families were celebrating Christmas at the home of relatives (79%, up from 66% in 2007) and keeping their Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations separate (89%, up from 83% in 2007). The percentage who thought their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity increased from 73% in 2008 to 81% in 2009. In our press release announcing the survey results, I said we were seeing an increasing normalization of interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas.
Our survey has attracted a lot of publicity this year. It was featured on USA Today’s Faith and Reason blog, in Jewish papers in Cleveland and Boston, and most recently in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent’s A Merry Little Chanukah? where Aaron Passman interviewed two of the respondents to our survey. Passman quotes Steven Bayme, one of the Jewish intellectual leaders most critical of intermarriage, as saying that a Christmas tree is “suggestive of the very thin nature of the Jewish identity of the home.” But the article features the family of Dr. Andrea Kesack — they belong to a synagogue, their children go to religious school, and their oldest daughter recently became bat mitzvah. It is insulting to them — and to the thousands of families like their’s — to say that the presence of a Christmas tree in their home indicates “thin” Jewish identity, and I’ve written a letter to the editor to make that point.
Jews have the hardest time understanding that Christmas does not have any religious significance to many interfaith families. But from what we hear from many of the interfaith couples themselves, it’s really like Thanksgiving. The first time we did our survey, I was amazed at the very low percentage of interfaith couples raising Jewish children who “tell the Christmas story.” That story is of course fundamentally religious, and the fact that this year only 4% are telling the Christmas story at home is a pretty clear indicator of the non-religious nature of these families’ celebrations.
This morning I got a Google alert of a story in a secular paper, the Monterey County Herald, titled Embracing your inner Santa. It turned out to be an advice column by a marriage counselor, responding to someone who wanted to celebrate Christmas with her child but was getting objections from her “rigorously secular” spouse:
Most people would agree that the religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus has been significantly transformed into a secular celebration. “Holiday” parties are now the norm at most businesses. Images of starry-eyed children opening packages has become almost completely disconnected from the day’s religious meaning.
As best I can tell, neither the therapist or the couple involved were Jewish, but I wish that the therapist’s description of Christmas as a secular holiday would be taken to heart by those in the Jewish community who are uneasy about Christmas. Today, half of the young adults who identify or could identify as Jews have one Jewish parent, so most of them grew up participating in some form in Christmas celebrations. It used to be that someone who celebrated Christmas wasn’t Jewish, but that simply is no longer the case.
For those of you for whom the December holidays aren’t over — I hope you have a very happy holiday.
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 âtheir Christmas,â âMerry Wannabe,â or âthe Goldberg variation.â
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!