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.
“A Light Through the Ages” tells the meaning of Chanukah through story and song. With musicians from Zamir Chorale of Boston, Joshua Jacobson artistic director and original story by Rabbi Howard A. Berman of Central Reform Temple, this event concludes with a dramatic candle light ceremony. A festive reception follows.
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.
A question was asked on Ask a Rabbi, a project of JewishBoston.com. Quite simply put, “Is there anything in Jewish tradition about losing baby teeth? Prayers, folk stories or customs? My 6-year-old wanted to know if there is a Jewish tooth fairy.”
Great question. When I think of the Tooth Fairy, I associate her/him/zir with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. Very firmly, to me they live in the realm of Things That Do Not Exist.
A good friend of mine was raised in a lapsed Christian home. Her family celebrated holidays, but mostly Christmas (Santa) and Easter (Mr. Bunny). Even as a kid, she knew that this wasn’t a religious approach; when asked her religion, she replied they were Commercialists. When we were housemates, and she was about to have her wisdom teeth removed, her mother called me to explain the inner workings of their family’s Tooth Fairy beliefs and practices. As her parents were not local, it would fall to me to supply the money ($20/molar!) and a note (dictated by her mother – er, the Tooth Fairy herself). Even as a 20something, my friend maintained her pretend belief in the Tooth Fairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny. (Don’t get me started on the treats I had to leave out for her the year we were traveling abroad during chol ha’moed Passover [the middle days of Passover] and Easter!) The three characters were a core of her family’s not-so-religious practice. As such, I’ve come to associate the Tooth Fairy as being Christian (even if a lapsed Christian).
Given my belief that a pretend character is not Jewish, I was rather impressed with the answer Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek gave:
While many cultures have different traditions about losing baby teeth, Judaism has not traditionally marked this childhood experience. However, that wouldn’t necessarily imply that there is no Jewish tooth fairy. If in fact multiple tooth fairies carry out this particular duty, it seems reasonable to assume that among the multitudes of tooth fairies visiting children around America, at least a few are Jewish!
From my own experience, I have learned that Jewish tooth fairies do not appreciate skepticism. My mother recently showed me an exchange of notes that I had with the Tooth Fairy when I was about eight years old. Apparently I had been heard to doubt the Tooth Fairy’s existence, the result being that no money was left under my pillow, in its place a note chastising me for my disbelief. I then had to write a note in response, professing my sincere conviction that the Tooth Fairy did indeed exist. Apparently that did the trick, as the exchange ended, and I got my quarter (and a complete set of adult teeth). From this I would surmise that it is entirely possible to engage — and perhaps even bargain with — the Jewish tooth fairy, and that, in good Jewish form, dialogue and debate are always encouraged.
If you are seeking a new Jewish ritual around losing baby teeth, I encourage you to visit Ritualwell.org, a wonderful source of contemporary rituals and resources for all manner of life cycle events. There you’ll find a few suggestions for blessings and related practices to make the moment of losing a tooth an opportunity to instill Jewish values.
Maybe my friend’s upbringing was more religious than I’d thought…
E! Online suggests the rushed wedding date is because she’s pregnant (they refer to the upcoming wedding as “bumptastic”), but I haveÂ a different theory.
Traditionally, the time between Passover and Shavuot is a period of semi-mourning. The period is known as the Omer. But what’s an “Omer”? It was a unit of measurement used for counting barley sheaves brought as an offering to the Temple in ancient Israel. The 49 days from Passover to Shavuot were each marked with a sacrifice of barley; today we count the days (“counting the Omer”) instead.
The rabbis of the 2nd century saw the period of counting the Omer as a “semi-mourning” period. As a result, some Jews refrain from having weddings or parties, dancing, listening to music or getting haircuts â€” all of which are customarily avoided during shiva (first week of mourning) â€” during the Omer.
There’s one escape from these restrictions: a minor holiday called Lag BaOmer (or “Lag b’Omer”) that falls on May 10 this year, 33 days after the start of Passover. The name literally translates to “33rd (day) of the Omer.” On Lag BaOmer, the restrictions are lifted for the day. (Check out how one Californian handles the restrictions in this humorous video.)
But back to Drew and Will.
E! Online reports that the wedding will be small and intimate, taking place at Drew’s home (er, “estate”). And, “keeping in line with the traditional values of Kopelman’s close-knit family, his family rabbi is expected to conduct the service.”
Since we’re currently counting the Omer, and since Will’s family (and, presumably, rabbi) are “traditional,” maybe they’re not wanting to be married during the Omer. Which would mean the first chance to be wed would be May 10, a Thursday. Most Americans choose to marry on the weekend so that family and friends can travel to and from the event. Not so easy to do in the middle of the work week. So the next option would be waiting until a weekend after Shavuot. Shavuot starts the evening of May 26 and ends the night of May 27 (for some communities, including many Reform congregations) or the night of May 28 (for the rest of the Jewish communities). The next weekend after that? Yup, June 2.
A few interesting articles crossed my desk this morning, all about Passover.
The Four Questions
The Four Questions hold a central spot in the Passoverseder. Why is this night different from other nights? Reform Judaism, the magazine for the named denomination, asks in its spring issue, “What’s your favorite language for reciting the first question?” They include 20 examples of that first question asked in different languages, from Phoenician to Thai to Klingon.
I’ve signed the Four Questions before (both in ASL and LSQ) and recited them in French. Which languages does your family ask them in? Have you tried having each person at the table ask one of the questions in a language that they know? It’s an interesting way to make the questions both universal and accessible in new ways.
One view is that the plagues are “political allegory that is part of Exodus, the Israelites’ ‘birth of a nation’ story.” But that there weren’t ten, they didn’t happen in that order; there wasn’t this unnamed Pharaoh. Instead, the plagues represent the “systematic dismantling of the Egyptian socio-economic system, which was based on agriculture and the Nile.” In other words, they were formed so that the story is, “Our God brought Pharaoh of Egypt to its knees. That’s why we Israelites have the right to live independently.”
The opposing view could be summarized as more faithful. “Having not found proof of the plagues doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It means the proof has not yet been found.”
“Are there acts of nature that can account for some of the plagues? Yes,” Rabbi Albert Gabbis, who lived in Egypt, says. “For example, the plague of blood in the Nile. We know that sometimes, the Nile turns red. When I was a child, I saw it with my own eyes. The rain brings the red clay from the mountains of Ethiopia into the Nile. But I would say this: In either case, the hand of God is there.”
Then there’s the confusing matter of kitniyot (legumes, corn, rice, soy/tofu, etc.). Last year, we offered a concise guide to Passover food guidelines via our pals at JewishBoston.com. This year, the Jewish Journal (greater Boston area) expands on that guide with Corn, Rice? Yes, No? – and some often contradictory answers:
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott has advocated for the consumption of kitniyot on Passover for those who are comfortable with it.
“I believe in making Judaism more, not less accessible, and it makes Passover a heck of a lot easier if we can have corn products,” HaLevi said.
The important thing is that people understand the difference between a Jewish law and a custom. Chametz, like bread, is forbidden by Jewish law. Corn products depend on your custom, he said. Each year, he gets questions as people try to sort out the differences.
Rabbi Deborah Zuker of Temple Ner Tamid also receives questions, especially from people who visit Israel during Passover. She follows the Ashkenazic tradition of not consuming kitniyot.
“In Israel, you can find products marked ‘kosher for Pesach’ for people who eat kitniyot, but here we canâ€™t know if the kitniyot have been mixed with wheat,” Zuker said.
She believes the Ashkenazic practices are old enough to be considered law in some communities, but added that different communities have different practices.
Dessert: the Afikomen
Not every seder is lucky enough to host Jake Gyllenhaal (sorry!), but you can enjoy his company for a few moments:
As far as “new thoughts” goes, this one might be a stretch. But come on – who doesn’t love Jake?
Hopefully some of these thoughts will help liven the discussions at your Passover seders this year!
We recently asked readers for their gefilte fish stories. We didn’t really say more than that, hoping for as broad a response as possible. Because, really, if there’s one odd part of the Passoverseder to pick out, one bizarre element to explain to your friends and relatives who’ve never experienced a seder before, gefilte fish is as likely a target as any. Most other elements of the seder have direct explanations: they stem from the elements of the Haggadah, the story read at the seder that retells slavery in Egypt, the Exodus.
But gefilte fish? Stretching for a plausible answer, I once heard a desperate Hebrew school teacher explain that gefilte fish honored the fish of the Red Sea, which Moses parted allowing the Jews to cross, escaping the Egyptians. I’m not so sure of that one…
About ten years ago, debating a career change, a friend suggested I start a Jewish cooking show on television. And, in his words, he would be my ever helpful “gentile sidekick, asking such important questions as, ‘why is the fish gefilted?’”
Deb M. of Massachusetts sent us this in response to our request:
Still trying to figure out exactly what it is… No stories for me. Sorry, just yuck for now!
A patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. Typical main ingredients include fresh water fish like pike, carp, and, most commonly, whitefish. Gefilte fish gets its name from the Yiddish for “stuffed fish” and is commonplace to have on festivals and Shabbos. Some say that gefilte fish became popular due to how it’s made: the deboning meant some Jews who don’t want to break the rules of the things you shouldn’t do on Shabbos would feel more comfortable having the fish, because they weren’t “choosing” not to have the bones. Also, the addition of breadcrumbs or matzo meal meant they could make the fish last longer.
Whatever the reason, many of us will be seated at Passover seders next week enjoying gefilte fish (often served with a side of horseradish – to help (or hide) the flavor).
To help get you ready for this culinary adventure, we received some interesting tales, often humorous, involving this Passover seder staple. Share yours in the comments!
Julie G. of Montreal, QC:
Back in 1990, my brother was 6 years old and a very picky eater. My parents had tried almost everything to get him to eat a variety of foods, to no effect. But what my brother wanted, more than anything else, was a Nintendo. So one night, in a fit of despair, my father made a deal with my brother: “If you finish the gefilte fish on your plate, I’ll buy you a Nintendo!” He knew that this ploy would fail, as so many of his ploys had failed in the past.
Wouldn’t you know it, in less than 30 seconds my brother’s plate had been wiped clean, and he stared up at my father with the excited, hopeful eyes that only exist in small children who know they’re just about to get everything they ever wanted.
My father bought him the Nintendo. My brother still loves gefilte fish.
Rebekah M of Philadelphia, PA:
My last semester of college, I made friends with a bunch of freshman that joined the fencing club. We were hanging out and some of my new friends, who were Jewish, were saying that they missed home and Jewish food. So I promised to make them lots of food. Between the 3 of them, they decided they wanted matzah ball soup, brisket, latkes, challah and gefilte fish. My friend David was quite insistent that there be gefilte fish.
The following Friday I went out and bought all I needed, including a jar of gefilte fish. I had everything set out when everyone got there, but I couldn’t open the jar of gefilte fish, nor could my dorm neighbors. When David arrived, I told him that I had bought the gefilte fish but he’d have to open it if he wanted any. He was also unsuccessful. People arrived sporadically over the next few hours; everyone that came in was told that they had to try and open the jar of gefilte fish. No one could. As the night went on, we forgot to tell people to open it. Every once in a while David would remember and loudly lament the fact that no one could open the jar of gefilte fish. Four hours later, it was still unopened and I made him take it with him back to his dorm.
I don’t actually know if he ever got the jar open and ate the gefilte fish.
@MarjorieMoon on Twitter:
Grandma would buy fresh pike & keep it in the tub till ready. I thought every grandma did this! Homemade and super yummy.
Karen K of San Francisco, CA:
My assignment for the seder was to bring the gefilte fish. Which meant going to the store and buying two jars, which I did. Of course I then had the task of placing the fish on individual plates to be distributed to each the guests. I was a young mother who enjoyed cooking and brought a chocolate sponge cake for dessert but never even entertained the thought of cooking the gefilte fish, I wasn’t even going to eat it!
So there I was in the kitchen of the host family, finishing the first jar and opening the second when a second layer of scent enveloped me. I peered into the open jar and saw a short brown something. The smell reminded me of my grandfather — not surprising since he led the seders of my childhood. But this scent wasnâ€™t a seder memory. It reminded me of the nights when he invited his cronies over for pinochle. I was swept away by a vivid memory of those sweet old men gathered around the table, laughing and smoking their cigars!
Oh boy, it was a cigar in the top of the jar! My mind flashed to an overworked man on the assembly line in the Manischewitz factory angrily putting out his cigar in the tub of fish. There was little appetite for jarred gefilte fish that night, but there was a new discussion on the additional workload of the laborers who made all the kosher for Passover food for us.
I won’t do the story exactly, but a cousin’s friend’s father, Jim, was touring Israel. He was on a boat on the Sea of Galilee with other tourists including a Christian bible study group from the American Midwest.
A middle-aged women was discussing all the fishermen they saw and said to her friends, “I wonder what they catch here?”
Jim, ever helpful, volunteered, “Gefilte fish.”
“Oh”, she said, “I’ve heard of those. What do they use for bait?”
Jim explained, “Little pieces of cooked carrot.”
“Oh, how odd…”
Colbert introduced the segment – an interview with author Jonathan Safran Foer – with a joke that the only Jew in the audience chuckled at (a reference to the four questions).
But the interview itself was fun and included some good questions for the author of the New American Haggadah. Watch for yourself as they talk about the tradition of retelling the Exodus story each Passover, and what Safran Foer hopes people will experience with his new haggadah (hint: he hopes it makes you “feel” not just “read”).
Of course, Colbert being, well, Colbert, he couldn’t resist a jab or two: “You think you can improve on Moses?” He continued, “You got some matzah balls, buddy.”
This is a guest post by Dr. Steve Moffic (my father-in-law, a Milwaukee psychiatrist). It was originally posted on his blog which deals with ethics.
How did a Jewish psychiatrist end up playing Santa Claus for his daughter 35 years ago? Is it possible that this could connect in any way to this same daughter now being a Sunday school teacher? And, even more of a possible stretch, even connect to her younger brother becoming a Rabbi and who also married a Rabbi? A blog just written by this psychiatrist begins to consider how Christmas, self-disclosure, and cross-cultural respect all come into play in trying to answer these questions. God, indeed, may work in mysterious ways.
The idea to play Santa for our young daughter was not mine. I was early in my career as a psychiatrist. Being a psychiatrist at that time would have led me in the other direction. At that time, the view of Freud, who of course came from a Jewish background, was that religion was like an opiate for people at best, a neurotic belief at worse. He could have been called an ethnic Jew, though we don’t for sure know if he turned more to religious beliefs as he was dying of cancer.
However, my wife wanted to do this and I wanted to please her. Moreover, it seemed like fun and I was just getting interested in masks, so I put on the mask and clothes of Santa. It worked, at least in its deception and enjoyment of our daughter. We later did this with our son, who was 8 years younger, though by then our daughter knew of the deception, so this time it wasn’t the same.
My wife recollected wanting to do this because it was a family tradition on her side. She felt it fulfilled a desire of her family to adapt to American values and traditions, while at the same time remaining strongly Jewish. She and her sisters all ended up marrying Jewish men and having long marriages. All of their children have married other Jews to date.
As I learned more about being a psychiatrist and how to help patients, I found out that self-disclosure on my part was filled with complexity and, despite any temptation, had to be done with utmost care and concern for how this would benefit my patients, not me.
In the field of psychiatry, the analysis of religion seemed to mature beyond Freud over the years. Religion could later be seen as a sound and normal social and cultural activity. At its best, at least in my opinion, it could not only complement the mental understandings of psychiatry, but take up where psychiatry left off and probe into the deeper questions of spiritual sustenance and the meaning of life. Psychiatry also didn’t have thousands of years of helping people cope with the challenges of life; we could certainly learn from religion.
I tried to apply this knowledge as best I could with being a parent as these same years went on. So that when my wife began to have thoughts and desires that our son should become a Rabbi, I didn’t tell her (or him) that she was “crazy”. Now that it happened, I think this, as well as our daughter teaching in a Jewish Sunday school, is one of the most wonderful legacies imaginable of being a parent.
Much later, after our son became firmly dedicated to becoming a Rabbi, I became more interested in Jewish religion and history. I finally succumbed to my wife’s request for us to attend weekly Torah study at our Reform synagogue. And, lo and behold, what did I find is that the Torah depicted human nature in all its successes and failures, that it could be analyzed in a depth even greater than Freudian interpretations, and that it left questions for us to ponder for the rest of our lives.
Self-disclosure in Torah was a prominent theme. Just consider God. God only reveals the qualities of God slowly and depending on circumstances. We are never allowed to see the “face” of God directly. God has an eternal mask of sorts, at least for us.
Jacob, with the direction of his mother, deceives his father by trying to disguise himself as his brother Esau. Was that really necessary to obtain the birthright? Did it lead to problems with Esau’s progeny over history all the way up to today? Interestingly, Jacob later is very open with his own children, conveying obvious favoritism to Joseph and somewhat berating all his children on his deathbed. Not what I would recommend as a psychiatrist. You may naturally have favorites as a parent, but that is best kept to yourself and try to treat all the children as having equivalent value in the image of God. And, before dying, it is psychologically best to resolve old animosities, if time and illness allows, rather than to disclose without time for discussion and better resolution.
Of course, Jacob’s father Isaac had already been subject to – a psychiatrist might say traumatized by – his father Abraham’s getting all set to sacrifice him. Was that what God really wanted, for Abraham to keep this from his son? Why not let Isaac argue with him, just like Abraham did with God once upon a time? Psychological trauma tends to repeat over family generations unless processed, reframed, and mistakes admitted and forgiven.
Then there is Moses. What is self-disclosed to him about his origins by his sister and other family? Perhaps all that can be concluded is that he likely learned of his background at the right age, at the right time, and with the right explanation for being “given up” for his own benefit.
As I specialized in treating patients from many different cultures, I learned that several things were essential for success. I had to respect other cultural values, even if I didn’t believe in them and even if I thought they were harmful. There were there for a historical reason. I had to not only empathize with the values of other cultures, but sometimes experience them directly, whether that be visiting those from other cultures or attending many of their cultural events. And, I had to be careful as to when I revealed my own cultural background and values. Timing was – and is – essential, for psychiatrists and parents. It needed to be when, as best as I could ascertain, and sometimes with the consultation of colleagues, that it should benefit the patient. Fantasy, imagination, and transference (what we call the projection of feelings to parents onto the psychiatrist) are all important – and inevitable – for a patient to experience in their relationship to a psychiatrist. Treatment, of course, had to be consistent with what their cultural identities valued. Over time, I developed multi-cultural holiday events for patients and staff at this time of year. I brought the Menorah and information about Hanukah.
An essential part of the development of any child is for them to know that they are a separate person from their parents, and that they have control over how much they may reveal of their own thoughts. Too much or too little can prove costly.
So, clearly, playing Santa Claus many years ago did not harm my Jewish identity. Nor did it not harm that of my children. And, who knows, could it have paradoxically helped? Surely, it is impossible to tease out the influence of this one activity over 35 years. But, now, as I write this, our adult children are most capable of considering the reasons I did this, the complexity and even anguish of our parental decisions over time, and how they can do better. Someday, when our four grandchildren seem ready, we will tell them this family Santa story.
SMITH Magazine and our friends at Reboot have teamed up and need your help: They’re seeking “six-word memoirs on the Jewish life.” The best ones will be included in a new book, Oy! Only Six? Why Not More — Six Words on the Jewish Life, out in early 2012.
Need some inspiration? Check out the “memoirs” submitted by others here or watch the video:
If you watch the video trailer for the book, you’ll notice that there are a whole bunch of succinct memoirs touching on interfaith families, which is great! But let’s help them collect memoirs from the full diversity of our community.
In the last Hanukkah blog post, I pointed out JWA’s request for progressive, Jewish holiday videos. And they’ve followed up, suggesting that the Fountainhead’s “Light Up The Night” might be the answer:
Our goal is to produce fun and meaningful music videos that put smiles on people’s faces and help them connect with their Jewishness in new ways. We also want to showcase the diverse, vibrant and highly-engaged Israeli-Jewish identity that is emerging in our generation of Israelis today.
The Jewish federation of Chicago (Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago) took a different approach in their video, asking you to show your “inner Maccabee” this year. Thankfully, they actually want you to do good deeds, be kind and practice tikkun olam, and not actually emulate the Maccabee’s religious fanaticism, violence or frequent parricides.
I want to like the premise of this one except… Hanukkah’s not actually a major holiday. The significance of Hanukkah for the Jews doesn’t compare to the religious significance of Christmas for Christians. (Minor holiday elevated to fill the dark nights of winter versus the birth of Christianity’s messiah? Not really on the same level…) Nonetheless, it has some amusing moments:
Also for kids? Behrman House has published a Hanukkah story, Too Many Latkes, as an interactive iPad app! It’s full of fun features, and your little kids can press a button to have the app read the story out loud in the pre-recorded voice – or in yours! You can check out their video introduction to the app or head over to the app store to download it yourself.
But back to the videos. When I first saw this one, I didn’t get why folks were hatin’ on it. But then I kept watching… There’s someone in blackface. (Not ok!) But on the other hand, it’s probably the most accessible in terms of language… But… I don’t know. What do you think?
Pella busts out some boy band a capella moves in their “Holiday Party” (to the tune of Hot Chelle Rae’s “Tonight Tonight”), which goes through not only Hanukkah, but all the Jewish holidays.
This one’s an older tune. I think I first heard Eric “Smooth-E” Schwartz’s Jewish parody tunes in 2001; one of his Passover songs made the rounds for years, falsely attributed to many different people. Anyway, here’s his ode to Hanukkah gelt, “Chocolate Gelt.”
And let’s end with a video that came out oh, I don’t know, about three minutes ago. My buddy Naomi Less singing her new “8 Nights” song. She prefaces the video with
This winter 18 Jewish social entrepreneurs from several countries worldwide shared images about their personal meanings of Hanukkah – seeing a miracle inside of someone during the season
I admit that I recognize too many people in the video to not be biased in its favor…
If you’ve seen other Hanukkah videos you think we should share, post them in the comments or email them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Bonus gelt if they include interfaith families!
Some very different videos to start getting you ready for this holiday season.
Let’s start with the basics. How do you spell the name of this holiday in English? And what’s the deal with latkes? From the senior citizens at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, some of the more pressing questions of the season:
A mashup of top hits from decades past (a different era for each night of Hanukkah?), rewritten to explain the history, story and rituals of Hanukkah: