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 (rohˇmehˇmoo) 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.
Wow, I really hate this new Hotmail ad campaign. I noticed and loathed it for the first time yesterday on a poster in a bus shelter in Boston, a big green field with the words, “THE NEW BUSY THINK 9 TO 5 IS A CUTE IDEA” in white letters.
I’m not all that crazy about Hotmail, since they seem to me to be more than usually vulnerable to hacking–but that’s not why I’m writing about this on our blog. I’m writing about it because I am finding our 24/7 work culture an affront to basic human dignity, because it flies in the face of the reason I observe Shabbat.
Shabbat is the opposite of the New Busy. Shabbat is the very old Not Busy. Shabbat is a time to unplug. Shabbat is the time when your family can be together without working. Without working! No working! Stop working! Rest! Because you have a RIGHT to rest sometimes! Your boss cannot possibly pay you enough to justify working all the time!
This isn’t only a Jewish issue–I’m not saying this just to get interfaith families to go to Tot Shabbat. (Though that’s also so nice.) I am saying it’s time for everyone to get off of this treadmill and admit that we need to rest.
I’m giving you advice about what you should do tonight. Go have a nice meal with your lovely family or friends, and then afterward, lie down and sleep. Take a DAY OFF this weekend. You are a person with needs and relationships. Affirm the basic inherent dignity of human individuals, the beauty of the natural world and its rhythms, something good that is not work. The New Busy is the old oppression.
Obama could have chosen to identify with both sides of his family, as Serwer and others have. As you know, and I know some of you know better than I do, when you come from two backgrounds, people often ask you to choose one, even though you come from two families and at least two cultures (if not more!) The US Census doesn’t ask you to do that–if you come from two or more of the racial categories the Census happens to measure, you can identify with both or all of them.
The question really becomes what “legacies” of the painful elements of our past do we voluntarily embrace and which ones we reject. To the extent that biracial black people identify as black, they are choosing to embrace a once-painful element of their history. It is not being forced on us. I happened to check both white and black on my census form, but that was my choice. Every mixed person has a right to tell their own story on their terms. You might as well tell Jews to stop celebrating Passover because it is part of the enduring legacy of Jewish slavery in Egypt. That’s exactly what it is, but that doesn’t tell you anything about its value to the culture or why it continues to endure.
I have been thinking about this question–whether we’re entirely shaped by the biases against us, or whether we have identity that’s independent of oppression–since I read Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew in 1987. (You know how there are some books that just shape your whole life? That was one for me.) The book made me think about my role as a person with white privilege in US society. I thought the dynamic Sartre describes between the biased person, the target of bias, and the “liberal”–a bystander who allows the targeting to happen and blames the victim–described how my society dealt with race. But at the same time, the book is about whether any cultural minority has a culture aside from what it creates in the negative space of a racist dynamic. Do Jews exist without anti-Semitism? I would say yes, we do, we have an identity and culture that is greater than simply resistance.
What do you think about how to fill out the census? I mean the literal one that will count our country this year so that we can apportion resources, but there is also a metaphorical census. When you stand up to be counted, how do you select from your various identities? Does context matter? Tell me about it.
You may wonder why I’m making a post about the 2010 US Census. As a non-profit organization, InterfaithFamily.com relies heavily on sociological and demographic research to prove that we’re needed and that what we do is meeting our goals as an organization. Probably the research that did the most for our founding was the National Jewish Population Surveys, which persuaded the Jewish community in the United States of the widespread trend of Jews marrying non-Jews. We’ve also used data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and kept abreast of the studies of Jewish sociologists through the North American Data Bank.
The US Census Data hasn’t been that useful to us at IFF, because in the United States, the government hasn’t, for many years, asked questions about religion on the census and doesn’t classify Jewishness as an ethnicity. For Jews, this has been reassuring. In the near historical past, governments that considered Jews an ethnic group nearly invariably discriminated against Jews.
(I should be clear that the US Census, in any case, does not release individuals’ data for a full 72 years after you fill in the census, at which time the documents are archived. My friend who is working for the census bureau told me that she had to take an oath of preserving the confidentiality of the documents. The penalty for breaking the oath is five years in prison or $250,000.)
The Census is going to be useful to you. This is the second census on which individuals can identify with more than one racial category. For people of mixed heritage, this is pretty exciting, because it means that you’ll be helping both sides of your family count. If your dad was an Ashkenazi Jew and your mom had one parent who was African-American and another who was Japanese, you don’t have to pick only one.
There are a lot of reasons to want to be counted accurately–it makes a difference in your congressional representation, and in federal funding your area receives for things like hospitals and roads. It could also change our picture of who lives in the United States–of racial and ethnic identity, what constitutes a household, who has disabilities–who counts. Let’s be counted.
I have to admit in the past I have not been the biggest Hanukkah fan. I work two jobs and take care of my 2 Â˝ year old. My husband has an even busier schedule and the last thing I want to do is when I get home is add to an already busy evening routine with greasy food and Hanukkah blessings, songs and games. I do enjoy these activities, but eight days in a row!
This year is different. My son is learning about Hanukkah at his preschool and has spent the last week practicing putting the candles in the Menorah. It is really cute to watch and a great way to practice his hand-eye coordination. Also, I have decided to make my own latkes. (If anyone has a recipe which does not include grating potatoes, please send it my way.)
Plus, we have many holiday parties. Not only do we have two preschool parties, but this Sunday we are attending three Hanukkah celebrations. Our synagogue is having a party for children. Then the JCC of Greater Boston is planning a Fiesta with crafts and a concert for children. Then we will end the day with menorah lighting in our town square.
The following week we were invited to a holiday party at an Indian family’s house. Though this year the Indian festival of lights, Dilwali, does not coincide with Hannukah, we have promised a night of lights and celebration. After a week of Hanukkah I will appreciate the diversity this Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Year’s holiday party will offer!
If you want to welcome people to your community, whether your Jewish community, your workplace or your secular institution, you have to talk to them in a friendly way. Sometimes this is very simple–you just hold out your hand, say hello and it’s all good. Sometimes, however, your language can get in the way. It can convey unaware assumptions that are offensive or just not inclusive. On the internet, where everything is words and there are no physical handshakes, language is paramount and there are so many different ways to convey assumptions that could hurt someone.
Here at InterfaithFamily.com, we have a big challenge. We’re a Jewish organization providing Jewish resources to families with members who are and are not Jewish. So what do we call the people in the families who are not Jewish? We do not use the denotatively neutral but connotatively negative Hebrew term goyim, unless we are quoting someone, nor do we use the more negative shiksa or shaygetz. But that’s easy to figure out. Can we use “gentile”? Well, it’s not pejorative, but it does make some people’s skin crawl. We generally use non-Jew a lot, but lately there has been a sense that calling someone a non-Jew is defining them by what they are not. We can’t say “Christian” though, because some spouses and family members come from other religious backgrounds, and also, some people only call themselves Christians if they are active believers in a sect of Christianity. It’s a puzzle.
In the wider world, there has been a movement to stop using language that assumes some kinds of people are normal and some aren’t.
Nearly three years ago I moved to St. Louis. A friend of ours insisted that we join a local synagogue with a rabbi he described as the most thoughtful and knowledgeable he had ever met. It sounded like a plan–the synagogue was a quick walk from our home. The next day was Shavuot, when we celebrate revelation, and I was eager to see why my friend was so enthusiastic. I was shocked. There were Jews from every denomination attending classes taught by rabbis and teachers from every denomination. (This is really unusual in an Orthodox synagogue.)
Over the next two years, I got to know the synagogueâs rabbi, Hyim Shafner, who insisted I call him Hyim and not rabbi, which is also unusual. I was always struck by his spirituality and how he helped everyone who walked into Bais Abe to connect with their Judaism and spirituality. He just concentrated on helping those around him and developing a community of like-minded individuals. He never judged and I rarely saw him criticize. He is also a great counselor.
Half the Jews today marry someone who isnât Jewish. Fifty years ago, people married non-Jews as a way of leaving Judaism and becoming more American. Today, itâs almost the opposite. For some people, the first time they start to think about Judaism is their wedding. For some Jews, intermarriage is a gateway into Judaism.
The goal of Judaism shouldnât be to have Jews marry other Jews. The goal of Judaism should be to get something out of Judaism. To have a connection with God and to live a spiritual life.
An interfaith wedding can be useful, it can help people re-engage with their religion.
Rabbi Shafner is certainly not advocating interdating or intermarriage, but does not discount the impact a wedding can have on oneâs spirituality and connection to their heritage.
I didn’t mean to let the entire Purim holiday go by without a greeting on our blog! Today I was the designated parent at home with my son, who has the bug that is going around. I think I’ve caught it too. I feel achy and chilled.
It’s not a hangover, though it feels like one. It’s traditional to get wasted on Purim but that’s one tradition I didn’t think fit my lifestyle this year. Nope, I didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink at the megillah reading last night. (The megillah, newbie Judaism fans, is the biblical Book of Esther, written on a scroll and traditionally chanted in Hebrew. Some people call it “the whole megillah.”)
Purim is a great holiday if you like to party and act silly. This is the first year in about 20 that I haven’t contributed writing to a purimspiel, a play that parallels the plot of the Book of Esther and features contemporary satire. It’s performed at the megillah reading. I did appear in other people’s sketches in the one we performed last night. (I got to wear a black cape!) It was fun, but I was sad that my son couldn’t be there. He’s been gearing up for Purim for a couple of weeks at Hebrew school. He was excited to dress up and be in a play. He was too sick and my husband decided to stay home with him.
This morning, there we were with a pile of articles that need to be edited for IFF, a stir-crazy child and a huge box of sugary treats. My mom sent a special new noisemaker for the kid to use during the megillah reading, and he was making head-splittingly awful noise with it.
I remembered one year when I was little that my parents read us the Book of Esther in English translation instead of taking us to synagogue to hear it read in Hebrew. I decided we could do that.Â Continue reading →
I get a lot out of the investigative journalism that Shemarya Rosenberg provides for free to the Jewish community, and he mainly gets a lot of undeserved mean and nasty comments for it. But this guest post on Rosenberg’s blog Failed Messiah did not pass the logic test.
Based on reading a story by Hillel Halkin in Commentary the anonymous, Orthodox guest blogger made the case that Jews have always intermarried, and that only recently has this been a source of contention in the Jewish community.
The basis of this claim is that many Jewish men have a genetic marker associated with Levites on their Y chromosome. Jewish women, on the other hand, do not have a genetic marker. So, the nameless guest blogger suggests, this must mean that Jewish men married non-Jewish women and were perhaps more relaxed about them converting.
But howÂ does he deduce that?Â It’s a Jewish genetic marker on the Y chromosome. Continue reading →
I had a great phone conversation yesterday with Bruce Black, the editor of The Jewish Writing Project. Bruce is looking for people to write about what it means to them to be Jewish. Here’s how he described what he’s seeking:
We come to our writing without pre-conditions, seeking through words a path that will lead us to a deeper understanding of our connection to our heritage. When you participate in The Jewish Writing Project, it doesnât matter if youâre born Jewish or if you converted to Judaism, if only one of your parents is Jewish or if neither parent is Jewish. All that matters is that you possess the desire to tell others about a particular experience that may have shaped your understanding of what it means to be a Jew, the willingness to explore a memory about being Jewish that holds a special place in your heart, or the wish to express your thoughts about how being Jewish has enriched your life (or made your life more difficult).
Â There is clearly some overlap between the people I’m seeking to write for InterfaithFamily.com and the people Bruce wants. I want people from interfaith families, whether they are Jewish or not, to write about what it’s like to negotiate the lifecycle events, holidays, family and community relationships they encounter.
I articulated something to Bruce that I haven’t said out loud before, about letting people define themselves as Jews. It’s very easy to get hung up on how to do things right. Judaism is a religious system of doing rather than one of believing. Even Jewish culture separate from our religion is about doing. (I’m sounding like Gertrude Stein in The Making of Americans, aren’t I?)
Working in the Jewish community with its narrow self-image and wide actual diversity often meansÂ that I have to get overÂ myself. I don’t get to tell people “What do you mean, you don’t like gefilte fish? It’s not Passover without gefilte fish!” or whatever other less silly example you can name. You can’t get allÂ worked upÂ about whether people are doing Judaism just like you are, or you’ll have apoplexy within a week, and all those nice people you want to welcome will back away slowly, hands outstretched, warding off the gefilte fish. You won’t save the Jewish people by being a jerk to individuals.
Listening to their stories and enjoying them is definitely the better way.
Fee For Service Judaism may hold us until we get our communal act together in a new way.
Judaism is changing, yet again. Many feel it is changing for the wrong reasons or in a bad way, but the fact of the change is palpable.
Post Holocaust Judaism in North America was built on two major foundational lines of thinking. The first was the cry ânever againâ, referring to the horrific destruction of Jewish life in Europe, and the second was the suburbanization of American Jewish communities. The intersection of these two points created a Judaism that was based in fear, on the grand scale of the Holocaust, and on the smaller but not less significant scale of assimilation into American culture. The role of rabbi50 years ago was, in no small part, to constantly remind their congregations that affiliation with Jewish community and vigilance against mixing with those outside of the Jewish community would protect us from a second holocaust (small âhâ holocaust).
And here we are, over half a century later, and fear based Judaism is no longer holding sway in our communities. Maybe it never did hold sway.