Celebrity news from Hollywood including an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and an update on Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo.Go To Pop Culture
Growing up I was one of the few Jewish students in my school. I enjoyed going to holiday parties at my friendâ€™s house, helping them decorate their trees, wearing a red and white Santa hat while passing out gifts, etc. I knew I was helping them celebrate their holiday while at home we celebrated Hanukkah, with our own traditions.
To be honest, I had never heard of the Elf on the Shelf until last year when friends posted daily pictures of their elf, Elliot, and his antics around the house. Somehow I hadnâ€™t even noticed the elf kits at the stores until December 2012. Where had I been? My friends were so creative; I made it a point to go on Facebook each night to see what their elf was up to! In the past 30+ years, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever been jealous of a Christmas tradition, until then.
I was a little jealous. I wanted an Elf on the Shelf! I didnâ€™t even have children, but the idea of having fun creating poses and scenes for the elf each night was intriguing! Today I continue to celebrate Hanukkah, not Christmas, and I donâ€™t know how I would introduce an Elf into our Hanukkah traditions.
Enter Moshe, the Mensch on a Bench! Last spring I found a post on Kickstarter that Neal Hoffman, a former Hasbro Toys employee was trying to launch his Mensch on a Bench concept. I wasnâ€™t sure what to make of it at the time. Remembering my own elf envy, part of me loved having a Jewish response. However, part of me likes keeping â€śreligiousâ€ť traditions separate. I wondered to myself, is this good for the Jews?
The Mensch on a Bench website offers a glimpse into Mosheâ€™s story. Like the Elf on a Shelf (and the Maccabee on the Mantel, another Jewish response which we also recently blogged about), the Mensch on a Bench comes with his own story book. On page four he introduces himself to Judah Maccabee and offers to watch over the menorah to make sure it doesnâ€™t go out while everyone else gets some sleep. I wondered, why is Moshe dressed as a modern religious Jew (with suit, tallit and large-brimmed hat) while Judah and the Maccabees are wearing more traditional clothing for the year in which the scene took place, 165 bce? Shouldnâ€™t Moshe, the Mensch, be wearing clothing like his Maccabean contemporaries?
I also wonder if Hanukkah is the appropriate holiday for a Mensch on a Bench. According to the Jewish Virtual Library website, â€śChanukah is probably one of the best knownÂ Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.â€ť
As the most assimilated Jewish holiday, a Mensch on a Bench makes perfect sense. But I think Iâ€™m more of a Maccabee, and I want to rebel against assimilation. Perhaps Passover is a more appropriate holiday. Although Passover is not a gift-giving holiday, I could see a Mensch on a Bench watching over the cleaning of the house for Passover, or during the week of Passover, keeping an eye on the children to see if they eat matzah or bread. I could have fun with that, I think. Further, rule #2 for bringing a Mensch into your home is to add more â€śFunukkah into Hanukkah.â€ť Hanukkah is already a fun holiday! What holiday needs fun more than when weâ€™re eating matzah that tastes like cardboard and remembering that we were slaves in Egypt?
All this being said, my favorite is rule #7, â€śOne night of Hanukkah donâ€™t open presents yourself, instead buy presents and give them to people in need. Remember that a true Mensch is one who puts smiles on other peopleâ€™s faces.â€ť What a great ruleâ€”for any time of year!
The Mensch on a Bench seems to mimic the Elf on a Shelf and its whimsical fantasy; whereas the creators of the Maccabee on the Mantel state: â€śToy Veyâ€™s ambition, and expectation, is that together families will create a joyous custom that ignites a childâ€™s excitement about their heritage as well as their desire to learn more about who they are and where they come from. This little Maccabee represents a safe and soothing place for all children; he is a friend, a protector, a symbol of their lineage and a smiling nod towards their future.Â â€ť I appreciate their desire to hold true to the story of Hanukkah, while infusing new traditions. It feels more natural, to me, than introducing an elf replacement.
Our Hanukkah Booklet sums up my thoughts, â€śNew customs evolve with each new generation. Repeat the traditions that appeal to you and add your own new variations on the themes of Hanukkah: bringing light into dark places and renewing your dedication to teaching and living meaningfully.â€ť
As Iâ€™m expecting my first child (due in early December, right after Hanukkah), and since the Mensch on the Bench has already sold out for 2013, I canâ€™t introduce Moshe this year. I wonder if we will one day have a Moshe, a Maccabee, or neither in my house. Iâ€™m confident my family traditions will evolve over time and with the addition of children.
What will you do? Will you have a Maccabee on your mantle, will you pre-order the Mensch on a Bench for 2014 or do you think we should stop trying to make Hanukkah more like Christmas?
Our friends at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation announced that they just launched their newest microgrant campaign–the #MakeItHappen initiativeâ€”inviting individuals to submit inspiring ideas to create unique and engaging Jewish experiences in their communities, for themselves and their peers.Â Here are the details:
The idea is to enable specific experiences and events to happen that would not have otherwise occurred. A central part of the experience should include a Jewish element, whether itâ€™s cultural, educational, spiritual or social.
I recently had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. Beth Cousens, a creative and strategic thinker,Â whoÂ works with leaders in Jewish education and in Jewish life to help organizations ensure success. Her focus on strategic thinking, partnership and creative and relevant Jewish educational ideas have helped her to be a respected voice in the field.
She shared with us her insights about engaging and empowering young adults in Jewish life. Our focus was Millennials, ages 22-35, how best to serve them, engage them, and what to expect from their â€śengagementâ€ť with our institutions. For example, she explained that many Jewish young adults donâ€™t know how to be Jewish, as adults. They donâ€™t want to register or sign up. They are very interested in the answer to the question â€śWhat value is added to my life?â€ť and they are very much looking for meaning. They donâ€™t want to be segmented unnaturally; i.e. donâ€™t offer Torah study for singles. Offer Torah study if you want to offer Torah study and welcome the singles! Or, offer a singles event. But donâ€™t try to combine two things that donâ€™t naturally fit together.
They are definitely looking for DIY Judaism. No longer can Jewish institutions and congregations â€śdo Jewishâ€ť for their members. These young adults want to do for themselves! They need our organizations to help them learn how to do it.
She shared 5 calls to action:
I love the format of InterfaithFamilyâ€™s classes and workshops. Our mission falls directly in line with what these Millennials are looking for with our Love and Religion and Raising a Child offerings. We offer accessible and non-judgmental information so that interfaith families and those who support them can incorporate more Judaism into their lives. Check out our current offerings and stay tuned for changes to come in 2014!
What would you add to Dr. Cousensâ€™ five calls to action?
I saw it first on Facebook, then my inbox and finally it was brought up at an â€śInterfaith CafĂ©â€ť I attended last week. The Jewish community is abuzz with A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews. The first article I read on this study was quite inflammatory. Some of their â€śhighlightsâ€ť included:
Thirty-two percent of Jews born after 1980â€”the so-called millennial generationâ€”identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927. Overall, 22% of US Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.
The analytical side of my brain wanted to know what questions were asked, how they were asked and how the Pew Research Center defined the first layer of the question, â€śof Jews.â€ť Thankfully, there was a sidebar defining who is a Jew.
I appreciate their stance, to â€ścast the net widelyâ€ť such that if anyone answered yes to any of three statements, then they were considered Jewish for purposes of participating in the rest of the survey:
(a) that their religion is Jewish, or
(b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or
(c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today
With that information, I was not surprised by the results. Liberal Jewish congregational professionals have long been talking about the decline in religion and what that means for the sustainability of their congregation.
I feel it especially in California where I would say many people (Jewish and not) are â€śnot religious.â€ť People connect with heritage, tradition and culture. This was especially true in our last Love and Religion workshop. It became very hard for spouses/partners who were raised in a faith tradition other than Judaism to understand their partnerâ€™s Jewish identity, when that identity was void of religion.
Rather than looking at the results as Wertheimer describes, â€ś[a] very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,â€ť I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to embrace other aspects of Judaismâ€”beyond sitting in services and praying. I also feel this is an amazing opportunity for our interfaith families, in that there are so many ways they can connect with Judaism!
The Bay Area is rich with non-religious options for Jewish involvement and community. EcoJews of the Bay, G-dcast, PJ Library, The Contemporary Jewish Museum and Wilderness Torah are just some of the non-religious institutions that one can connect with in the Bay Area.
The future of Judaism is not doomed. This is an opportunity! Benji Lovittâ€™s response sheds light on another way of interpreting the data. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
The â€śfall holidaysâ€ťâ€“Rosh Hashanah, followed ten days later by Yom Kippur and then just four days later by the week-long festival of Sukkot, which concludes with
â€śTurn it and turn it for everything is in it.â€ť Ben Bag Bag shares these words of wisdom about Torah. As a child I laughed at his name, but as an adult I appreciate the depth of this rather simple statement. Ben Bag Bag referred to the Torah, the ancient scroll on which the first five books of Moses and the beginning of the Jewish bible are written. Each year Jews around the world read a segment of these stories until this week when they (finally) reach the endâ€¦only to return to the beginning again with the word bâ€™reishit (in the beginning).
Itâ€™s such a natural cycle to turn and return. We cycle through the seasons, the yearly holidays and the cycle of life. Ben Bag Bag informs us that if we look deep into the words of the Torah we can find â€śeverything.â€ť
Cain and Abel teach us that we are responsible for and cannot hide our own actions. Abraham shows us (and God) the importance of mercy when God wants to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah. Jacob and Esau demonstrate sibling rivalry while Joseph and his brothers take it one step further demonstrating the weakness of family relationships that can be restored by the strength of forgiveness. Moses teaches us that even with physical limitations, we can still do great things.
Throughout the Torah we are reminded to treat others with respect and dignity. We are also reminded to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us. Commentary on the Torah takes these guidelines even further and extrapolates how we treat those who work for us and our animals. For example, one must be paid for his/her work in a timely fashion, so as not to cause unnecessary strife on his/her life. We must also feed animals and pets before we feed ourselves.
The guidance one can glean from the Torah can apply to all people. Those who practice Judaism and those who do not. I think every person should strive to be a good person and I find stories from the Torah provide good examples of how to (and sometimes how not to) act.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Torah and/or Bible stories and start reading. Discuss what you read with your family and discuss what everyone thinks. How might you want to incorporate examples into your life? What stories will you choose to use as examples of what not to do?
A personal favorite is the JPS Illustrated Childrenâ€™s Bible. The Bible stories included in this volume include fifty-three Bible stories (Torah and additional books), retold by Ellen Frankel. Each story is only a few short pages, so you can read one each night or each week. The full-color illustrations by Avi Katz help bring the stories to life!
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights! Please share what you think in the comment section below.
I, like you, receive a large number of email messages every day. Messages from list serves often go unopened and unread. However, I was intrigued by the headline: â€śIt’s that time of the year when Craig n’ Company offers you free Inspiration for the holy days without the Guilt!â€ť
I kept reading. Jewels of Elul Vol IX, The Art of Welcoming is a booklet featuring â€śJewelsâ€ť from a wide variety of esteemed contributors. I donâ€™t usually respond to name dropping, but this time it worked. On the list I saw my childhood rabbi, music specialists I worked with throughout my career, Rabbis and communal leaders I really look up to â€“ I was in! Of course, it took 12 days before I finally clicked on my first (second, third and fourth) messages from this group of esteemed Jewish leaders. I quickly found that each message truly is a jewel!
I want to share with you an excerpt from email #9 in the series (you can sign up to receive Jewels one by one in your inbox), the words of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Legal Counsel for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. His article, titled Treat The Stranger That There Be No Stranger posits the following:
For more than a century, American Jewryâ€™s passionate effort to ensure that America was a welcoming country for immigrants was infused by powerful historical lessons. We were, of course, the quintessential immigrant people, fleeing from land to land, looking for those rare countries that would welcome and perhaps even protect us. Our effort was, as well, a reflection of biblical values. We take pride that the most oft-repeated command of our tradition is to treat the stranger as ourselves. But what of our own community and our synagogues?
In 1978, Rabbi Alexander Schindler vigorously called on us to reach out to â€śall who enter,â€ť to open our congregations to intermarried families, later to the LGBT community, then to Jews through paternal descent. And then he called for our synagogues to become â€ścaring communitiesâ€ť serving the actual needs of their members. There followed a different kind of welcoming as synagogues opened their hearts, doors and resources to absorb the deluge of â€śboat peopleâ€ť from Southeast Asia; Soviet Jews, Sudanese refugees, Ethiopian Jews all followed.
Along the way, there were efforts to make our synagogues more accessible to differently abled Jews whose physical and mental capabilities made integration into our schools, our services, our programs an often discomforting challengeâ€¦ In this New Year, may we so treat the stranger that there be no stranger in Americaâ€™s synagogues.
I am challenging each of us as individuals to do our part for our community (big or small, near or far, no matter how you define community). In this New Year, what will YOU do to enable the differently abled, to welcome the stranger, the new immigrant, interfaith families, LGBTQ? How will you help the poor or feed the hungry?
If each of us does one thing to help the world, we can embody tikkun olam (repairing the world) and become a stronger world because of our efforts. You may not be required to solve all the worldâ€™s problems, but neither can you desist from trying to do your part (adapted from Pirkei Avot, 2:21).
I love questions that do not have one right answer. They allow each of us to explore the question and connect in our own way. Defining what it means to be Jewish is a perfect example. Close your eyes. What images come to mind when you think about what it means to be Jewish?
The InterfaithFamily staff from across the country (San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston) came together for two days of retreat and meetings in our national office. One of the first questions posed to us was â€śWhat does it mean to be Jewish?â€ť In true retreat style, paper and markers were brought out and we each got to draw our own answer to this profound question.
What would you draw to show what it means to be Jewish?
I drew a picture of a home and, next to it, people holding hands in a circle. You may notice that my artistic ability is not amazing. My people took the form of stick figures and I showed diversity by using every color of marker that was available. As I started to think about how to explain my drawing to my colleagues, I realized you could â€śreadâ€ť my picture from left to right like English, or from right to left like Hebrew.
In â€śEnglish,â€ť my drawing says that one needs Judaism in their home to transmit values and traditions to the next generation. Then, one needs a community to share those values and traditions. To deepen the connections and share the experiences. But my explanation didnâ€™t stop there.
I thought about my own familyâ€™s history and that of many interfaith households. For them, Judaism often starts with the community, reading my picture in â€śHebrew.â€ť It is with this community and their support that each individual family can find Jewish traditions and values that they want to embrace. Often they donâ€™t have the tools to do this on their own. For them the community aspect is imperative. And with a supportive community, Judaism can infuse into traditions in the home as well.
My colleagues came up with so many different interpretations. Iâ€™m curious what you imagine when you answer the question, â€śWhat does it mean to be Jewish?â€ť Please share your thoughts in the comments sectionâ€”and remember, there is not one â€śrightâ€ť answer.
What memories do you have of growing up? How did your family celebrate holidays?
My favorite holiday has always been Passover. While I was growing up, my parents hosted the Passover Seder for the extended family. Weâ€™d add tables, outgrowing the dining room and â€śkidsâ€™ tableâ€ť until we had a series of three tables spanning the dining room, entry way and into the living room. My aunts, uncles and cousins would all come to our house for a few days and weâ€™d celebrate Passover.
Living in Northern California, we did not have an abundance of kosher-for-Passover options. Luckily, my aunts would buy out all the markets in Los Angeles and bring delicacies with them that would last throughout the week of Passover.
After the crowds left, my mom would make matzo meal pancakes. Light and fluffy, made mostly of egg whites and air, they were my favorite (probably because I ate them with tablespoons of white sugar on top).
It wasn’t until a month ago that I learned where the matzo meal pancake recipe came from. I should have known that my momâ€™s mom was not the source. My grandmother was raised Mormon and converted to Judaism before marrying my grandfather. They raised three wonderful Jewish children and always had a Jewish household (see nature vs. nurture).
During summer break, while my mother was in high school, she traveled to Indianapolis to visit my father for a weekend while he was working there for the summer. At that time, not yet married, it was not â€śappropriateâ€ť for them to stay under the same roof, so while he was living with his cousins, my mother stayed with my fatherâ€™s grandmother.
One morning, my great-grandmother made the pancakes for my mom. Mom immediately fell in love with them. My great-grandmotherâ€™s recipe has been a family treasure ever since.
InterfaithFamily is here to help families discover long-lost family recipes and traditions, to create your own traditions and to help you explore what aspects of Judaism you want to incorporate into your lives as you create new traditions for your family.
In the Bay Area, newlyweds and nearly-wedded couples can begin this process by joining us for our Love and Religion â€“ Online workshop which begins July 29.
For the first time InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area had a booth at the Jewish Community Federationâ€™s annual Israel in the Gardens event. The event, which draws 15,000 people, once again took place at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, next to the Metreon and across the street from The Contemporary Jewish Museum. Israel in the Gardens brings together folks from across the community, Jews, their friends and allies, and sometimes just a passerby. There are also those who do not support Jewish causes and/or Israel, and they can be found picketing just outside Yerba Buena, easy to ignore once you pass through security.
Before the event, we prepared ourselves to respond to individuals who may not agree with what we do. Thankfully, we had only one individual who challenged our work (or their perception of what we do). The conversation remained cordial and he walked away.
Many visitors signed up for our bi-weekly eNewsletter and an online profile on our Network. They discovered the classes and workshops that we offer, including: Raising a Child with Judaism, Preparing for Bar/
The highlights were the many great conversations with interested folks. One person walked by and just gave us a thumbs-up sign. He didnâ€™t need to stop and talk, but wanted to show his support. Another individual walked by, stopped momentarily to say â€śthank you for doing what you do.â€ť One person stopped at our table to tell us his story of getting married to a wonderful woman 40 years ago, and the challenge they faced of finding a rabbi (back then). His wife was not raised Jewish and theirs was an interfaith wedding. They did find a rabbi, and were scheduled to get married at Glide Memorial Church with an Episcopalian Priest co-officiating. At the last minute, the priestâ€™s diocese would not allow him to officiate, so they were married by a rabbi in the church. Forty years later, they are still happily married. I wish the same happiness for all couples and InterfaithFamily is here to help you succeed!
Visitors took home Forget-Me-Not seeds so that they can â€śGrow with usâ€ť as InterfaithFamily/SF Bay Area continues to impact the community. We look forward to growing with you!
Many will agree that taboo topics of conversation include sex, politics, money, and religion. We’re guided not to discuss these things at work, sometimes not even with our extended family, but do we talk about them at home, with our spouse? With our children? If you don’t talk about these topics, how will your children know what’s important to you?
Jim Keen states, in response to his daughter’s query, “What is God?” in When My Jewish Child Asks Me about God: A Christian Parent’s Perspective,
Certainly, none of us want to leave a large gap in our child’s development. So, let’s start talking about it.
Answer these questions for yourself: Where does God live? How does God listen? Does God ever sleep? Does God forgive me? Does God hear my prayers? Children are thinking about these things and developing their own responses. Ask your child what he/she thinks. Share your ideas. If you’re stuck, check out the Children’s Spirituality Quest Set published by Skylight Paths Publishing in Woodstock, VT. They are designed for children ages 3-6, but I’ve used them when teaching teens. This set is perfect for any family; it has been “endorsed by Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist religious leaders.”
Another book you may consider adding to your child’s library (or your own), In God’s Name shares insights from many different people about qualities that they see in God and what each calls God. This book allows the reader to create his/her own connection to God and adapt one of the names in the book or develop his/her own name for God.
My personal favorite is called God’s Paintbrush. In writing this, I discovered that there is now a special 10th Anniversary Edition of God’s Paintbrush. In the introduction, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso tells a sweet story of a child explaining to his grandmother why he likes this book so much. “It’s because it asks questions.” When asked if the answers to the questions were in the back of the book, she explained, “no, the answers are inside you.”
She goes on to share some ideas for how to read and utilize the book to open the door for conversation.
So start your conversation. Take the “taboo” label off God and start talking about God with your partner, with your children, with your family, and maybe even with your friends!