Entries for Category: How We Celebrate
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In our latest edition of The Mothers Circle-Shalom Sesame holiday resource guide, we take a look at the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown on Tuesday May 14th, and ends at sundown on Thursday May 16th.
Shavuot is a spring holiday that celebrates the first harvest, the ripening of the first fruits, and most importantly, the giving of the Torah. The holiday can offer a wonderful entry point into Jewish life. Entry points, in fact, are at the very heart of this holiday, particularly because of its connection to the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally read on Shavuot during late-night (or even all night!) study sessions. Shavuot is also known for the delicious foods eaten, including blintzes and cheesecake.
For more about this unique holiday, including activities, video and discussion questions, and more, click here to download the free Shavuot resource guide. And please feel free to share!
Also, be sure to visit The Mothers Circle Facebook page to share how you will be celebrating Shavuot with your family, by leaving us a comment on the post about this fun guide. You can even share photos of the tzedakah boxes you make!
I’ve recently returned from a long-awaited vacation in Israel, where I had the pleasure of celebrating the Passover seder (ritual meal) at an Upper Galilee kibbutz (communal settlement) with my immediate family and… five hundred other kibbutz members, affiliates, and invitees. The cafeteria-style dining hall was filled with long tables arranged around a central stage on which local talent sang, recited, and performed segments of the Hagaddah (the text traditionally read on Passover, retelling the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt). The kibbutz first graders sang the Four Questions with the entire crowd responding with the refrain. Four child-and-parent pairs, dressed in appropriate costumes, acted out the story of the Four Children.
Aside from the size of the event, a sharp-eyed North American Jewish observer would have noticed some other differences between this celebration and a traditional seder. For one, there was virtually no mention of God. The kibbutz hagaddah - now close to a century in existence - removes God from the text and enhances it with content thought to be more relevant to life in Israel, such as songs about spring, renewal, and rebirth. Other sections considered problematic (such as the plea to “pour Your wrath on the nations who do not know You”) were replaced with statements about hope for peace. All during the week of Passover, the communal dining hall serves matzah AND bread. This bread is bought and frozen before the holiday (buying bread during Passover in Israel is possible, but entails driving the extra mile or two to the nearest Arab village. Freezing is easier). I grew up celebrating Passover in this way, so I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to come back to it, even more so now that I could share it with my young son.
When I was a student, I worked as an archivist at the American Jewish Archives. It was there that I got into the habit of reading as many Anglo-Jewish newspapers as possible. This allowed me to keep up on the various activities in local Jewish communities. It also helped bolster my interest in American Jewish history and the contemporary American Jewish community, an interest that I maintain to this day. I also continue to read all of those Anglo-Jewish newspapers, although there are fewer today than there were 35 years ago when I was a student. And while on-line news is eclipsing print newspapers very quickly, there are still many things that I can glean from a print newspaper that I don’t always catch when reading something on-line. Perhaps it is a generational thing or perhaps it is the difference in media.
Each year, about this time, I review all of the coverage of Hanukkah events. And usually the photos that I see are what I expect; bearded rabbis lighting giant menorahs (hanukiyot) with local politicians. While I have nothing against these rabbis and generally celebrate their work and their methods, I am always disillusioned, feeling that the American Jewish community has defaulted the public celebration of Hanukkah to a small group of American Jews and their rabbis.
Until this year.
This year, more people will celebrate the holiday of another religion with friends and family than ever before, largely due to intermarriage and our increasingly multicultural society. When helping others to celebrate their traditions, it may be fun and useful to know a little about how the two main December holidays are similar, and how they differ. The below tidbits may add to the appreciation of the other’s holiday, or enable you to better explain your own traditions—or simply provide a good ice-breaker over eggnog or latkes.
Did you know the holidays are similar in that…
1. Both Hanukkah and Christmas have roots in the Winter Solstice. The shortening of the days was the basis for many holidays that pre-date Hanukkah and Christmas. In ancient Rome, December 25th was considered the birthday of the sun, and many cultures who celebrate the Winter Solstice do so by lighting large bonfires both in public and near their homes. Others see it as a purifying holiday and incorporate ritual cleansings into their celebrations.
The staff of Big Tent Judaism / The Jewish Outreach Institute wish you a Happy Hanukkah!
How are you sharing the light this Hanukkah? Click here tell us below!
In the spirit of opening the tent, our staff are opening their doors and sharing the light this Hanukkah in many ways– through both their work here at JOI, as well as at home and in public spaces with family and friends. We invite you to leave your comment about how you plan to share the light this Hanukkah, and we wish everyone a safe, bright, and happy holiday!
Some might say that the new year began with Rosh Hashanah. I know the technical argument: there are actually four new years in the Jewish calendar. (I have always said that calendation is probably the most confusing aspect of Jewish religious and ritual life.) And the one we recently celebrated might best be described as the religious New Year (because it is the anniversary on which the Jewish people acclaimed Gd as Sovereign Ruler. That is why this year is 5773, not because we actually believe that the world is only 6000 years old). But many of us contend now that the fall holidays have finally concluded, we can actually begin the year. And it is already the middle of October!
Ironically, the Hebrew month that begins next week has been renamed Marcheshvan (literally, the bitter Cheshvan, the original name of the month) supposedly because we are bitter that there are no Jewish holidays in that month. I have always explained its bitterness this way: no matter how much teshuvah (repentance) work we do on Yom Kippur (and even extend it to Hoshanah Rabbah), there is still some residual bitterness in our soul that is left to deal with. That is one of the spiritual reasons that Sukkot is so filled with joy and culminates with Simchat Torah, an attempt to flush our spiritual systems of any of this residual bitterness of spirit.
Nonetheless, the holidays, for those of us who fully embrace them, are overwhelming and all-consuming. I often joke, “Whose idea was it anyway to place them all together? Couldn’t they have been spread out just a little?” And, of course, no one ever thinks that the Jewish holidays are “on time.” They are either “early” or “late.” But I actually enjoy them—if that is the right word when we include Yom Kippur in the mix. They provide me with a strong foundation for the year ahead. In some sense, they function like Shabbat—which provides me with a respite so that I can face the week ahead. But unlike Shabbat, the fall holidays begin by raising me to the heights of Sinai on Rosh Hashanah, and then the depths of Sheol on Yom Kippur and then fill me with joy and celebration—even more so—on Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
I was fortunate to share the holidays with three different synagogue communities in three different geographical locations this year. They observed the calendars somewhat differently—even if the liturgy and ritual were the same. Some of the focus was on children, some on families, and some on adults. When the holidays are allowed to be fully observed and communicate on their own, they have a lot to say. We just have to rid ourselves of the internal noises that all too often claim our attention if we want to listen.
And if we listen carefully, there is profound wisdom to be heard.
Alicia Scotti, a former Mothers Circle participant turned facilitator of Mothers Circle programs, has blogged for JOI.org in the past and is especially good at sharing her experiences raising Jewish children. Today, she offers her perspective on what celebrating Sukkot has meant to her family. For more guidance on how you can bring Sukkot into your family’s life, visit The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot here.
Sukkot was never much on my radar. Actually it didn’t really get there until several years ago, when my oldest was already halfway through high school (We live in NYC, which explains a lot.) Every year our temple would have a sukkah decorating party, to which we’d bring gourds, apples, and different things to tie to the structure that the maintenance staff had erected earlier that day. Afterward, we’d attend a Sukkot service, and we’d all huddle in the structure to shake the lulav and smell the etrog. It was always fun, but that was the extent of our Sukkot.
One year, out of the blue, my husband decided we should get our own lulav and etrog. Once he made that decision, it was a big deal! He did a lot of research about where to get the best ones, and conveniently one was our local Judaica store. Of course, however, he was working and couldn’t get away, so he sent me. Inside, there was a table stacked with etrogs, and another with the lulavs. The place was packed with people reaching over each other and pushing to get closest to the table to smell and examine each one until somehow miraculously the perfect one was found, and then on to the next table! I had no idea what I was doing, but I can smell. I can examine and take a good guess. So that’s what I did.
There are few sights more stunning than the changing of the leaves as summer turns to fall, and the Jewish calendar presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this time of year through the harvest festival of Sukkot. Arriving just five days after our solemn observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Sukkot is a celebration of gratitude for what we have and what is to come in the exciting year ahead. While you may notice that Sukkot is not as widely celebrated or acknowledged as the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, one can find many parallels to American Thanksgiving, as the pilgrims used this Biblical holiday as a template for their Thanksgiving celebration.
Like Thanksgiving, Sukkot celebrates our history and our connection to nature. You can now learn more about the holiday through The Mothers Circle Guide to Sukkot, which offers an introduction to its symbols and rituals, as well as ideas for celebrating with your families and making it your own. We invite you to take some time during this “Season of Our Rejoicing” (as Sukkot as often called) to celebrate the beauty of autumn through this unique and joyous holiday. Chag Sameach (Hebrew for “Happy Holiday”), and Happy Fall!
Sunday (July 29, 2012) is Tisha B’av, a day of commemoration named by its date on the Hebrew calendar. (Of course, it begins the prior evening, as do all Jewish calendar observances.) Ironically, this year, Tisha B’av (literally, the ninth day of the month of Av) is held on the tenth of the month of Av, a calendar shift made by the rabbis when the ninth day of Av falls on Shabbat. While this day marks the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, it has come to be the day that marks much of Jewish historical catastrophe (except those that are marked separately such as Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Memorial Day). Tisha B’av is a full fast day (like Yom Kippur); it is a day of mourning. Thus, many—not all—of the behaviors associated with Yom Kippur are also associated with Tisha B’av.
Admittedly, I have always had a tough time with Tisha B’av. Early Reformers simply rejected it out of hand. I presume it snuck back into the calendar of liberals through the program staff at Jewish summer camps. And it is also caught in the trend of reclaiming those rituals and observances that were rejected because they were seen to separate us from our non-Jewish neighbors. This is no longer the case for this generation of fully American American Jews. Nevertheless, I struggle with Tisha B’av. I don’t buy the traditional reason for the destruction of the Temples as sinat chinam (senseless hatred, referring to the hate among Jews for one another), although I do see such behaviors as increasing in this generation, and I worry about them. I also don’t see the diaspora in its more traditional terms as galut (exile), something that was traditionally associated with the destruction of the Temple. Rather, I see the so-called diaspora as an opportunity for the Jewish people to fulfill its obligation as or lagoyim (a light unto the nations). And I certainly don’t see us mourning Jerusalem at a time where we celebrate her as the heart and soul of modern Israel, as a place, for me, where heaven and earth touch.
A year ago, I met a wonderful woman who is Korean American and grew up going to church. Last night for Hanukkah, that same woman (now my wife-to-be) hosted a latke fry for our friends and made sweet potato kimchi latkes. (All completely her idea.) And they were delicious! When we first started dating, we worried about our differences. But now we see our differences as opportunities. (Especially when it comes to food.)
She’s not converting. She even said she still wants a Christmas tree, because it’s what she grew up with. But she loves the idea of Hanukkah and other Jewish traditions. She appreciates the family aspect, the songs, the tradition…..and of course the opportunity to fuse our cultures together in creative ways.
What’s particularly interesting to me is that, before I met her, I was what you might call a not-so-engaged Jew. But the more I see Jewish holidays, traditions, and culture through her eyes, the more I appreciate what I like about being Jewish, and the better I am able to answer the question for myself of why be Jewish. As a result of our flexibility, open-mindedness, and teamwork, plus all the great things about Judaism, we are in a much better position to make sure our children grow up with Judaism as well.
I’m not saying sweet potato kimchi latkes are by themselves the key to interfaith bliss. But they are a tasty representation of how one plus one can equal three when it comes to interfaith relationships. That said, just in case you do want to try them out yourself, here’s the recipe from Epicurious.com:
* 1 pound sweet potatoes
* 1 cup packed kimchi (7 ounces), very thinly sliced
* 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
* 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh serrano chiles (including seeds; amount depends on heat of kimchi)
* 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (from about 2 bunches)
* 1 large egg, lightly beaten
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
* About 1/2 cup corn oil or lard
Peel sweet potatoes and julienne using slicer (about 6 cups).
Stir potato together with remaining ingredients except oil. Let mixture stand at room temperature until wilted and moist, about 5 minutes, then stir again.
Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Filling a 1/3-cup measure halfway full with potato mixture for each pancake and working in batches of 5 or 6, tap out into oil, gently flattening pancakes with a spatula to about 1/4 inch thick. Cook until golden brown, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Add oil to skillet between batches as needed. Serve warm, with dipping sauce.
Tablet Magazine featured an article by JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin in response to a recent trend of non-intermarried Jews telling intermarried Jews that they shouldn’t put up a Christmas tree in their home. He raises the point that each family has a right to decide for themselves how they are going to tackle the December holidays. Even though he does not choose to have a Christmas tree in his own home, despite his wife’s upbringing with one, he respects others’ decisions to include this symbol of the season:
For many Jews looking in from the outside, a Christmas tree might represent the threatening, monolithic assertion: “Christian Household.” But for vast swaths of the intermarried population who put up Christmas trees but still successfully raise strongly identified Jews, that’s just not factually correct. And it’s why Tablet’s Marc Tracy drew the wrong red line when he wrote on the Scroll that the flexibility of identity requires some limits “and celebrating Christmas is beyond that limit.”
Really? Why does anyone get to decide that limit for someone else?
The overwhelming majority of Jews pick and choose which Jewish laws they find meaningful and which they reject. Keeping kosher all the time? Rejected by 85 percent of American Jewry. Believing homosexuality is an abomination? Thankfully, rejected by a growing majority. When we start telling each other that our own individual red lines are the universally accepted “Jewish” red lines—and if you cross them, you’re a bad Jew—our community descends into recriminations. Those of us working to actually grow the Jewish community understand that the message of “our way or the highway” more often than not results in the highway. Rather than telling people what they shouldn’t do, why not provide more ways for them to express their Jewish identity?
We at JOI support intermarried families raising Jewish children, regardless of their decision to have or not have Christmas trees in their homes. As Jews, we should be thankful for the fact that they have chosen to raise their children in the Jewish faith, and be open to the idea that they have a right to decide if and how to incorporate the non-Jewish partner’s traditions. Let’s focus on sharing what we love about being Jewish rather than chastising people for doing it “wrong.”
[cross-posted from the Huffington Post]
There has long been a war brewing in America over a December religious holiday and no, I don’t mean the silly non-issue “War on Christmas.” I’m talking about the heated debate that has pitted brother against brother, rabbi against gabbai: The Hubbub Over How to Spell the Jewish Festival of Lights.”
Every year around this time we at the Jewish Outreach Institute receive several “correct spelling” requests for the holiday’s name, usually from well-meaning grade-school teachers who want to present a multicultural front for the inevitable celebrating of Christmas in their public schools. My answer to them is always the same. Yes, there is only ONE way to spell the holiday’s name, and that is: חנוכה.
Celebrating Hanukkah is certainly an exciting part in creating a Jewish home. We light the hanukiyah, sing songs, play dreidel, and commemorate the triumph of religious freedom. Of course many of us also exchange gifts and participate in the season’s theme of giving. There are plenty of smiles during the gift-giving, but it also may seem overwhelming; one may feel that a sense of meaning has been lost if the activity does not take into account the world we live in today. As we prepare for Hanukkah this year, consider using Hanukkah as an opportunity to look beyond our home and to our greater world.
As soon as the fall holidays pass and a chill descends upon the Northeast, we at the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) start receiving calls about Hanukkah programming.
“What can we do for Hanukkah?” a Jewish communal professional asks in hopes of reaching the unaffiliated. “Do you offer a December Dilemma class?” a synagogue educator asks in hopes of welcoming interfaith couples.
These calls mark progress in the Jewish community. We can see a shift among Jewish institutions in that they are thinking more about how to serve a broader spectrum of Jewish households. We applaud this growing awareness and encourage the Jewish community to offer many more programs around the holidays that are low-barrier, easy-access, and serve people where they are. This includes the many intermarried households that are not yet engaging with the organized Jewish community.
Due to the Diaspora, you can find members of the Jewish community in every corner of the earth, sometimes even in some of the world’s least accommodating communities. While some of these wandering Jews are descendants of long-established (but fading) Jewish communities, many are abroad alone, having traveled there for professional reasons. This is especially true for American Jews serving in war-torn countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, spots where identifying oneself as a Jew might not always be a good idea.
Beyond self-identification, practicing Judaism while living far away from an organized community (and under constant threat of fire) can be particularly difficult. The likelihood of finding a functioning synagogue or a sukkah (ritual hut) in which to eat, let alone stumbling into a Public Space Judaism event, is very slim. Instead, Jews in the U.S. military either leave their Judaism at home or seek out answers and a community with the help of the handful of Jewish army chaplains. Joshua Knobel, a West Point graduate who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, saw the value and need for Jewish chaplains first-hand. Because of their scarcity, he served as a “designated faith group leader” (chosen by a fellow chaplain), in order to meet the needs of the Jewish service members spread across wide swaths of the Middle East. While fighting the “war on terror” as a captain in telecommunications, Knobel concurrently shuffled between military bases to lead holiday services, offer counseling to his unit, and host seders (ritual meals for Passover) for Jewish soldiers. Since returning from his deployment, Knobel has enrolled in rabbinical school, with the possibility of returning to the military to serve in the chaplaincy.
We have just concluded the first round of fall holidays, and will be readying ourselves on Wednesday night for another week of Jewish holidays. According to tradition, as soon as we break fast at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we are to initiate the building of our sukkah (although depending on the way the calendar works each year, many Jewish institutions build their sukkot before Yom Kippur even starts). Admittedly, the Jewish religious calendar is quite complicated. Thus, it presents an additional barrier to entry for those new to Jewish life and the Jewish community, irrespective of their backgrounds. Those of us who have been immersed in Jewish life for many years take it all in stride. But I like to look at these issues from the perspective of a newcomer—so that we can all learn from his/her experience. I also like to take into consideration the religious aesthetic involved, since so many historical choices were made for this reason, as well.
It is bad enough that there are four new years in the Jewish calendar. Because we live in sync with the secular calendar, we expect Rosh Hashanah to be akin to January 1. But Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the religious new year, not the count-off of the calendar. For the latter, we have to wait until the spring. What puzzles newcomers—and I have thought about this a great deal—is why, then, does Yom Kippur come after Rosh Hashanah? Wouldn’t it make more sense for a day of atonement to come before the beginning of a new year, not 10 days after its initiation?
At the Jewish Outreach Institute, we seek to welcome newcomers and engage those on the periphery of Jewish life. Increasingly, Jews in their 20s, 30s, and 40s fit into this latter group, feeling no need to affiliate with a synagogue, and with no other way to connect with other young Jews. As a member of this demographic, I often wonder what organizations can do to engage us, to get us involved in “something Jewish” so as to not completely lose our cultural identity, while not making us feel obligated to join a synagogue.
While in college at the University of Delaware, I attended events at both the Hillel and Chabad; but outside of college, Jewish experiences for those in my generation are not as readily available. There is also an increasing perspective that my generation doesn’t want to have to go searching for opportunities, we want them easily accessible.
A recent article in the Minnesota Post shows that many are starting to think along these lines, and some are beginning to take action. Following some of the basic principles of JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Coalition, as well as the model created by Tempo, the Minnesota Opera’s young adults group, Rabbi Avi Olitzky (son of JOI Executive Director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky) has started a young-adults group at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN, designed to reach young adults where they are. The group’s events include Jewish happy hours and young-adult Sabbaths, with the goal of reaching young Jewish adults where they are.
The work of Rabbi Olitzky and others is a step in the right direction, and I am excited to see other groups offer opportunities to young Jews in the 20s, 30s, and 40s to reinvigorate our interest not necessarily in Judaism, but in being Jewish together.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings. It is a time to open our minds and hearts to build a more inclusive Jewish community that recognizes the customs and traditions of all its members. To help you celebrate Jewish diversity and the High Holidays, here are some traditional Rosh Hashanah recipes from around the world.
Loubia - Egyptian Black-Eyed Peas
Reposted from Be’chol Lashon
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed in a press
1.5 lb (750 g) lamb or veal, cubed
1 lb (500 g) tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb (500 g) dried black-eyed peas, soaked for 1 hour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons sugar
Fry the onion in the oil till golden. Add the garlic, and when aroma rises add the meat. Stir to brown it all over. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste.
The following is a guest blog from Rabbi Howard A. Berman, the Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism. We commend Rabbi Berman for his work with interfaith families in several cities including Boston and Chicago, and are happy to share his thoughts on the High Holy Days with you.
“The Society for Classical Reform Judaism was founded in 2008, by a group of rabbis and lay leaders from congregations throughout the United States, as a national voice of advocacy for the broad, universalistic ideals of the Classical Reform tradition - the historic progressive interpretation of liberal Judaism in America. The society seeks to preserve and creatively renew the deep spiritual values, rich intellectual foundations and distinctive worship traditions that have historically distinguished the Reform Movement.”
The High Holy Days:
The Spirit and the Challenge of Renewal and Return:
A Classical Reform Perspective
Rabbi Howard A. Berman, The Society for Classical Reform Judaism
The High Holy Days offer each of us an opportunity for a powerful spiritual experience. For the sensitive, attentive individual, open in mind and heart to the transforming themes of this sacred season, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be an inspiring reaffirmation of personal faith and spiritual quest. Even for those whose faith is less defined, or whose spirituality is more ambivalent, these timeless observances can be deeply meaningful.
The complex connections of emotional stirrings, intellectual challenge, and the aesthetic interplay of the language and music of worship, all have the potential to be a compelling and renewing encounter with our tradition. The cadence of familiar words and phrases – the strains of ancient and well-loved melodies, the experience of coming together as loved ones and friends in community – are all elements that combine to touch so many people of differing styles and understandings of personal spirituality, in many significant ways.
Earlier this month, over 90 Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders from across the continent “gathered” on an interactive webinar to learn about the Jewish Outreach Institute’s High Holiday outreach tool and accompanying program model: The Color-Me Calendar for the Jewish New Year. Participants learned how to bring this brand new, FREE calendar (produced in collaboration with our friends at Shalom Sesame*) to their communities, and how Color-Me Calendar can accomplish the following:
• The program, built around decorating a dynamic kid-friendly activity calendar, functions educationally to introduce children to symbols of the High Holiday season.
• In addition, it provides a creative marketing opportunity, in that each Jewish community or organization can customize the calendar with its upcoming events and offerings that specifically target families with young children while they are in a planning mindset.
• This is a project around which communities can collaborate, ultimately reflecting and highlighting the diverse opportunities available within a local Jewish community.
• Color-Me Calendar also serves as an entry point to relationship building between these families and the Jewish communities.
• In order to find people where they are, Color-Me Calendar takes place in back-to-school shopping establishments, community fairs, farmers markets, food stores, bookstores, library, malls, playground/parks and other venues where families with young children spend their time at the end of the summer/beginning of school year. Color-Me Calendar can function on its own, or augment late summer and High Holiday family programs currently being planned.
It’s not too late! You still have a few days left to sign up to bring these exciting tools to your community and join the dozens of Jewish communities who are already on board! Email Eva Stern, JOI’s Senior Director of Training, to learn how to access this FREE tool and its accompanying programmatic methodology to find those who are not yet connected to your institutions this High Holiday season.