Friday, November 1, 2013

Shabbat O Gram for November 1

The Thanksgivukkah Dilemma, Stamford’s New Trader Joes, Shalom TV, Hebrew School Dybbuks, Jacob’s Kitchen Challah Taste Test and Why Balfour Day Matters (but what the heck is it?)

Shabbat Shalom.  Yes, I’m delighted about the Red Sox and appreciate everyone’s congreatulations and your tolerance of my insufferableness over the past few weeks. It was a great run, and a healing, joyous moment for a city that has suffered quite a bit this year.

Mazal Tov to Hudson Price and Rebecca Morgenthaler, who become b’nai mitzvah this weekend. I am proudly wearing a Rainbow Loom bracelet that Hudson is distributing as part of his mitzvah project.  Incidentally, last week’s S.O.G commentary, “Are Rainbow Looms Kosher?” has been one of the most widely read feature op-eds on the Times of Israel site this past week.   There’s lots of interest in this new fad. 

Check out David Lang’s bar mitzvah d’var Torah from last Shabbat afternoon, on the portion Toldot.  Speaking of Toldot, which is this Shabbat morning’s portion, see G-dcast’s creative take on the portion for kids, “A Cheater Who Prospers.” 

Tomorrow, BTW, is a Jewish holiday that no one knows about.  Read this article about Balfour Day and why we should care about it, as people still bicker over the Jews’ right to a national homeland. And if you are into Jewish history, check out this interactive Jewish history timeline now featured at MyJewishLearning.

Dybbuks and Golems at TBE

Yesterday at Hebrew School the attendance was excellent, considering it was Halloween.  Kudos to our new educator, Lisa Gittelman Udi, who created an entire program on how Jewish folklore treats the occult.  Golems and demons filled our chapel! I even got to exorcise a dybbuk, something they never taught me in rabbinical School! I just improvised, asking the dybbuk to please leave the premises. It worked (and not a single head spun 360 degrees)!  To quote one of our students to his parents, “Hebrew School was so much fun today!  Totally awesome!”  We aim for “awesome” – and it really was!

We’re hearing “awesome” quite a bit from our students this year.  I only feel badly for those who missed out, choosing to start their trick or treating early and not realizing that an even greater time was to be had in, of all places, Hebrew School.  Yes, this is not your father’s Religious School. It’s totally awesome!

Pewish and Jewish on Shalom TV

See me discussing the Pew Research center report on American Jews on Rabbi Mark Golub’s “L’Chayim” program this Sunday at noon and 6 PM on Shalom TV, Cablevision channel 138.  Shalom TV, which last week broadcast TBE’s recent Hoffman Lecture, continues to provide the most relevant and thought provoking Jewish programming on the airwaves.  Check it out!

Interfaith Climate Summit

I will have the honor of participating next Thursday in the plenary session of the Interfaith Climate Stewardship Summit in Hartford.  The Summit is a full day conference designed to educate and inspire religious and lay leadership on the issue of climate change as the moral imperative of our time. Attendees will learn the theological background for environmental stewardship as well as the connection between climate change and traditional ministries, such as hunger, poverty, conflict, and disaster relief.  Participants will leave the event with tools and support to address climate change in their congregations. For more information, please visit the conference website.  See the full program here.

Trader Joes and Jacob’s Kitchen Challah Taste Test

Welcome to Stamford, Trader Joes (and see TBE’s Linda Rothman in this photo from the Stamford Advocate article about yesterday’s grand opening). In honor of that opening, and in conjunction with this, the most culinary Torah portion of the year (Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of Jacob’s lentils, then Jacob and Rebecca cook up a tasty meal to gain Isaac’s blessing), we’ll be doing the SECOND ANNUAL JACOB’S KITCHEN BLIND CHALLAH TASTE TEST at services tomorrow morning and a kids version at Tot Shabbat this evening.  Get ready to compare Trader Joes with Stop and Shop, Beldotti and Fairway, and judge which is the best in Stamford. 

The Thanksgivukkah Dilemma

Welcome to November, which begins today and the Hebrew month of Kislev, which begins Sunday.

I flipped my calendar this morning and lo and behold, all those rumors I’ve been hearing are true: Yes, Hanukkah begins before Thanksgiving (technically the night before) for the first time in 125 years and the last time for 79,043 years, according to one calculation.  Thanksgivukkah has become a big deal in the media, though many Jewish families have combined the two celebrations before, when Hanukkah has begun while families were still gathered for the long holiday weekend. It’s fun, it’s inspired a whole host of creative ideas and lots of Jewish pride. Buzzfeed calls it “the best holiday of all time.” There’s even a song, “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah.”

Here’s a chance for Jews to celebrate two holidays at once without the second holiday posing significant theological problems for us.  Here’s a chance to combine Hanukkah with its American counterpart, totally guilt free. 

Here’s a chance to have your cranberry-latke stuffing and eat it too.

But people are ignoring the other side of the matter.  What happens when the turkey is digested and the final candle has burned out?  What will happen this year on December 5, when Hanukkah is behind us and Christmas has the month all to itself?

I’ll tell you what will happen.  Hanukkah will in fact be prolonged, like a souped-up dreidel. Much like the endless Christmas season, this year’s Hanukkah will drag on eternally, clear through to January.  You see, as obsessed as American Jews are becoming with Thanksgivukkah, most of the other 97 percent of Americans will not get the memo.  For them, Hanukkah will be in December, as usual.

Yes, Virginia, there still will be a "December Dilemma" this year, that annual uphill battle against the pervasive, domineering cultural crescendo of all things Christmas.  Hanukkah is typically, the greatest ally in this fight. Jews have been able to match those Twelve Days of Christmas with our Eight Crazy Nights, pit menorah against mistletoe, watch dreidels twirl against the tinsel, our lights against their lights, the blue and white against the green and red.

It's not a fair fight, especially with regard to the songs, although if you disqualify those Christmas classics written by Jews, things get more interesting.

My interest in this is very personal. My father was born on the first day of Hanukkah in 1918, a rare year when the first night of Hanukkah coincided with the late afternoon of Thanksgiving, and he died on the last day of Hanukkah in 1979, which just happens to be the most recent time the holiday ended on New Year's Day. Plus, our last name, in rough translation, means Maccabee.

But this dilemma raises questions that go far beyond my own family. What should Jews say when well-intended shopkeepers wish us a "Happy Hanukkah" on Christmas Eve, weeks after our holiday has ended?

Do we return those unwanted Barbie dolls during those non-existent "after Hanukkah sales," or do we dare hold onto them until Dec. 26, when the prices really go down? Without Hanukkah to fall back on, how do we resist the Yuletide onslaught on television and in our schools? Is it possible to add a few weeks onto Hanukkah on a one-time-only basis?

I suppose that with the Christmas season now beginning as early as October, there's nothing so wrong about letting Hanukkah be extended a few weeks in the other direction, especially since that will enable Jews and their neighbors to share this season of good will in a manner that respects diversity rather than demanding homogeneity.

So by all means, non Jews, wish me a Happy Hanukkah all December long. If that legendary oil could miraculously burn for eight whole days, what's another twenty one? The ancient rabbis instructed Jews to increase the light each night in order to spread the joy and publicize the miracle. No one ever said that we have to stop at eight. In fact, Jewish law states that the Sabbath can be extended far beyond its natural conclusion on Saturday night, even until midweek. So let Hanukkah linger as well, even if only in the well wishes of neighbors.

In the spirit of M.O.T. Jerry Herman's song from "Mame," "We Need a Little Christmas," another Yuletide classic with a Yiddish soul, maybe this year we should sing, "We a Little MORE Hanukkah," enough to last clear to the end of the month.

Let's keep those flames burning, all December long -- and even beyond. During these trying times, we all could use a little more light.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Kislev!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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