Thursday, December 18, 2014
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
We've been very busy here already this Hanukkah, and the best is yet to come: Friday night's dinner and service. Hundreds of people are expected. You won't want to miss this Hanukkah Happening for all ages. If you are coming just for the service, a reminder that we now begin Friday night services at 7:00 PM. And on Shabbat morning, we'll be naming Abigail Sophia Klein, daughter of new TBE members Robert and Emily Klein. Born on Yom Kippur, named during Hanukkah. Join us as we welcome Abigail and wish mazal tov to her family.
This afternoon we lit the candles downtown at the Government Center with Mayor Martin (see photo above). Also, our Hebrew School 7th graders have been busy preparing Hanukkah treats to bring to the Jewish Home in Fairfield, and last Sunday our K.1. and 2 students made latkes. Lots more will be happening this Sunday morning. You can check out the photos in our online Hanukkah album.
We will also be very busy helping our neighbors to celebrate Christmas, next Wed. night at Pacific House and, for the first time, also at Inspirica's facilities on Franklin St. Once again, so many of our congregants have volunteered to help bring holiday cheer those most in need of it. BTW, a reminder that morning minyan will be at the special 9 AM federal holiday start time next Thursday (when I have yahrzeit for my father) and again the flowing week on New Year's Day.
Happy Birthday, Alberto!
This week our staff celebrated a special birthday for Alberto Eyzaguirre, who has served this congregation for more years than anyone...ever. Alberto showed me this photo of our staff, taken at one of his birthday celebrations here in the late 1980s, and this photo of him holding my Ethan a couple of years later. Happy Birthday, Alberto! And thank you!
A Jew at Home
I get lots of questions around Hanukkah time. Last week at services, someone asked whether, when we put the Hanukkah menorah in the window, the positioning of the candles be determined by how they appear from outside or inside the house. It's a good question.
Over the centuries there have been rabbinic debates as to whether the hanukkiah should be lit inside the house at all, or should it stay outside all the time. The consensus is that for security purposes as well as the winter weather, which can be nasty even in Israel at this time, it's best to keep it inside. But I think it should be, regardless.
We place the candles in from right to left and light them from left to right. Once those candles are lit, what's important is what they look like from the perspective of those who are sure to be looking at them - and that means us. If others are looking at them too, on the other side of the window, wonderful. But before publicizing the miracle to the world, let's make sure we've publicized it to ourselves. If others see it, so be it. From my house, if someone sees my candles from the outside, they've either got telescopic vision or antlers. Or they are at the cemetery - and as the Psalm says, "The dead do not praise You." Let's take care of business inside our homes first. Judaism should be first and foremost a private affair.
We spend too much time wondering about what others think of us. We worry too much about our public image, wearing our religion on our sleeves and rarely letting it penetrate the heart.
Back at the beginning of the Enlightenment, the talk was that newly emancipated Jews should be "Jews at home and human beings on the street." The idea was to hide one's Jewishness, reserving it for the private realm, and to appear just like everyone else in public. But now the situation has been reversed. For so many, our Jewish identities revolve around our organizational affiliations, our meetings and lunches, our postings and proclamations, rather than our inner lives. So while it is good to proclaim the miracle for the world and to show pride in who we are, the flames of the Hanukkah candles mean nothing if they don't ignite a spark in each of our souls.
Hanukkah is complicated. Nothing is as it seems. For one thing, it is the festival the ancient rabbis wanted to get rid of. They hated the Maccabees (primarily because their descendants, the Hasmoneans, became corrupt rulers) and devoted very little space in the Talmud to discussions of this holiday. Purim gets an entire tractate, Hanukkah barely a page. But it was too popular to get rid of. So the rabbis tried to gerrymander it to fit their visions.
I was asked how we could say, in the blessing, that we are commanded to light the Hanukkah candles, when Hanukkah is not even in the Torah. The rabbis got around that one by invoking a verse from Deuteronomy ascribing special authority to sages living during the second temple period. Once again, it's complicated, but the idea is that the verse gave these sages authority to give a non Torah activity "mitzvah" status, to be included among the 613 commandments. So a new commandment was shoehorned into the Torah for a holiday that's post biblical.
Even the simple dreidel game, one of Hanukkah's best known customs, is complicated. It's in fact derived from an English and Irish medieval Christmas custom. Sorry, Virginia, it's one of those freaky ironies of Jewish history that in order to celebrate a holiday that marks our victory over cultural assimilation, we play a game that resulted from cultural assimilation. You can read more about the origins of the dreidel and more Hanukkah exotica, here.
Also, see these Hanukkah goodies from the Rabbinical Assembly:
See also JTS Chancellor Arnie Eisen's interesting comparison of "secular" Tel Aviv at Hanukkah time with the Judaism practiced by most American Jews.
All Miracles, Great and Small
Last Tuesday, our Learning and Latte monthly interfaith conversation reconvened at the Parkway Diner (We thank them for their hospitality, but with no latte on the menu, we might want to rename it "Learning and Lasagna"). It was a really special evening. Along with about a dozen Jews, mostly from TBE, there were three Muslims, three Christians and assorted agnostics and spiritualists; this on a day when Taliban terrorists killed 140 Muslims, almost all of them children at a Pakistani school. Rather than dwell on this horror, we paused for a moment to reflect, and then declared that we need to be the solution. So we engaged in some meaningful, constructive dialogue, discovering how each of our faiths focuses on blessing and life, and how our faith traditions teach us to appreciate the small miracles that come into our lives.
It was really a fantastic hour. Our next L and L will take place on Thursday, January 15, the topic will be racism, and Mayor Martin will attend. The location and exact time TBD.
This week, a cell of Jewish racists was arrested in Israel for vandalizing Jerusalem's Arab-Jewish "Hand in Hand" school. Two young students from that school, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, created a menorah following that event - and that menorah was lit at the White House last night. Once again, the response to darkness and hatred was to spread the light.
Let's look for the good in one another and find miracles in the simple act of standing together "hand in hand."
Or hand in paw.
The New York Times recently reported that Pope Francis indicated that there is a place in heaven for dogs. The report proved erroneous, although something similar was said by another pope, but the point is moot. I know that for my dogs, at least, whenever one of their humans comes through the door, especially a human who has been away for a long time (say, in college), they are in heaven. Maybe the point isn't that we should hope to see Fido at the Pearly Gates. What we should try harder to do is see the world through Fido's eyes, and understand that any time we truly connect with another living being, that is heaven, right here and right now.
This week is a time for people of all faiths to stand together - dogs too.
Wishing everyone a joyous season of lights and the sensation of heaven right here, right now.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman