On Chanukah, just let the lights go out


There’s a popular Chanukah song recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, “Light One Candle.” Its chorus insists we “don’t let the light go out” — but I’ve been thinking that maybe we should.

Not that I want to leave all those Maccabee children stumbling in the dark on cold December nights, or leave them without an image of light and hope to plug into. But, sometimes, letting the light go out kindles an altogether different kind of luminance in which to examine the moments of our lives that we hold dear.

So my urging that we watch the light go out is a literal one — while we love to bask in the glow of our menorahs, what is really illuminating is watching the candles go out.

Watching them burn out, one by one, makes me think about how remarkable it is to kindle light.In a time when LED menorah decorations are plentiful and one can use an app to light the “candles” on their smartphone, please give me candles blue, yellow, red and white.  The fire of my imagination lights up as their wicks burn down.

One Chanukah — after our family menorah was lit, the blessings chanted, the songs sung, the gifts opened — everyone trudged upstairs to watch TV. I stayed downstairs alone and watched the menorah burn low. Though the communal and commercial push on Chanukah is toward shopping-mall candle lightings, house parties and group crafts for kids, I wanted to see if the holiday could also be quiet and contemplative.

I’m not talking “silent night” here — that’s that other holiday — but a real chance to take in the play of shadow and light and contemplate what Hanukkah means.

The Jewish life cycle, from bris or baby naming to funeral and shiva, leaves little time for singular reflection. Judaism calls for a group, a minyan, to experience much of what it offers. Even on Yom Kippur, we do not confess our sins alone, but together as community.

So I admit that sitting alone and watching the candles burn down seemed a little downbeat and weird at first.

But the traditional prayer “Hanerot Halalu” (“These Lights”) — which reminds us, as we look upon the candles, to thank and praise God “for the wondrous miracle of our deliverance” — helped me view this solo experience in a different, well, light. While watching the flames, I finally connected with the words of the prayer, realizing that after eight nights of parties and presents (as well as latkes, sufganiyot and black cherry soda), I felt miraculously delivered, like I was a Maccabee who emerged victorious from the combat zones of holiday shopping.

Casting a shadow on my reverie, however, was the “Hanukkah Meditation” in my Sim Shalom prayer book. It suggested that “in the last glimmer of spiraling flame,” I should be able to see the spark of “Maccabees, martyrs, men and women of valor.”

Try as I might, staring at the candles burning down, all I could make out were colorful driblets of wax.

I wondered: Was there some other message?

Flames reach out at us from most every part of Judaism. Looking into our menorahs, they can draw us into a light of memory, like a yahrzeit candle lit at the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Flames also light us up with celebration, such as illuminating the candles of Shabbat or setting bonfires on Lag b’Omer.

In the window of my dining room, another candle connection was burning up right before me. The shamash, the candle used to light all the others on the menorah, was burning out first, making me ask: Who had been my shamash? Taking bows in the candlelight were a basketball coach, a college lecturer, the rabbi where I grew up, a kid from Scouts and, to a well-earned round of applause, my parents. In turn, they had showed me how to move my feet, write, parse Torah commentary, cook and strive toward menschhood. 

In the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation, the earliest foundation text of Kabbalah, there is a passage about a “flame in a burning coal.” Aryeh Kaplan, an Orthodox rabbi who was known for his knowledge of physics and Kabbalah, wrote that it can be used as a meditation. In his book “Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation in Theory and Practice,” various parts of the flame correspond to the Sephirot, or attributes through which Ein Sof — “the infinite” — is revealed.

In Kaplan’s meditation, the wick represents the physical world; the blue flame closest to the wick is “the counterpart of Malchut,”or Kingdom, which is our perceptions of God’s actions and attributes. Surrounding this is the bright yellow flame, which corresponds to the Sephirot of Kindness, Strength, Beauty, Victory, Splendor and Foundation.

The hottest part, the white flame, is the Sephira of Binah, or understanding, with the “light radiating from the candle,” corresponding to Chochmah, or wisdom.

“The only way in which the flame can rise is for all of these parts to come together,” Kaplan wrote.

And rise they did, growing brighter first, and then sputtering out, one by one, but leaving me with a glow.

Chanukah models of courage


My 4-year-old son is obsessed with superheroes, dressing up at every opportunity as the superhero du jour to do battle with the bad guys lurking around the corner. (My 2-year-old daughter is just as enthusiastic, but at her age all she can really muster is a “meanie” face.)

From a developmental perspective, I know this fantasy play is his way of exercising control over a world he is learning is increasingly out of his control. But I also see other qualities — his desire to be strong, to stand up for the good guys — in short, to be courageous.

Becoming courageous doesn’t happen overnight. It develops when children have opportunities to stand up for what’s right and to take responsible risks. Through experiences my husband and I provide, and the stories we tell them, we can lay some groundwork.

As I think about a central message of the Chanukah story and the way I want to portray it to my kids, models of courage abound. From Judah Maccabee to Judith and Hannah and her seven sons, heroes and heroines fought for the right to be different, to be Jews who refused to assimilate into the prevailing Hellenistic culture.

When Antiochus Epiphanes came to power, and observance of the most basic mitzvot (circumcision, Shabbat celebration and kashrut) were turned into capital offenses, their acts of courage formed the basis of a central narrative of the Chanukah story that has been passed down through the generations.

Consider Judah Maccabee, whose army used guerrilla tactics and religious zeal to defeat the stronger Assyrian-Greek army. He forced the Assyrian Greeks to rescind the policies that forbade Jewish practice, and in 164 B.C.E. liberated the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it as a place of Jewish worship.

Consider Judith, who did her part to prevent the siege of Jerusalem in her hometown of Bethulia by seducing Holfenes, the Assyrian-Greek army general, and then decapitating him. Her bravery is so highly esteemed by the rabbis that it is because of her act of courage that Jewish women are obligated to light Chanukah candles.

And consider Hannah and her seven sons, who refused to bow down to Zeus and Antiochus and eat nonkosher meat. The Book of Maccabees relates that each of her sons and then her mother were tortured to death.

These acts of courage seem extreme and even unpalatable to our modern era — what woman would sacrifice her son, not to mention all seven? And aren’t we a peace-loving people who should not extol brute force?

But they also lead us to a deeper question about the nature of courage. Are there values and beliefs for which we are willing to make great sacrifices, and if any of these values or beliefs were to be violated, would we be stirred to action?

While these figures present us with one narrative of the Chanukah story — of heroism in battle and martyrdom — a second narrative is favored by the ancient rabbis. The story begins with the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the faith that the Jews had that the small cruse of oil, which should have lasted for one day only, could last for eight (in time for others to travel and get more oil).

The second narrative downplays the military victory won by human hands and elevates the story to one in which our faith in God and God’s miracles are kindled. It reminds us that courage is born when we continue to have faith and hope even in our darkest time. Having faith in itself is an important kind of courage.

While the call to be courageous is central to the Chanukah story — spiritually or physically — it is also daunting. But the rabbis offered another way for us to understand how to live a courageous life and be our own heroes.

“Who is a hero?” the rabbis ask. “One who overcomes his urges?” (Mishna, Pirke Avot 4:1).

Overcoming our most natural desires and exercising personal restraint is another kind of heroism. This is a kind of everyday courage.

When we are present in a difficult conversation with someone we care about even though our impulse is to leave, we are a hero. When we resist the urge to say something that we know will offend another person, even if we think it is warranted, we are courageous. When we have vowed not to feed a habit that is destructive to us, and when tempted and resist (a smoke, an extra piece of chocolate cake), we are being our own heroes.

This Chanukah, celebrate all of the dimensions of courage by dedicating each night to one of them:

Candle 1 to the classic Chanukah heroes of Judah Maccabee, Judith and Hannah.

Candle 2 to the courageous acts of our children who welcome a new kid to the school, speak out against bullying or have faith that the next day at school might be a little better than today.

Candle 3 to someone in your community who took up a cause you believe in and fought for it.

Candle 4 to someone in your family — perhaps a parent or grandparent — and a courageous act they performed during their lives.

Candle 5 to American and Israeli soldiers who are fighting to protect values and ideals that are sacred to us.

Candle 6 to the courage that you have exercised by restraint — with a co-worker, spouse, child, friend or parent.

Candle 7 to a person in your life who exemplifies courage the most.

Candle 8 to that quality of courage in ourselves that enables us to bring light into dark places and for the energy to continue to stoke the embers of our own sense of courage.

Chanukah events around Los Angeles


TUE DEC 20

HANNUKAH CELEBRATION
The Original Farmers Market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue and The Jewish Journal host an outdoor Chanukah bash for all ages. Kids can help build a giant Lego chanukiyah, families can play Chanukah bingo, make dreidels and play games with DJ Groovy David. Arts and crafts, snacks and more highlight the occasion, which closes with the menorah lighting ceremony and sing-a-long. Community participants include Temple Israel of Hollywood, Miracle Mile Chabad and the Zimmer Children’s Museum. Tue. 2:30-4:30 p.m. Free. The Original Farmers Market at Third St. and Fairfax Ave., 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (323) 933-9211. farmersmarketla.com.

LIGHTS OF CHANUKAH FAMILY TOUR
Peruse Skirball’s display of chanukiyot and meet Judah the Maccabee. Part of the museum’s core exhibition, “Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America,” the tours are for families, providing an opportunity to learn the history and significance of Chanukah, according to the Skirball’s Web site. Tue. Through Dec. 24. 1 p.m. (daily tours). $10 (general), $7 (seniors 65-and-over and full-time students), $5 (children 2-12), free (children under 2 and Skirball members and everyone on Thursdays). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

WED DEC 21

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
Head to Atwater Crossing for an evening of funny stories and deep music on the second night of Chanukah. Organized by East Side Jews, Reboot and the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, tonight’s performers include former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Michaela Watkins, “How I Met Your Mother” writer Tami Sagher and folk-pop band The Wellspring. Dinner, beer and wine available for purchase. Wed. 7-10 p.m. $10. Atwater Crossing, 3245 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. eastsidejews.com, atwatercrossing.com.

THU DEC 22

CHANUKAH FESTIVAL
Westfield Century City Mall hosts live ice menorah carving, face painting, kosher treats and festive music — what more could a person want out of a Chanukah festival? Organized by Chabad of Century City. 5-7:30 p.m. Free. Westfield Plaza, near Brooks Brothers, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-3898. westfield.com/centurycity/news-and-events.

LIGHT UP HANUKKAH
Blending contemporary electronic beats with world sounds from the Middle East, India and beyond, music trio Naked Rhythm perform at tonight’s charity concert, organized by Jewlicious and progressive synagogue IKAR. Proceeds benefit Jewish Heart for Africa, which brings Israeli solar technology to African villages, and Tomchei Shabbas, a weekly food-delivery agency. Thu. 8-11 p.m. $18 (presale), $25 (door), $20 (with two cans for food donation). The Joint, 8771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544. jconnectla.com, ikar-la.com.

UCB ORPHANS AND JEWS HOLIDAY IMPROV HOUR
Emmy-winner Ben Schwartz; Curtis Gwinn (Onion Nets Network); UCB instructors Todd Fasen and David Harris; video game designer/writer Nick Wiger and others take improv to Jewy heights, performing scenes based on audience members’ stories about their best, worst and craziest holiday memories. Lineup subject to change. Thu. 11 p.m. $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 908-8702. losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.

FRI DEC 23

L.A. EXODUS
Book a room at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club for the third annual Jewish Soulstice Weekend. This two-night Chanukah retreat features performances by singer-songwriters and comedians, buffet-style dinners and more. Clergy will be in the mix, with Rabbis Sharon Brous (IKAR), Susan Goldberg (Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock) and David Kasher (UC Berkeley’s Hillel) leading discussions. Plus, get outdoors and embark on an audio-guided hike in the desert. Singles, couples and families welcome. Kids will enjoy the hotel pool and supervised arts and crafts. Hosted by East Side Jews, Reboot and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Fri. Through Dec. 25. Rooms starting at $189 (based on availability; two-night minimum; book online with code “Laexodus” and get 10 percent off your stay). Ace Hotel & Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. acehotel.com/la-exodus.

SAT DEC 24

DINNER, MOVIE AND MENORAH LIGHTING
If you’re in the San Fernando Valley and looking for an intimate way to spend Christmas Eve, consider tonight’s event at Temple Judea, featuring Chinese food (of course) and a screening of “Sixty-Six,” a critically well-received 2008 British comedy-drama about a boy whose bar mitzvah is the same night as the 1966 World Cup. England is competing, and so many of the invited guests make excuses to stay home and watch the game. Starring Helena Bonham Carter, the film is based on the real-life experience of director Paul Weiland (“Mr. Bean”). “Not so much a bar mitzvah film as the story of a boy who is desperate to be noticed,” Weiland told The Journal in 2008. Sat. 6-8:30 p.m. $15 (adults), $12 (children, 12 and under). Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800. templejudea.com.

OCCUPY CHANUKAH
Tonight’s celebration of Neo Jewish Rock features a diverse lineup of bands, conjuring up jammy sounds, acoustic folk, soul, hip-hop and alternative rock. Moshav Band, Jared Stein with Mikey Pauker and Friends, Brad Wallace and Mendi Baron perform. All ages welcome. A menorah lighting kicks off the evening. Proceeds benefit Kids of Courage, a nonprofit that helps families with seriously ill children. Sat. 7 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (show). $15. The Federal Bar, 5303 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 980-2555. thefederalbar.com.

MOISHE HOUSES’ HANUKKAH
Drink and party it up with 20-somethings from Moishe House LA (aka MoHoLA) and Moishe House San Fernando (aka Moishe House SFV). Celebrating the fourth night of Chanukah, the two young adult groups leave their home-based communities for the Hollywood bar Happy Endings. Bar games will be in the mix as well. Sat. 9 p.m. (approximately). Free (entry only). Happy Endings, 7038 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 818 620 7573. moishehouse.org.

“HOW DO YOU SPELL CHANUKAH??”
Veteran comic actors Marc Silver and Douglas Dickerman dissect the mysteries of Chanukah in this two-man stage show. A self-described “Jewish alternative to usual holiday fare,” Silver and Dickerman co-wrote the production. HaSharim, Temple Isaiah’s adult choir, performs Chanukah songs at the conclusion of the evening. Sat. 7 p.m. (show). Free (must pre-register by phone). Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 720-3558 (please call and leave you name, contact number and how many will be attending). templeisaiah.com.

SUN DEC 25

LATKES AND VODKAS CHANUKAH PARTY
Young, Jewish and have nothing to do on Christmas? Jewish young professionals are invited to celebrate Chanukah with latkes, vodka drinks and plenty of ruach. Israeli dancing, stand-up comedy and a menorah lighting will be part of the festivities. Ages 21 plus. $5 entry fee includes two drink tickets. Sun., Dec. 25, 7-10 p.m. Temple B’nai Hayim, 4302 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. For more information, visit “Latkes & Vodkas Chanukah Party” on Facebook or call (818) 788-4664.

RU-JU-LA SECOND ANNUAL HANUKKAH BASH
Party it up with the Los Angeles Russian Jewish Network at South Restaurant and Bar, located in the Santa Monica area. Come for the free drink and appetizers included in the price of admission. Stay for the DJ, dancing and upscale sports-bar ambience. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $18 (advance), $20 (door). South Restaurant and Bar, 3001 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (323) 658-7302. jewishla.org.

“NOT A CHRISTMAS PARTY”
Most singles events are for specific age groups (e.g., young adults or seniors). Tonight’s party proves that age ain’t nothing but a number, as it’s open to ages 21-55. Organized by transdenominational nonprofit the Chai Center, the event features an open bar, refreshments and a DJ. Sun. 2-5 p.m. $10 (presale expires Dec. 24 at 10 p.m.), $15 (door), Private Encino mansion, 5324 Genesta Ave., Encino. (310) 391-7995. chaicenter.org.

BACK TO THE FUTURE-RETURNING TO THE BREED STREET SHUL
The Breed Street Shul serves as a symbolic reminder of the Jewish community that once thrived in its neighborhood. Today, a minyan will be held at the historic site for the first time in more than 25 years, with a morning service highlighting the fifth day of Chanukah. Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Chabad of the Conejo, Rabbi Yossi Baitelman of Chabad of Studio City, Rabbi Ahud Sela of Temple Ramat Zion, Rabbi Yanke Lunger of Shaarey Tzedek,Rabbi Yaakov Vann of the Calabasas Shul and lay leaders conduct prayers. A light Kiddush and shiur follow. Sun. 9 a.m. Free. Breed Street Shul, 247 N. Breed St., Boyle Heights. (818) 349-3932. campchesed.com.

FEDERATION FAMILY FUN DAY
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Zimmer Children’s Museum host a day of Chanukah-themed kids activities. A dance party, Chanukah bingo, storytime and a concert performance by children’s singer-songwriter David Tobocman and his band are among the day’s programming. Sun. 11 a.m. $10 (per family). Zimmer Children’s Museum, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8984. zimmermuseum.org.

MON DEC 26

“HA HA HANUKKAH”
Now that Christmas is over, and with Chanukah on the way out as well (tonight’s the seventh night), you might need a pick-me-up. Comedians Steve Mittleman, Mark Schiff, Al Lubel and Stephanie Blum step up, performing tonight with some surprise guests. Cantor Kenny Ellis hosts the event, appearing with his big band, Hanukkah Swings, playing re-arrangements of Chanukah classics. 18 and over only. Mon. 8 p.m. $15 (two-drink minimum not included). Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 656-1336. laughfactory.com.

TUE DEC 27

MOSHAV AND THE WELLSPRING
Moshav Band and The Wellspring perform on the last night of Chanukah at the intimate concert venue The Mint. 18 and over only. Tue. 7:30 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (Wellspring), 9 pm. (Moshav). $10. The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 954-9400. themintla.com.

OCCUPY CHANUKAH
Like a little politics with your party? Join Democrats for Israel for a holiday bash, and bring your menorah. Tue. 7-9 p.m. free (members), $25 (general, online), $30 (general, door). Workmen’s Circle Cultural Center, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. dfi.10point10.com.

Chanukah Gift Guide


Jonathan Adler Dachshund Menorah   Calling all dog lovers! The Dachshund Menorah designed by Jonathan Adler is not your standard chanukiyah. Made in Peru, this fair-trade sculpted menorah is made of high-fired stoneware and features a white matte glaze. The Dachshund Menorah is pottery at its finest and makes the ideal gift for the Festival of Lights. $120. jonathanadler.com.


Growbottles  Winner of the Eco Choice Award, Potting Shed Creations’ Growbottles add a touch of spring during any season — rain or shine. Basil, chives, mint, oregano or parsley easily grow when potted in these recycled and repurposed wine bottles. And, they create a unique display of freshness in any household or office. The Growbottles kit includes everything you need to make your plants flourish: seeds, pebbles, grow bottle and cork coaster. Replant kits available. $35. pottingshedcreations.com.


Matisyahu’s “Miracle” EP  Matisyahu has done it again with the release of his Chanukah anthem “Miracle.” The EP includes a track with his band Dub Trio, guest vocals by rapper Shyne, a remix by University of Colorado at Boulder freshman Miniweapon as well as a beatboxing and acoustic version. $7. matisyahuworld.com.


Laura Cowan’s Smart Dreidel  Forgot what the letters on your dreidel stand for? Have no fear because the Smart Dreidel by Laura Cowan teaches you how to play the dreidel game. The text on the dreidel is uniquely designed in acrylic and anodized aluminum, incorporating Cowan’s signature use of discs and cones. $80. lauracowan.com.


Cookie Monster Nosh Bib  Let your child indulge in a snack with his or her favorite monster — Cookie Monster! Designed by Rabbi’s Daughters for a Shalom Sesame collection, the cotton bib features yellow trim with a Velcro closure and an adorable picture of Cookie Monster snacking on rugelach. $18. store.sesamestreet.org, rabbisdaughters.com.


“I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River” by Henry Winkler  Actor Henry Winkler, best-known as the Fonz on “Happy Days,” shares all he’s learned while fly-fishing, which is more than just catching fish. Compiling humorous anecdotes and heartfelt observations from his annual trips to Montana and Idaho, Winkler recounts how his experiences on the river have shaped his perspective on life. $21.95. insighteditions.com.


Modern Bite Chanukkah Gift Boxes  Chef Daniel Shapiro taps his passion for baking to come up with the Modern Bite Chanukkah Gift Boxes. Baked to order, the boxed gift set includes natural sugar cookies with colorful icing that are pleasing to both the eye and stomach. Packed with a keepsake stationery box made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials, the cookies are ideal for satisfying a sweet tooth. $30. modernbite.com.


Marla Studio’s Beauty, Kindness, Compassion Necklace  What do beauty, kindness and compassion all have in common? Not only are they three of the many things Jews thank God for, but they are the three words that are engraved in Hebrew on designer Marla Studio’s brass pendant. An English translation is featured on the back, so even non-Hebrew readers can enjoy the striking message. $88. moderntribe.com.


“The Brisket Book:  A Love Story With Recipes”  There’s no longer a need for frantically searching for the best brisket recipes. Stephanie Pierson, author, food writer and brisket lover, has written a cookbook filled with only the best brisket recipes, accompanied by illustrations, poems, cartoons and musings. “The Brisket Book” has a recipe for everyone, and it’ll turn you into the star of any potluck. $30. thebrisketbook.com.


Chewish Treats  Who says dogs can’t get gifts on the holidays? Chewish Treats come straight from the doggy deli to your home. Allow your dog to indulge in these pooch-pleasing cookies that are topped with a yogurt-based icing. Made with only the highest-quality ingredients, these treats are sure to satisfy any kosher canine. $8. moderntribe.com.


Jewish Blessing Flags  If you’re looking for a decorative piece that has some Jewish value, these Jewish Blessing Flags are a must. Based on Tibetan prayer flags, each design is distinct in color and represents one of seven values in Jewish tradition: love, compassion, lovingkindness, peace, healing, respect and justice. The flags are suitable for the home, synagogue, classroom or sukkah. $20. fairtradejudaica.org

 

The many miracles of the family menorah


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Alex, Ryan, Josh and Ellie Dubin light about 25 menorahs every night of Chanukah


From painted-clay preschool classics to sterling silver family heirlooms, the eight bright lights of the chanukiyah have a unique and artful way of revealing our values, holding our histories and telling our stories.

That’s a Big Ball of Wax

As a preschooler, Alex Dubin was always mesmerized by Chanukah candles. Every year, he would sit and stare as the flames danced over his growing collection of menorahs — the projects he created in school; or the ones he made with his grandmother, a ceramic artist; or with his mother, herself pretty crafty.

Today, Alex, 17, and his three younger siblings — Josh, 15, Ellie, 12 and Ryan, 6 — still love to stare into the candles, and they still make their own menorahs — and light all of them.

Every night of Chanukah, the Dubin kitchen turns into a glowing testament to art, family and nostalgia, with as many as 100 menorahs (fewer on the candle-heavy later nights) burning on a foil-covered island and table.

Most of their menorahs are displayed year-round in little cubbies in the living room, which fits well in their house, where every inch is covered in homemade art.

Parents Cindy and Mark host a yearly Chanukah celebration, when friends and family come over to do art projects, eat and, of course, light the candles.

While the guests are content to light and then go eat dinner, the Dubin kids stay in the kitchen, staring into the flames and at the colorful wax stalagmites. For the past six or seven years, they have let the wax drippings build up — Alex has one with a square-foot mass of wax.

Some of the menorahs are favorites: the one crafted from pottery from an Israeli archaeological site, preschool clay ones, the double-glazed ceramics they made with grandma, and any number made from pipes, coffee cans, bolts, metal address numbers, old loaf pans and any other inflammable hardware they can spot.

Grandma Marlene Zimmerman, whose work is exhibited at the Skirball Cultural Center, has one menorah that didn’t make it onto the Dubin family display: Her replica of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights is in President Bill Clinton’s museum in Arkansas. When Clinton was in office, his wife, Hillary, chose Zimmerman’s Breed Street Menorah for the National Treasures Collection, and in 1999 Hillary lit that menorah at the White House Chanukah reception.

The Promise Menorah

Isaac Bialik and Shawna Brynjegard were high school sweethearts and inseparable at UCLA in the early 1990s.

So when Bialik traveled to Israel in 1992 — without Brynjegard — he was thinking about her much of the time. When he spotted a blue-and-purple ceramic-pomegranate menorah made by the Israeli artist Avram Gofer in a shop on Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, he knew he had to get it for her.

He came home a couple of weeks later, and gave her the menorah on the first night of Chanukah.

“I told her that from now on we would use this every Chanukah together, and that we would never be apart again,” said Bialik, who works on communications for Deloitte, an auditing and financial consulting firm. Bialik didn’t officially propose to Brynjegard for another year, but today Isaac and Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik (or B2) still light that chanukiyah.

Isaac is himself a Judaic artist (www.nicejewishartist.com), and Shawna is a rabbi who performs lifecycle events for those not affiliated with synagogues. By now, their pomegranate menorah has been joined by others in their Santa Clarita-area home. Their daughters, Mira (9), Yael (7) and Aviva (5), have added their own signature pieces and the family has bought a few more menorahs. Each night of Chanukah they light about five menorahs from their ever-growing collection, and while the other menorahs rotate in and out of the ritual, the Brynjegard-Bialiks always light their “Promise Menorah” together.

The Uncle’s Menorah

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Sheldon Ginns doesn’t even know the name of the great-great-uncle who gave him his brass menorah more than 60 years ago. He was known simply as The Uncle, the first of the family to come to the United States from Berdichev, Ukraine, around 1900. The Uncle was in his late 90s when he died, and just before then he divvied up his belongings between his closest relatives (his only child had died). The Uncle gave his chanukiyah, which he had held onto through years of poverty, to Ginns’ grandfather, who immediately passed it along to Sheldon, then 8 years old.

The cast-brass menorah, whose edges are worn down form years of polishing, features two lions holding up a heart inscribed with the blessing for the candles, topped by an ornate crown.

Ginns, who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a retired architect, and he remembers lighting the brass menorah every Chanukah and playing with it as a toy the rest of the year.

The menorah took on a place of honor in his own home, as he and his wife and two sons lit it every Chanukah.

Today, the brass menorah is the only family heirloom Ginns has. His grandfather was the eldest of 12 siblings, and the only one to come to the United States before World War II; no one else survived the Holocaust. His grandmother was the eldest of 10, and also the only survivor in her family. Both looked for their family for years.

When Ginns took the menorah to the Los Angeles-based Lower East Side Restoration Project to have it cleaned and repaired a few years ago, he learned that the menorah dated back to the 18th century and was probably from Poland. He also learned that the reason the menorah had two shamashes — candle cups set higher than the rest — was because it was also used weekly for Shabbat candles, a sign that the family who first owned it was poor and couldn’t afford both a chanukiyah and Shabbat candelabra.

He found out that the chanukiyah was originally an oil lamp and had been converted to hold candles. The Restoration Project restored it to its original state for Ginns.

He lights the menorah every two or three years, and he plans to pass it along to one of his five grandchildren some day to continue the tradition of the Ginns family menorah.

A Blessing by Any Other Name

When Judy Stern (not her real name) was a kid, her mother always made sure to pull out the menorah in December, and she recited the Hebrew blessing. Stern’s father wasn’t Jewish — they had a Christmas tree, too — and aside from that little menorah, not much else Jewish happened in their lives.

Then Stern landed at Hamilton High School near the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, and she made friends with some Jewish kids who invited her to the Jewish Student Union at school, and then to a youth group — where she made a disturbing discovery.

At a Chanukah celebration, the teens recited the blessing over the candles — and it was different from the one her mother had always said.

That evening, Stern realized that her mother, who herself grew up with little Jewish education, had been reciting the only blessing she knew — the Hamotzi, the blessing over bread.

Stern began saying the correct blessing, which she still does to this day. She married a rabbi (ironically, so did her brother), and has four kids. Now, every Chanukah, as they say the brachot over the candles, her mother is there to celebrate with them, and to say, Amen.

Blessings From Bullets

ALTTEXT

Zane Buzby has restored many menorahs at her Lower East Side Restoration Project, but one of her favorites is what she calls the Palestine Menorah.

The owner, Rivka Greensteen, brought it to Buzby badly in need of repairs and restoration. The dented and dirty silver-plated brass rectangle was shaped like a wall of Jerusalem and engraved with lions and a Jerusalem scene. The candleholders fronting the wall needed care.

Greensteen told Buzby what she knew about the menorah. It had been brought from Russia to America by her grandfather, and was passed down to Greensteen’s father, and then to Greensteen. The family always used this menorah, and always had a family gathering on the fifth night of Chanukah — but they didn’t know why.

When Buzby got the menorah, she immediately recognized it as one from Palestine — pre-state Israel. The candle cups, she told Greensteen, were made from bullet casings. Greensteen put the rest together. Her grandfather’s brother was an early pioneer in Palestine, and must have sent the family the chanukiyah. He was killed in the 1930s in an Arab uprising.

This brother was the fifth son in his family, and it is probably no coincidence, Greensteen guessed, that it is his menorah that brings the family together each year on the fifth night of Chanukah.

VIDEO: Rabbi David Wolpe — Lessons of the Chanukah Candles


There are lots of ‘drashim about Chanukah, the candles, the Menorah and the Maccabees.  Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe offers a new and fascinating look at the significance of the ceremonial candlelighting.

 

Open House


I’m a Chabadnik.

That makes no sense to most people who know me: I’m not highly observant, I don’t pray at a Chabad house, and the only time I danced with Jon Voight at the Chabad telethon, I embarrassed myself by chewing gum on camera.

But it’s true: My Jewish identity was nurtured as much by Chabad as it was by the Reform synagogue I grew up in, the Conservative shuls I’ve belonged to, the books I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had with Jews of all stripes. Like so many Jews of my generation, when I left my Jewish home, I found a Jewish home, wherever I traveled, with Chabad.

Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackI walked into my first Chabad house when I was 19. That’s the perfect age for a searching, wandering Jew to receive what Chabad offers at its 4,000 houses in 73 countries — welcoming, hospitality, acceptance. It makes a lasting impression.

It’s also why I have always had a scandal- and gossip- and politics-resistant affection for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Yes, I know it’s far from perfect and has its share of issues. But whether in Thailand or San Francisco, when I wanted a place to spend a holiday, to pray on Shabbat or just to connect, there was always one of those perennially cheerful Chabad rabbis, a motley collection of tossed-about Jews and some schnapps. And I was home.

That’s also one reason why the tragedy that unfolded late last week in Mumbai, India, has sent me reeling. I felt for the innocent Indians gunned down in the train station, the hotel and café guests murdered in cold blood, the whole city paralyzed by fear and bloodshed. But my thoughts kept returning to what happened at the Chabad house there, where terrorists killed six people, including Rivkah and Gavriel Holtzberg, the house’s young rebbetzin and rabbi.

I didn’t know the Holtzbergs, but I’ve known the kindness and hospitality of so many Chabad emissaries like them. So when I received an e-mail from Hillary Lewin, a graduate student at Yeshiva University who spent many days with the Holtzbergs, I could picture exactly what she described for me.

In fact, what’s exceptional about the Chabad house in Mumbai that Lewin describes is how common it is by Chabad standards. She wrote:

“The Holtzbergs were running a remarkable operation. Their lives never stopped. The phones rang constantly, people came in and out like a subway station, and all the while Rivky and Gabi were calm, smiling, warm, and welcomed everyone like family.

“Rivky spent each day cooking dinner with the chefs for 20-40 people…. For each meal, Gabi prepared about seven different divrei Torah [words of Torah] to share…. His wisdom, knowledge and ability to inspire amazed me. Rivky and Gabi were accepting of everyone who walked through their doors, and they had no hidden agendas.

“On my last Shabbat in India, I slept in Rivky and Gabi’s home, the 5th floor of the Chabad house. I noticed that their apartment was dilapidated and bare. They had only a sofa, a bookshelf, a bedroom for Moishie, and a bedroom to sleep in. The paint peeled from the walls, and there were hardly any decorations. Yet, the guest quarters on the two floors below were decorated exquisitely, with American-style beds, expansive bathrooms, air conditioning (a luxury in India) and marble floors.

“We called these rooms our ‘healing rooms,’ because life was so difficult in Mumbai during the week. We knew that when we came to Chabad, Rivky and Gabi would take care of us just like our parents, and their openness and kindness would rejuvenate us for the week to come.

“I remember asking Gabi if he was afraid of potential terror threats. Although his demeanor was so sweet and gentle, Gabi was also very strong-minded and determined. He told me simply and sharply that if the terrorists were to come, ‘Be my guest, because I’m not leaving this place.’ Both he and Rivky believed that their mission in Mumbai was far greater than any potential terror threats.”

(To read Lewin’s complete letter and view her photos, visit jewishjournal.com).

Two years ago, Mark Ballon wrote a story for The Journal on synagogue security during the High Holy Days. One synagogue president said his shul had spent $400,000 that year on the holiday security measures. What struck me then — and seems utterly poignant now — is what Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Chabad of Yorba Linda said: He wasn’t spending a dime for security.

The money, he told Ballon, was better spent on student scholarships for Jewish day schools than on installing security cameras and renting armed guards.

Wasn’t he scared of terrorist attacks?

“I’m fearful of God,” he said.

One of the striking features of Chabad houses is their lack of barriers — security and otherwise — in a time of threat and fear.

There will be a lot of debate over whether Chabad should now increase security at its houses around the world, whether the State of Israel should play a part in providing security, whether travelers will feel vulnerable if Chabad rabbis continue to spend more on education and kosher meals than on guards and buzzers.

I’ll tell you my gut reaction: No. No to more security. No to locks and guards. No to the fear that would keep any of us away from a meal, a service, a helping hand. The key to winning this fight is to take the battle to the enemy, not to close ourselves off in ever-smaller rooms.

That’s why this Shabbat you’ll find me at a place I haven’t been for years — my local Chabad. I hope you do the same. I hope rabbis of all stripes march down with their congregants to do the same.

Screw the terrorists. This Shabbat, we’re all Chabadniks.

Hey Kids!


It’s Your World

Welcome to your page in The Jewish Journal. The last Friday of every month belongs to the kids of Jewish Los Angeles. In honor of the New Year and new look of this page, we want you to come up with a new name for it. Please send your ideas to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line New Name. We’ll pick the best one and make it the new name for the kids page (and you’ll get all the credit).

Kein v’ Lo

The Kein Side:

Many children use the evening to collect tzedakah for different charities instead of asking for candy — or they donate the candy to a food bank. For most people, the holiday has nothing to do with religion or real witches or saints. It’s more of a chance to go out with friends, have fun and decorate. Besides, it’s a great way to meet your neighbors.

The Lo Side:

It is a pagan holiday (a night when people believed the spirits of the dead would contact the living) and a Catholic holiday (candles are lit Nov. 1 on All Saints’ Day to honor the dead), but Jews are not supposed to celebrate non-Jewish holidays. Asking strangers for candy is rude; and tricks are mean. Jewish children have Purim as a day to dress up.

What do you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line

Kein V’Lo: Halloween. We’ll publish your opinions next month.

Stump Your Parents

Enjoy these facts about autumn — test your parents, grandparents and older siblings and see who gets the right answers first.

1) Which Hebrew month do we welcome in November?

2) How many weeks of autumn are there?

3) What is the full moon that follows the beginning of autumn?

4) What were the first jack-o-lanterns made from?

5) Who first suggested using Daylight Saving Time?

6) Why do the leaves change color?

7) In the Torah Portion Noach (which we read Nov. 5), God put up what object to show that everything was OK after the flood?

Answers: 1) Cheshvan; 2) Thirteen; 3) Harvest Moon; 4) Turnips; 5) Ben Franklin; 6) As the leaves lose chlorophyll (which makes them green) their other pigments
are exposed.; 7) A Rainbow

For the Kids


Chanukah!


The holiday of lights is here
It gives me such a lift
When candles burn so bright and clear
That I can see my gift!

Have You Lost Your Marbles?

Well, you better find them to make this chanukiah!

You will need:

Nine glass jars (baby food jars work) and colored marbles.

Acetate (a clear hard plastic sheet that can be cut with scissors).

Decorate the outside of the jars with Stars of David or
Chanukah symbols.

Arrange the jars in a line and fill them with the marbles.
Make sure you fill the middle jar higher so that the shamash candle will be
higher than the others. Cut out nine circles from the acetate to fit over the
tops of the jars.

Make a slit in the middle of each circle large enough to
insert a candle.

Now you have your own beautiful chanukiah.

Or try this sweeter version:
Buy nine sufganiyot (jelly donuts) or cupcakes. Line them up.

Wrap the bottoms of the candles in tin foil (to keep them from dripping on the delectable donuts).

Stick them in the middle of each pastry. Yum!

Eight Crazy Lights


A kosher menorah can be fashioned out of any material, so why
not get creative? During the Festival of Lights we light the Chanukah menorah —
a modern-day symbol of the candelabra used in the Temple, also known as a chanukiah
— to commemorate the miracle of the oil and to celebrate the victory of the Macabbees.
In the tradition of Pirsum Ha’ness, broadcasting the miracle of Chanukah, why
not place a menorah that speaks a little bit about you on your windowsill?

With these creative pieces you won’t sacrifice Jewish
ritual. The eight candleholders are equidistant and aligned, making them kosher
for lighting. So buy yourself some dripless candles, and instead of lighting
the traditional eight-branch, kindle one of these proudly from left to right
each and every Chanukah night!

1. A menorah made for the solider wanna-be. Show your
solidarity with the Israeli army and light this Israel Defense Forces menorah,
complete with tanks, helicopters and jets.

$50. “>www.anymenorah.com .

3. Now if you find yourself away for Chanukah, you don’t
have to take one of those disposable menorahs that might get dented in your
suitcase. Resembling a treasure chest, this solid pewter miniature menorah
travels like a miracle.

$60. “>www.mazaltovpages.com .

5. Even the babes can light the menorah (under adult
supervision, of course). The diorama-like menorah sets a scene of a Chanukah
party with Disney characters Mickey, Goofy, Minnie, Donald and Pluto striking
up the band.

$84.95. “>www.alljudaism.com .

7. The da Vinci among you will appreciate this painter’s
palette-shaped menorah. Crafted in ceramic and hand-painted, this beautiful
piece boasts a dreidel as a shamash.

$35.95. “>www.traditionsjewishgifts.com .

Candles Shine From L.A. to Tel Aviv


The miracle of Chanukah took on a double meaning Dec. 4, when Los Angeles Holocaust survivors participated in a menorah-lighting ceremony with their counterparts in Tel Aviv via videoconferencing.

"We celebrate the miracle of Chanukah, and we also celebrate the miracle that we survived," said Eva David, a survivor originally from Romania-Hungary. "Who would have thought when we were weak and hopeless that we would reach old age"?

The event, which was staged by Cafe Europa, a Jewish Family Service program that serves as a social outlet and offers financial assistance and emotional support to Holocaust survivors, allowed those who shared a common experience to also share the joy of Chanukah with one another. Cafe Europa has served the Los Angeles survivor community for 15 years, but the candle-lighting celebration marked the Tel Aviv group’s first anniversary since its establishment.

"It’s inspiring for me to see how much your group has grown there. I’m kveling right now," Eleanor Marks Gordon, coordinator of Los Angeles Cafe Europa, told the nearly 50 participants in Tel Aviv.

Many Los Angeles residents at the event had friends or relatives in the Tel Aviv group. Lydia Bagdor saw her cousin’s daughter, who, when she last saw her, was 4 years old and is now a young adult. "You are my only cousins from my old family," Bagdor said.

Guta Schulman was able to spend Chanukah with her Auschwitz bunkmate, Chaya Rabinowitz, who had settled in Tel Aviv after the Holocaust. Schulman said that she owes her life to her friend, because Rabinowitz convinced her to leave Auschwitz, although her sister-in-law was not allowed to leave. "I have goose bumps," Schulman said after their emotional conversation.

As the Los Angeles group watched, a survivor lit the candles on the menorah in Tel Aviv. Then all the survivors — in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles — joined in singing "Hatikvah."

Happy Chanukah!


Happy Chanukah! It’s time for presents, gelt, latkes and sufganiyot (doughnuts).
It’s also time to light candles. Here is a thought for Chanukah: a little bit of oil produced eight days of light.
Today, we should think of other ways to make energy last longer. If we can conserve electricity, our power plants won’t
have to burn so much fuel and there be less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making for cleaner, fresher air!

Unscramble the letters in the bulbs to find out what to do to save electricity.

Project: Discover new ways for your family to save energy and money.

  • 1. Count the number of light bulbs in your house.
  • 2. Count doors and windows — are any open and letting cold air in?
  • 3. Find your thermostat. Lookat the temperature. Ask your parents’ permission to lower it by 3 degrees.
  • 4. Ask your Mom to show you where she keeps candles.
  • 5. Turn off any electric appliance that is on but not being used — like lights, radios and televisions.
  • 6. Help your Mom and Dad make latkes.
  • 7. Set the table with lots of candles.
  • 8. Have a candlelight dinner to save on electricity. Talk about what you found.

A Modern Chanukah Miracle

Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – “A Great Miracle Happened There.” These four letters are written on the dreidel, the spinning top game we play after lighting candles. Maybe you can duplicate the Chanukah miracle by making lights last longer in your house.

Light Eight Candles to Honor our Heroes


On the nights of Chanukah, Dec. 9-16, Jews around the country will remember a little pitcher of olive oil.
In particular, we will recall a moment from the second century BCE when one of the Temple priests searched through the rubble
of the vandalized sacred house. In the midst of the chaos wrought by the attackers, he found a single, miraculously undisturbed,
container of oil. Surrounded by the wreckage in an hour of despair, simply pouring the oil into the tarnished menorah
and pausing to relight it was an act of hope and renewal.

For years to come, people around the world will remember the image of the American flag waving in an enormous pile of twisted metal and debris in the heart of Manhattan. One rescuer, finding the flag in that rubble, broke free from the collective sense of anguish to affirm life. Like the first lights of Chanukah, the raised flag emerged as a symbol that the attack would not succeed in defeating the spirit of a resilient and determined people.

These nights of Chanukah are a perfect time for all Americans to recall the actions of the past months that returned us to an affirmation of life — stories of bravery; phone conversations with friends and family; walks in the woods or by water; personal reflections read or heard; music; and moments of silence, meditation and prayer.

We also might recall the public gatherings — the moving benefit concerts, the interfaith vigils, and the meetings and gatherings in our local communities which expressed our collective grief and our desire to move forward.

On Chanukah, we have eight days to dedicate ourselves to sustaining this renewed sense of public engagement and to continue the quiet acts that matter: caring for one another with sensitivity, pausing to appreciate our daily sustenance, and loving life in a way that will give us strength through the times ahead.

At CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York, we gathered an interdenominational team of rabbis and scholars to create the following ways in which we can dedicate each night of Chanukah to an act of heroism. We began with the simple premise that Chanukah lights remind us of those who sowed light in dark times. This year, as we reflect on countless acts of courage, determination, and perseverance, we dedicate each night to a set of heroes.

First Night:

Fire fighters, police officers and everyday citizens who gave their lives to save others.

Second Night:

Doctors, counselors, volunteers with the Red Cross and others who were called on to heal, comfort and support those individuals and families who have suffered unbearable loss.

Third Night:

Government and community leaders who transcended ideological differences to build national strength and unity.

Fourth Night:

Parents and teachers who with calm and empathy, helped children cope with new fears.

Fifth Night:

Rabbis, priests, ministers, imams and other religious leaders who used their traditions to bring people together, to affirm our common humanity, and to nurture life.

Sixth Night:

Men and women who have been called up to national service, who will not be with their families for the holidays this year so that they may protect us all.

Seventh Night:

Allies around the world, who have been outspoken in their condemnation of terror.

Eighth Night:

All of us who, through our daily actions, have insisted that we will valiantly move on, strengthening America’s commitment to diversity and pluralism, ensuring that the religious and intellectual freedoms that we have fought for will continue to be a light unto all nations.

In one of the classic retellings of the Chanukah story, we read: “They entered the sanctuary, rebuilt the altar, repaired the walls, replaced the sacred vessels, and were engaged in the rebuilding for eight days.” May we, as a nation, celebrate this Chanukah as a time of both spiritual and communal rebuilding.