Brotherly Love


With Chanukah recent history, I came across a fascinating review of a new book, “The Business of Holidays.” The book’s editor, Maud Lavin, notes that 81 percent of U.S. households celebrate Christmas with a tree in their homes, and not everybody is Christian. The line between Christmas and Chanukah has become very blurry in recent years, according to Lavin.

“I’m Jewish myself, and I didn’t even know that Purim was more the gift-giving holiday on the Jewish calendar,” Lavin writes. “But, Purim is in the spring, and so ‘no good,’ because it doesn’t participate in the Christmas season, and Jewish Americans especially turned Hanukah from a tiny holiday into a big consumerist holiday.”

I don’t think that these comments are any longer shocking, or for that matter, revealing. Even without Lavin’s book we knew this to be true. What interested me most, however, was the “Seinfeld” holiday Festivus:

“Festivus, an invention of Frank, George’s father on Seinfeld, had various rituals including the family sitting around the dining room table together criticizing each other. Then Ben & Jerry’s piggybacked on that and had, for a while, a Festivus ice cream. And, there really are people who continue to celebrate Festivus, especially on college campuses.”

I found all of this utterly fascinating because I compared it to this week’s Torah reading, which describes the amazing family reunion of Joseph with his brothers. Twenty-two years have passed since they sold him, and now Joseph finally reveals his true identity. He tells his brothers not to be sad and not to reproach themselves because God Himself had arranged the cycle of events that led to his eventually becoming viceroy of Egypt.

But this story has another side. A close examination of the biblical text reveals that the brothers’ feelings were neither forgotten nor forgiven, according to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Consider what happens while Joseph is telling the brothers not to fret over the past. They remain totally silent. Only after Joseph has spoken for 13 verses and well more than 150 words are we told: “He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them and afterward his brothers conversed with him” (Genesis 45:15). What the brothers said is conspicuously absent. Could this be the silence of indifference?

Estrangement also appears elsewhere. For example, what relationship did Joseph establish with his father? Was there any contact during the 17 years that Jacob and Joseph lived together in Egypt? Could it be they saw each other so infrequently that not once, but twice Joseph had to be called and told that his father was on his deathbed?

“Behold — your father is ill” (Genesis 48:1). Why did Jacob not trust Joseph when he promised that he would not bury him in Egypt? Was it really necessary to make Joseph take an oath?

What does all of this mean? Some suggest it is a realistic depiction of life. Life is such that despite the best efforts when there is a schism between family members, or for that matter between friends, the past cannot just be undone. Joseph, who left home at age 17 and rose to the top of the most powerful nation of the world, no longer speaks the same language. The innocence of youth, the closeness of father and son, the familial bond was lost forever. They had truly gone their separate ways.

Yet the Torah implies a different view of this story. True, it is hard to forget the hurt and hatred that once existed between Joseph and his brothers. But consider the length Joseph travels to reunite with them. Certainly he is hurt, yet he tries intensely to recreate the family bond. He is the one who single-handedly supports them. He doesn’t mend fences by holding a Festivus celebration, where each one criticizes the other. Just imagine, if he did, what that family gathering would have sounded like!

The lesson we can learn from this story is that in families, as in friendships, no room exists for Festivus gatherings. Unfortunately, American society today thinks that such gatherings not only are productive but even necessary. We are the generation of “tell it all.” But that presents a prescription for disaster. Instead of feeding criticism in our relationships, we must offer positive reinforcement with lots of love and understanding, or the relationships will fail. We can find enough criticism to go around, but can we find enough love?

So how did the Torah’s tale of sibling rivalry ultimately end? This week’s Haftorah from the Book of Ezekiel (37:19) captures a beautiful answer — “the tree of Joseph … and the tree of Judah will become one tree.” That only happens when kindness rather than criticism reigns supreme.

Rabbi Elazar R. Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Chanukah and adult faith


A lot of people have trouble with Chanukah. I did, for years. I’d go to parties and nibble on my latke or sufganiyot while grumbling under my breath about how there was nothing here to celebrate. I’d light my Chanukiyah, but I’d only do the bare minimum needed to fulfill the mitzvah and I’d do my best not to enjoy it.

My problem then, and the problem of the people who this year have already informed me that they’re all but going to boycott the holiday, is that the history of this particular celebration is, well … complicated.

The war through which we celebrate Chanukah was, in part, a Jew-on-Jew civil war, in which zealous traditionalists attacked and killed the more assimilationist Hellenized Jews. The catalyst for the violent revolution was the reigning Syrian Greek king, Antiochus IV, who demanded that Jews worship false gods and violate the Sabbath, or die. The Jews who refused to do this were not very pleased with the ones who did.

Historically speaking, the miracle of Chanukah is that this small, bandit guerrilla army (the zealots) triumphed over Antiochus’ large army and formidable weapons, against all odds, not only taking back the desecrated Temple, but re-dedicating it as well.

The “Chanukah miracle” with which most kids are raised was apparently invented by rabbinic sages living 300-600 years after the Maccabean events took place — the first time we hear the story of oil that was meant to last for one day but instead burned for eight is in the Talmud. It’s not clear exactly when the story originated, but some scholars posit that the tradition originated when some of the rabbis still living under Roman rule figured it wouldn’t be that clever to publicly celebrate a holiday marking the violent overthrow of a foreign government, particularly (possibly) in light of the failed Bar Kochba rebellion. Instead, they came up with the much more kid-friendly version about the oil which, conveniently, lends itself much more to spiritualized interpretations of Chanukah.

Why was it eight days originally? There are a few theories. One suggests that the Maccabees were too busy waging war to celebrate Sukkot on time, so they did so later — but that doesn’t explain why Chanukah became a separate holiday in subsequent years. Two others offer a little more irony: one suggests that an eight-day winter festival of lights was widespread in Greek, Roman and Babylonian antiquity, and another notes that that’s how long the Greeks celebrated their military victories.

All this, frankly, wasn’t even enough to bother me — not even the Jew vs. Jew part. That’s nothing new as Jewish history goes. What happened afterwards, however, was really disturbing. After the Hasmoneans-Maccabees-zealots-heroes of our story won, once Israel was reclaimed and the Temple restored, Judah, the Hasmonean leader, and his brothers set to making a mighty Hebrew nation — by force. First they attacked the non-Jews on their own Hasmonean turf. As it says in the Book of Maccabees, “they forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel” (I Maccabees 2:46) as a way of Juda-izing them — making them all Judean-like. (Again, note the irony — they had been upset when the Hellenizers imposed their own cultural signifiers as a way of denoting allegiance.)

It got worse after that. Judah “Maccabee” “took [a non-Jewish filled] town, and killed every male by the edge of his sword, then he seized all its spoils and burned it with fire” (I Maccabees 5:28). He then did the same thing to the innocent people in Maapha, Chaspho, Maked, Bosor, other towns in the region of Gilead, Hebron, Marisa, Azotus and other places in the land of the Philistines. There are a lot of stories: when the army “saw a tumultuous [wedding] procession with a great amount of baggage, they rushed on them from the ambush and began killing them … the wedding was turned into mourning and the voice of their musicians into a funeral dirge” (I Maccabees 9:39-41).

The people that were killed or circumcised here were innocent. I don’t feel any more OK that it was “our guys” doing the unprovoked attacking and killing; that makes me feel worse, more uncomfortable, more upset, and I feel compelled to take some sort of responsibility for it.

One can, perhaps, understand why this holiday made me so angry for so long — why I’d go to synagogue and blurt uncomfortable facts about military history while everybody else was trying to enjoy a nice game of dreidel. It wasn’t really a fun place to be.

Then something shifted. I don’t know what, or why. One year, though, I started sitting and meditating in front of my Chanukiyah every night, sitting and breathing with the candles as they burned, thinking about renewal, rededication, how to make something from what seems to be the utter desolation of nothing. It’s not that I had forgotten the atrocities committed at the end of the Hasmonean war, it’s that … they didn’t block me anymore.

A mature adult faith demands that we take in difficult, painful facts and allow them to become part of our understandings of God, our language of faith and connection. Chanukah is not a holiday about innocence. Neither is Purim, actually — Jews did some slaughtering there, too.

Part of adult faith is being able to look truth in the eye, to take responsibility for it, and to not get stuck by the fact that it’s not an easy story. It certainly requires us not to take out our frustrations on God. I know too many people whose faith was seriously shaken by biblical criticism — as though God changes just because our understanding of history might. As though God weren’t bigger and far more expansive than that. As though it’s God’s fault that we’re just getting some new information. As if it’s God’s fault that human beings sometimes behave in ways that are unforgivable. As though God’s Divinity might not shine through texts written at different times and places, for different reasons.

An adult relationship to this stuff has to include the facts of, in this case, bad human behavior and Jewish culpability, and yet also maintain the awe and reverence that God deserves. Is there any reason that I can’t be grateful for the survival of the Jewish religion while condemning the actions of those who were involved in its (miraculous) survival?

Chanukah holds important lesson for all faiths


Chanukah is popularized by a rabbinic myth — one that embodies a story told of a container of oil lasting seven days beyond its expected usage.

The story appears only in the Talmud, not
the Bible or even the Apocrypha literature.

In fact, the primary lesson of Chanukah has nothing to do with oil at all.

If anything, the eight-day festival serves to remind Jew and non-Jew alike that religious identity is assured and assimilation stemmed only when religion develops out of an environment based on love and celebration, intelligent debate and conviction.

During the brief rule of Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.E.), countless Jews adopted Greek culture and thought — Hellenism as it became known. Within the Jewish community living in Israel, the Greek ruler became so popular, newborn babies were often named after him. To express their allegiance to Greek ways of life, scores of Jewish men went so far as to undergo painful operations to diminish and remove the indelible mark of circumcision.

What differentiated Alexander the Great — and ultimately endeared him to the Jewish community — was his lack of religious oppression. His theological openness and acceptance gave rise to the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek: the Septuagint.

His unmanipulative religious attitude embodied 18th century Enlightenment thinking thousands of years before its time. Ironically, had Alexander’s policy of noncoercive religious debate and acceptance continued, the Jews and Judaism might have simply assimilated away, never again to exist.

One hundred and fifty years after Alexander’s death, the Greek Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV, Epiphanies — god incarnate — as he referred to himself, instituted policies that were completely opposite of Alexander’s.

Religious coercion, bullying and violence exemplified Antiochus’ methodologies. Under Antiochus, Jewish practice was outlawed, and the religious nerve center for the Jews, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, was ransacked and rendered invalid for priestly ritual use.

So oppressive was Antiochus, a Jewish civil war erupted. Using guerrilla tactics, a group called the Maccabees waged battle against the strong-armed methods instituted by Antiochus and the Greek-Syrians. But the Maccabees didn’t stop there. They also fought against fellow Jews who openly adopted Greek culture and philosophical thought.

Yes, the Maccabees fought for religious tolerance, so long as it was in compliance with their religious understanding and application. While their military goals were different, functionally the Maccabees were very similar to the Greek-Syrian conquerors. Neither the Greek-Syrians nor the Maccabees embraced the open, noncoercive atmosphere created by Alexander the Great; neither position allowed for a middle ground.

Theologically, Chanukah is insignificant, yet its historical lesson is of great importance to all religious faiths. When more deeply understood, the eight-day holiday challenges all of us who take religion seriously to continually provide open forums where level-headed discussion and theological diversity is encouraged.

I know as a Jew and as a rabbi, if we cannot provide sufficient reasons for Jews to maintain their religious identity, then it is we who are at fault, not the countervailing ideas and popular trends, be they religious or secular.

For all spiritual seekers, threats of assimilation are scary and profoundly challenging precisely because it makes them look within; it makes them scrutinize their own religious beliefs and practices.

It is far easier to live cloistered away, removed from the temptation of secular life and the challenges that come from meaningful religious interaction and questioning. It is far more difficult and infinitely more problematic when religiously observant people are asked to address the shortcomings found in their own faith system.

Chanukah, which is celebrated ritually by lighting candles on an eight-branched candelabra, teaches that religious seekers need not surrender to the darkness found in the world. For certain, healthy religion can bring much needed light to an otherwise sterile universe.

But it can only do so when presented in a manner that is open to diverse opinion and debate, much like that which was encouraged and fostered during the brief, historic reign of Alexander the Great some 2,300 years ago.

Follow your heart to a vegetarian Chanukah feast


uddha statues and meditation gear aren’t the kinds of items you might expect to find at a Chanukah celebration, let alone a meatless deli case or a display of cruelty-free cosmetics. But these specialties are de rigueur for Canoga Park’s Follow Your Heart, a neighborhood vegetarian market and cafe with a wood-paneled hippie style that offers a quiet refuge from the supermarket din of Whole Foods or Wild Oats.

In keeping with an annual tradition started 35 years ago, Follow Your Heart’s Jewish owners, Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin, will hold their Chanukah Feast on Dec. 19, 4 p.m.- 9 p.m. The menu will feature a festive menu of traditional foods with a vegan twist, from the Mock Chicken Liver pate right down to dairy-free sour cream for the latkes.

“Right from the very beginning we developed a Thanksgiving dinner, a Chanukah dinner and a Christmas dinner,” Lewin said.

The Heart, as loyalists call it, is a Southland vegetarian landmark that started in the early 1970s. Its popularity has even spawned two cookbooks written by former head chef Janice Cook Knight, “Follow Your Heart’s Vegetarian Soup Cookbook” (Woodbridge Press, 1983) and “Follow Your Heart Cookbook” (Wiley, 2006), which includes Butternut Squash Soup, a cafe favorite.

As natural food has gone from health-nut fringe to soccer-mom mainstream, an increasingly diverse crowd has now entered the doors of this family-run boutique business.

“All we do now these days is sit back, let the place happen and participate,” Lewin said.

Follow Your Heart’s Chicago-born owners originally met at Indiana University’s Jewish fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu in 1965. Lewin and Goldberg soon found themselves drafted into the Army for a two-year stint during the Vietnam War.
Goldberg said his vegetarianism started when he became a conscientious objector. “I came face to face with the whole idea of having to kill something,” he said. “I went from not wanting to kill people to not wanting to kill at all.”

After their discharge, Lewin and Goldberg moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming musicians. Instead, they became regulars at a natural food store called Johnny Weismuller’s American Natural Foods, which licensed the name from the Jewish “Tarzan” actor.

In 1971 the pair started working at Johnny’s, and in 1973 they joined with manager Michael Besancon and co-worker Spencer Windbiel to buy the store, which they renamed Follow Your Heart. Twelve years later, Goldberg and Lewin bought out their partners; Besancon now serves as president of Whole Foods’ Southern Pacific region.

The two have since expanded their operation to include Earth Island, a solar-powered, environmentally friendly facility in Chatsworth that produces nationally distributed items like Vegenaise, Vegan Gourmet nondairy cheese, a line of salad dressings and a chicken alternative called Chicken Free Chicken, the central ingredient in their Moroccan Chicken With Almonds recipe.

Goldberg and Lewin are currently courting KOF-K as a certifying agency to take their products to the kosher-conscious consumer. But aside from Lewin having addressed Jewish Vegetarians of Los Angeles at Valley Beth Shalom in the past, the pair’s Judaic involvement is mostly confined to the Chanukah Feast.

Both are proud of their Jewish heritage, as evidenced by the early 20th century photos of the Lewin and Goldberg grandparents’ retail endeavors that hang above the counter of Follow Your Heart Cafe.

“I grew up Jewish, was bar mitzvahed and confirmed,” said Goldberg, who began studying a variety of spiritual disciplines after he moved to Southern California.

Even though his Judaism is more foodaism today, Goldberg said he continues to look on his Jewish education with fondness and wants to make sure he passes on family traditions. After marrying a “good Catholic girl,” Goldberg’s said his interfaith family, like so many in Southern California, spends December celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah.

“My kids are growing up with the whole thing, the whole enchilada,” he said.

Mock Chicken Liver Pate

1 1/2 pounds frozen green peas
1 1/2 pounds frozen green beans
3/4 cup toasted sesame tahini
1/2 pound walnuts
1 medium to large onion
1/2 cup margarine
2 tablespoons vegetarian chicken-style broth powder
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon whole thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch black pepper

Steam the peas and the beans for approximately 20 minutes. Dice the onion, and sauté in the vegetable oil until clarified. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until almost smooth, but not too creamy. Add salt, pepper and broth or broth powder to taste. The pate will have a decidedly green tinge to it. You can always add a small amount of a caramel color to brown it up.

Makes 18 servings.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from “Follow Your Heart Cookbook”

3 pounds butternut squash
4 tablespoons margarine
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Cut squash into four to six large pieces. Remove the seeds and peel off the skin. Cut squash into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed 3- to 4-quart soup pot, melt the margarine. Add the onion and sauté for five minutes over low heat, stirring frequently until onion is barely translucent. Add the squash pieces and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Add broth and bring the soup to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until squash is very tender.

Puree soup in a food processor or blender. Return soup to pot and reheat slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, garnished with parsley.

Makes four to six servings.

Moroccan Chicken With Almonds

1 Chicken Free Chicken, quartered (available at Follow Your Heart, but can be replaced with 10 ounces chicken-style seitan)
1 onion

A wish list of guilty pleasures and goofy gifts


We’ve all been there.

You go to the store, turn on the TV or pick up a catalogue and see something incredibly silly that you never in a million years would buy for yourself (it’s also called a “guilty pleasure”). But you can always say you are buying it for someone else.

So in the grand tradition of the Pet Rock, the Moses action figure and the snow cone machine, The Journal presents the Chanukah gifts you really want but won’t admit it.

Just when you thought Barbie has done it all … the blonde anatomical wonder now comes with Tickle Me Elmo Extreme (TMX) in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the beloved “Sesame Street” character. The 12-inch doll, wearing an oh-so-trendy TMX Elmo shirt, is joined by a knee-high version of the huggable red monster that giggles when you press his belly.

If Elmo isn’t your thing, why not Barbie with a dog — a soft, fuzzy pooch named Tanner that does everything a real dog should, everything. We shouldn’t give away too much … but this Barbie comes with a minimagnetic scooper!

And if Tanner gets lonely, you can buy her Mika the cat, owned by Barbie’s gal-pal, Theresa. The feline (and her owner) come with bowl, toys and — I think you know where this is going — a litter box that Theresa gets to clean. Something tells us that this isn’t quite what creator Ruth Handler had in mind.

Each Mattel doll will run you $19.99.

Attention closet Fanilows: This one’s for you. “Copacabana” king Barry Manilow pays homage to the “classics” in “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties.” The follow-up to his “Greatest Songs of the Fifties” includes renditions of “Cherish”/”Windy” (with The Association), the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and the Beatles’ ballad, “And I Love Her.” We don’t think these are all the “greatest” hits — but it’s sure close. And if you are itching for some authentic Manilow, rumor has it that when you play “Blue Velvet” backward, it sounds like “Mandy.”

Arista, $18.98 on CD (but a lot of online stores have it on sale).

Minsk and Pinsk. Just try to say the words out loud without smiling. See, it’s funny because they sound alike — “The Big Book of Jewish Humor” says so. The 25th anniversary of the Jewish humor canon, by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, doesn’t just offer jokes, it gives the methods behind the shtick with the help of some of the biggest names in Jewish humor, through clever cartoons, famous one-liners and stories you just have to use your hands to tell. Why can we make fun of ourselves when others can’t? Because nobody does it better.

(Collins, $24.95) Available in bookstores — probably in a front display marked “Chanukah,” next to the blue-and-white wrapping paper.

You’ve seen ’em hang with Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats and Snow White … now come see the team built by Abe Saperstein for yourself. What? You’ve never heard of Abe Saperstein! How about the Harlem Globetrotters?

One of the best-known franchises in the world has been around since 1927, and they’re coming to L.A. Monday, Feb. 19, for a night of laughs and lay-ups. While you won’t find Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Goose Tatum, Marques Haynes or “Sweet” Lou Dunbar at the game, we dare you to not start whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Staples Center at 1 p.m. on President’s Day. $16-$135. Ticketmaster.com.

They say dogs sometimes look like their owners — so how about you, your honey, your baby and Fido get matching T-shirts for a good cause? Friends of Pups for Peace sells the cutie couture, whose proceeds will help stop terrorism around the world by training dogs to sniff out the bad guys. The pups logo comes on tank tops, long sleeve tees, sweatshirts, ties and hoodies — as well as doggie bowls. So you’ll look cute and do a mitzvah.

1-800-699-8930, www.pupsforpeace.org.

X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk. You’ve seen the movies, you’ve read the comics, you’ve dressed up and acted out their fight scenes in your backyard (don’t try to deny it). Now Stan Lee, the man behind Marvel Comics, and Rob Thomas, Lee’s assistant editor, let fans see — and hear — how it all began in the coffee table book, “The Amazing Marvel Universe.” Throw in the added scoop of “Marvel vs. DC” and the “Women of Marvel” and it’s an out-of-this-world present. And because it comes in such a cool display case, you can take off that mask when you read it and let your true identity shine through.

$50. $75, if you are an evil genius hell-bent on taking over the world.

You know you loved them the first time, as much as you try to deny it. Now all that e-mail campaigning has paid off, and they are out on DVD, to be enjoyed all over again. Judy Graubart and friends on “The Best of The Electric Company, Volume 2” remind us all that grammar is fun ($39.98); “Northern Exposure — The Complete Fifth Season” features the episode where Dr. Fleischman’s parents come to Cicely for the first time ($59.98); Blanche discovers her Jewish roots (Did I mention her name was Feldman?) in “The Golden Girls — The Complete Sixth Season” ($39.99); and the awesomest ’90s show around, “Beverly Hills, 90210 — The Complete First Season,” taught us two things: They went to West Beverly, and her name is pronounced Ahn-drea ($54.99).

Not sure if they are supposed to be Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero’s favorites or our favorites, but “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” is just too unique to resist. The “Where the Boys Are” chanteuse puts her vocal chords to a dozen songs, including “Hava Negilah,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Tzena Tzena.” Believe it or not, the album hit No. 69 on the Billboard charts (it was 1961, but still). So maybe the boys were at the deli knocking back a few egg creams.

$19.99. www.thejewishsource.com.

A Chanukah for the party people


On the first night of Chanukah my true love gave to me…social justice?

That’s the theme of one of the hottest parties of the Chanukah season, “Vodka Latka: The Festival of Rights,” sponsored by the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), JDub Records and Reboot on Dec. 13 at the El Rey Theatre in Mid-Wilshire.

PJA, the local social justice action committee, is partnering with the Jewish record company and the network for Jewish innovation to host their sixth annual “Festival of Rights” party, which last year garnered some 500 people — mostly singles — at the Knitting Factory.

PJA’s “Festival of Rights” merged last year with The Jewish Federation’s “Vodka Latka” holiday party celebrated for the last 10 years. The Federation supports “Vodka Latka: Festival of Rights” and will also have its own Young Leadership Chanukah Bash on Thursday, Dec. 14 at Smashbox Studios.

This year’s Festival of Rights at the El Rey features comedian/rapper Eric “Smooth-E” Schwartz, folk-punk rockers “Golem,” a Chanukah sketch comedy featuring Heaping Hannukah and Jill Soloway (executive producer and writer for “Six Feet Under”), and, as they do every year, a social justice candlelighting ceremony, where community leaders and activists light candles in honor of causes. Among those lighting this year are Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR;Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor;Michael John Garces, Artistic Director, Cornerstone Theatre;Eric Garcetti, President, Los Angeles City Council;Mitch Kamin, Executive Director, Bet Tzedek Legal Services;Edina Lekovic, Communications Director, MPAC;Mayor Antonio Villairagosa, Mayor of Los Angeles andKent Wong, Director, UCLA Labor Center; andDaniel Sokatch, Executive Director, Progressive Jewish Alliance (MC).

Is it too much of a buzz-kill to talk human rights at a party?

“There’s no reason why pop and politics, the serious and the inspirational, can’t mix,” Sokatch said. “The nexis of art and politics is always an area we’re fascinated in. It’s not just a tool to get people in the door — Jewish history and Jewish culture and Jewish politics are inseparable.”

Vodka Latka – Festival of Rights. Dec. 13. 8 p.m. The El Rey, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. $12 (in advance), $15 (at the door). www.theelrey.com.

The Federation Young Leadership Development party will be held Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., at Smashbox Studios, 8538 Warner Drive, Culver City. $36. Sign up before Dec. 11 and get drinks, food and valet parking free. Contact Lillie Perry at (323) 761-8372 or LPerry@Jewishla.org.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle


I will be frank. I’m tired of hearing the same holiday songs over and over. So the best Chanukah present I’ve received this year is a pile of Chanukah-themed CDs with lots of new holiday songs, many of them quite good. Here’s what crossed my desk this December.

The Klezmatics: “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah” (JMG) and “Wonder Wheel” (JMG). I wasn’t that enthused by the “Matics” Guthrie Chanukah set when it was released last year, but I have to admit I was wrong.

This is a spirited, jaunty and frequently funny set that should be particularly appealing to children (and will give their parents a respite from “The Dreydl Song”). The set adds four instrumental tracks to last year’s release, allowing the band to stretch out and show their chops, but my favorite is a carry-over, “The Many and the Few,” a classic example of Guthrie’s skill at rendering narratives into song lyrics redolent of ballad classics.

“Wonder Wheel” continues the Klezmatics’ collaboration with the Guthrie Archives, which is looking like a very fruitful pairing indeed. Drawing a wide range of moods and tones from the archives collection of previously unset lyrics, the band gets to show off its considerable range, from a funky faux-Latin “Mermaid Avenue” to a lovely Calpyso-ish lullaby “Headdy Down,” from a weirdly Asiatic/alternative-country “Pass Away” to a klezmer “Goin’ Away to Sea.” One of the surprises of the set is how profoundly spiritual some of the Guthrie lyrics are. One expects the good-natured progressivism of something like “Come When I Call You” and “Heaven,” but the deeply felt religious feeling of “Holy Ground” is unexpected and moving.

The LeeVees: “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” (JDub/iTunes). When the LeeVees’ “Hanukkah Rocks” came out on JDub last year, I wrote, “Alt-rock heavies Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis felt that the post-punk world desperately needed a Chanukah record of its own…. The result is a very funny, smart self-satire, with adolescent agonies turned into the difficult choice of sour cream vs. applesauce (‘Tell your mom to fry, not bake’) and of not getting presents (well, there are ‘six-packs of new socks from each of our moms’).” Now, they have added an EP, mostly of playful acoustic versions of the previous Chanukah tunes and a punchy new tune “Jewish Stars,” downloadable from iTunes. Like the originals, these are amiable, bouncy and witty rockers. Thirteen minutes of pure pleasure.

The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble: “Chanukah Is Freylekh!” (self-distributed). This is a very jolly set of European-style performances — tsimbl and fiddle predominate, no brass — that often feels like a family gathering. And that’s appropriate, because the CD comes with dance directions for kids, as well as the usual translations, bios and such. It is a delightful recording, fueled by Cahan-Simon’s warm, friendly sound. Available from Hatikvah Music, (323) 655-7083 or hatikvahmusic.com.

Poppa’s Kitchen: “A Rockin’ Hanukkah” (self-distributed). A cheerful MOR-rock set of new Chanukah songs from Robert Romanus (who you may recall from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and Scott Feldman. The EP (only 21 minutes) has one song for each night, a cheerful blend of California rock and holiday spirit, witty lyrics and some hook-filled tunes. Available from cdbaby.com.

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: “Fli, Mayn Fishlang! Fly, Fly My Kite!” (Yiddishland). It is devoutly to be hoped that casual listeners will not dismiss Schaechter-Gottesman as the “flavor of the month” because she has become so prominent of late; she has more than earned the attention, and I, for one, hope it continues for a long time. The quality of musicians she attracts is one mark of how good she is — this set includes contributions by Lorin Sklamberg, Binumen Schaechter, Matt Darriau and Ben Holmes. This CD features her Yiddish children’s songs, which have a charming wistfulness that reminds me more of a French chanson than anything else. There are also songs for several holidays (including a couple of Chanukah tunes) and, as usual from Schaechter-Gottesman, a lot of yearning lyrics about the changing of the seasons. Available from yiddishlandrecords.com.

Julie Silver: “It’s Chanukah Time” (HyLo). Of course, there is another way to pep up those tired traditional holiday songs — you can reinterpret them, change the lyrics around, make them contemporary. This is often a recipe for disaster, but Silver’s “The Dreidel Song” reworked as a frisky country rocker works wonderfully (almost hilariously) well, and sets a high standard for the rest of this set. A reggae “Al Hanisim” and a Latin-flavored “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” work almost as well. The only problem with this approach, even when it’s done right, is that the focus shifts from the message of the holiday to a guessing game: What’s next, a goth-metal “Mi Yimalel,” “Maoz Tzur” as a morning raga? Silver doesn’t do anything that absurd, so the set doesn’t spiral out of control, but there is an inevitable lingering doubt in the listener’s mind that some of the choices were motivated by the need for the unfamiliar rather than the musical possibilities. Still, it’s a nicely played and sung set. Available from hyloproductions.com and at Barnes & Noble.

In addition to these Chanukah-themed recordings, there are two big-ticket items to keep in mind when doing your year-end gift shopping. The ongoing partnership between Naxos Records and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music has resulted in 50 CDs showcasing the remarkable range of Jewish American music; although they will continue to issue new recordings on a regular basis, they are celebrating this milestone by offering a set of those first sets. The deluxe box set of all 50 Milken Archive CDs will be available for $349, a savings of $100 if purchased individually. Available at milkenarchive.org.

If you are feeling less ambitious or less solvent, or if you know an aspiring Jewish musician, you should consider Yale Strom’s latest project, “The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook,” published by Transcontinental Music. This volume boasts more than 300 songs that Strom has collected in his travels through the Old Country, and comes with a CD that features his performances of 36 of them. At $49.95, it is a must for anyone interested in East European Jewish music. Availble wherever music books are sold.

George Robinson, film and music critic for Jewish Week, is the author of “Essential Torah” (Shocken Books, 2006).

Books: Wrap up new worlds for your young readers


Many inns throughout the Mid-Atlantic states claim that George Washington slept here or there, but a new book makes an altogether new claim about the first president: that he learned about Chanukah from a Polish-born soldier at Valley Forge in 1777, when he noticed the young man lighting a candle.

“Hanukkah at Valley Forge,” by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Greg Harlin (Dutton), is a retelling of the Chanukah story, framed by a story — based on factual research enhanced by a leap of faith — about George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The general is surveying his troops, concerned about the cold and their poor conditions. When he sees a soldier speaking softly and lighting a candle, he engages him in conversation about his home in Poland, where the young soldier’s family would have to light their candles in secret.

While the soldier explains the origins of the holiday, the commander-in-chief listens intently and then remarks about the brave tale he has heard, “Perhaps we are not as lost as our enemies would have us believe. I rejoice in the Macabees’ success, though it is long past.”

He adds, “And it pleases me to think that miracles may still be possible.”

The story, as the author notes, has its basis on a 1778 meeting Washington had at the home of Michael Hart, a Jewish merchant in Easton, Pa., during Chanukah. When Hart began to tell the story of Chanukah to his guest, Washington told about how he had heard the story of the holiday the year before from a soldier. Hart’s daughter recorded this story in her diary.
The dialogue is based in part on Washington’s own writings to give the text an authentic feel. Harlin’s dreamy paintings are full of light.

Another retelling of the traditional Chanukah story can be found in “The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle” by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn (Kar-Ben). In this case, the adventures of a large yellow bird with bright red wings are the vehicle for telling of the Macabees and the oil that lasted for eight days.

In “Bubbie and Zadie Come to My House” by Daniel Halevi Bloom, illustrations by Alex Meilichson (Square One), a magical older couple — a wise and warm set of grandparents — pay a visit on a family who are not their relatives on the first night of Chanukah. The Bubbie and Zadie float in, as though in a Chagall painting. They are people of great heart, and when they leave, they are missed. Readers are invited to write to Bubbie and Zadie and are given an address.

According to the publisher, every letter will be answered either by the author or by some actual bubbies and zadies who reside in a senior citizen residence in San Rafael, called “Bubbie and Zadies L’Chaim House.

This is a new edition of a book first published in 1985. When that book came out, thousands of children, and adults, too, wrote letters. Now, they can send the letters by e-mail.

Check for These Other Picture Books:

“Before You Were Born” retold by Howard Schwartz, illustrated by Kristina Swarner (Deborah Brodie/Roaring Book Press), is based on the Midrash, or rabbinic legend, about the guardian angel who teaches unborn children the secrets of the world; the child then forgets it all when born. Folklorist Schwartz first heard this story as a child from his mother. The book, a winner of the Koret International Jewish Book Award, features Swarner’s radiant artwork.
“The Jewish Alphabet” by Janet Clement, illustrated by Albert G. Rodriguez (Pelican) uses the ABCs to illustrate Jewish concepts and ideas. More sophisticated than usual alphabet books, this pairs the letter U with unmistakable candles every Friday night, and V with victory for religious freedom, linking the letter with the eight nights of Chanukah.

“Izzy Hagbah” by J.J. Gross, illustrated by Ari Binus (Pitspopany), is a lovely and uncommon story about a muscular guy with mighty forearms. Izzy attended shul regularly and insisted on doing the mitzvah of hagbah, lifting the Torah at the end of the reading. Dressed much more casually than the other shulgoers, he lifted the Torah as if it were made of feathers, spreading it so that nine or 10 columns were showing, rather than the usual three or four, or at most five. But no one else in this shul lifted the Torah but Izzy, even as he got older. The congregants, who were a tight-knit group, knew nothing about him, not even his last name. Finally, one Yom Kippur, Izzy himself is lifted by the words of the Torah.

In “Dreamer from the Village: The Story of Marc Chagall” by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Emily Lisker (Henry Holt), the author describes how the young Moshe (later Marc) Chagall knew early on that he didn’t want to spend his days hurling barrels of herring at a factory like his father. A poor student in both cheder and high school, he began to paint. His family didn’t like these early works and, in fact, his sisters would wipe their shoes on them. He was then sent to art school and while painting, he felt content. Later, he went to Paris, and his career flourished. Lisker paints in a folk art style, based on Chagall’s own paintings, where cows are green and people float.

“I am Marc Chagall” by Bimba Landmann (Eerdman’s) similarly tells the story of Chagall’s early life and career, in the voice of the artist himself. He explains that his childhood dreams of a bright future, of doing something different from those around him, made him happy, “like I was flying over Vitebsk, over all of Russia.” Landmann’s illustrations are bright collages in the style of the painter, using fabric, found objects, small constructions and sequin threads.

For Young Readers:

“The Dolls’ Journey to Eretz-Israel” by Abraham Regelson (Biblio Books) is a vintage book, now back in print. The author was a well-known and award-winning poet in Israel who made aliyah with his family from America. He wrote this story about his daughter’s dolls, at first left behind in America, but later sent across the ocean in 1933. The book was acclaimed by many Israelis, and the late songwriter Naomi Shemer described it as her favorite book. This edition was translated into English by the author’s daughter, Sharona, the actual “mother” of the dolls.

Eight ways how ’tis better to give back


Having trouble finding the perfect gift for the one who has everything?

Want to give back to the community this holiday season and into 2007?

Here are eight great ways to contribute.

  • Make a Relief Donation: Israel has cease-fires in Gaza and with Hezbollah. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita occurred more than a year ago. But Magen David Adom and the Red Cross are still seeking financial assistance in these areas — as well as for other disasters such as house fires, explosions and transportation accidents. For more information and other donation options visit www.afmda.org and www.redcross.org.
  • Volunteer and Support Youth: It is said that the Jewish people should remain with previous generations and future ones, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Make a connection with a member of the next generation by becoming a mentor. Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles offers mentoring opportunities for adults older than 21 to pair with 6- to 18-year-olds, primarily from single-parent homes. Volunteers are expected to be involved for a minimum of a year and meet with their little brother or little sister twice a month. To apply and/or learn more about JBBBS’ mentor program and the sports buddies and art buddies opportunities visit www.jbbla.org.

    Another mentoring option is with Koreh LA. Koreh (Hebrew for “read”) sets a volunteer up with a preschool or elementary school student in the Los Angeles Unified School District to read for one hour each week. For more information, visit www.korehla.org.

  • Purchase a Gift Basket for a Soldier: Let an Israeli soldier know they are in your thoughts with a snack package from Dash Cham. The Jerusalem-based company includes a mix of snacks, a cup of soup and a juice in the $10 parcel. Available www.dashcham.com.
    Another basket option supports The Daniel Pearl Foundation — whose goal is cross-cultural tolerance through music, journalism and unique communications — with a 40 percent donation of each $195 package sold. The basket features the Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl edited book, “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl”; a CD with compositions that weave in readings of Daniel Pearl’s articles, as well as candles, dreidels and chocolate. The baskets are sold at www.flashybasketsbymichelle.com.

  • Help Refugee Family From Darfur: A $30 donation to Jewish World Watch will provide a Sudanese family in a Chad refugee camp with two solar cookers. The light, small cooker, made of cardboard and aluminum, removes the family’s need to send women and girls in search of firewood which has put them in danger of gender-based violence. The pluralistic organization — comprised of various synagogues throughout Southern California with a mandate to fight genocide — also sells Chanukah cards with the proceeds going to the cooker program. To make a donation visit www.jewishworldwatch.org.
  • Join the Bone Marrow Registry: It is written in the Talmud that “He who saves one life, it is as if he had saved the entire world.” People with life-threatening illnesses such as lymphoma and leukemia, seek cures through bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants from someone that has a similar tissue type. The Gift of Life wants to increase the amount of prospective Jewish donors in the registry, especially since the Shoah severed bloodlines. An $18 donation enables the medical resource to send kit for a self-administered test, where a swab of cells could be taken quickly from inside one’s cheeks. Online donor registration and a list of upcoming donor drives are available at www.giftoflife.org.
  • Have a Tree Planted in Someone’s Honor: Help Israel’s environment — and the world’s — by giving a unique gift to a loved one or friend. For $18, the Jewish National Fund will plant the tree and provide a customized certificate with the honoree’s name and your personal message. In addition to the different themes available for the tree certificates, water certificates are also available. To make the world a little greener visit www.jnf.org.
  • Have a Winter Cleanup and Donate: One doesn’t have to wait for the spring season to clear up a closet or home and give to a good cause. The National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles (NCJWLA) accepts clothing, accessories, collectibles, furniture and appliances for their Council Thrift Shops year-round. NCJWLA also has a vehicle donation program. To set up a pick up or get more information, visit www.ncjwla.org.
  • Join Mazon’s 3 Percent Circle: It’s the season for eating, but there are still many that go hungry. Mazon – A Jewish Response to Hunger, a grant-making organization that combats hunger of people of various faiths and backgrounds, has multiple ways to donate. One option for this holiday season is to donate 3 percent of the cost of your event, whether it is a Chanukah party, bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding. The 3 percent pledge could continue with the cost of birthday parties, attending sporting events, restaurant dining, etc.

    To find out more information about the circle or how to get a holiday tribute card in someone’s name, visit www.mazon.org.

Has your gift list got game?


With Chanukah gift shopping well underway, three video game systems are jockeying for the top position on teen wish lists. Demand for PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii is outstripping the available supply, and analysts predict the shortage could lead to increased demand for Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

But how will you know which system is the right fit for your family?

Arena Interactive Lounge has recently added a couple PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles to the 50-inch HDTV DLP flat-screen televisions that populate its 3,000-square-foot gaming center in West Los Angeles. For $12 an hour, you can test drive one of the two in-demand systems, or for $6 per hour you can give the year-old Xbox 360 a shot.

Arena is the brainchild of 28-year-old Ron Rosenberg, an observant Jew who grew up in Pico-Robertson and attended Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva University High School. The USC grad opened his modern lounge last year, around the same time as the release of the Xbox 360. Sound-system-embedded Pyramat couches add to Arena’s living-room-away-from-home vibe, and game reviewer Scot Rubin hosts his weekday radio show, “All Games Interactive,” from this 21st century take on the arcade.

Rosenberg said gamers have expressed disappointment with the launch of PlayStation 3, equating its hype to last summer’s film, “Snakes on a Plane.”

“Sony came out with a product that wasn’t ready. There’s maybe three titles worth playing, but then again, there’s no multiplayer format,” he said.

Critics like New York Times gaming columnist Seth Schiesel have faulted Sony’s rush to get the PS3 to market for the holidays, citing the example that its much-vaunted Blu-Ray movie feature requires high-definition cables that are sold separately.

Mounting negative reviews and a glut of consoles on the resale market have weakened enthusiasm for the product since its violence-plagued launch on Nov. 17. A drop-off in demand for the PS3, which retails for $499 to $599, saw Thanksgiving weekend sales on eBay drop from a high of $1,500 to a near-retail low of $650.

Rosenberg believes that savvy consumers will ignore holiday hype and wait for PlayStation 3 to work out the bugs before a larger rollout in the spring.

“In a year the PS3 will be rocking,” he said.

According to a recent ZDNet poll, readers said they would prefer Nintendo’s Wii as a gift over the PS3 or Xbox 360.

“The Wii is a dark horse,” Rosenberg said. “It is fun. I could see my wife, who never touches a video game, and me playing this for two hours together.”

He said that industry insiders initially laughed at the wireless Wii Remote earlier this year at E3, the annual video game trade show held in Los Angeles, but added that few are laughing now.

The Wii’s intuitive controllers shy away from the rows of buttons found on the PlayStation and Xbox controllers. Instead, the Wii Remote — along with the analog joystick add-on, the Nunchuk unit — senses its own position in a three-dimensional space, allowing players to swing it like a golf club or fishing pole and have its motion replicated on screen.

Rosenberg said he broke a sweat as he played “Wii Sports,” one of 34 titles available this month. Building on the popularity of titles that demand more physical activity, like “Dance Dance Revolution,” the Wii is designed to break with the coach-potato status quo and get players up and moving.

“Everybody in the family can get into this,” he said.

Wii retails for $250, and Nintendo is hoping weekly shipments through December will keep pace with holiday demand.

But Rosenberg said that consumers shouldn’t count out the Xbox 360, especially in a market where demand for its competing systems, peripherals and games will keep prices at a premium.
The Xbox 360, which launched Nov. 22, 2005, features more than 100 titles and retails between about $300 and $400.

Rosenberg predicts Xbox 360 will continue to reign supreme at Arena Interactive Lounge until at least next spring due to its plethora of titles and the quality of game play.

“Every game coming out on the 360, which is an inferior machine to the PS3 power wise, looks much better,” he said. “They’ve had time to work with the system. But in a year, the PlayStation 3 will kick the 360’s butt.”

For more information about Arena Interactive Lounge and “All Games Interactive,” visit www.arenalounge.com.

Mamma Mia! That’s a Chanukah


The Skirball Cultural Center has chosen to focus on Italian Jewry as the theme for its upcoming “Hanukkah Family Festival,” a series of performances, workshops, exhibits and other activities on Sunday, Dec. 10.

Italian Jewry is a fitting theme since the Jewish community in Italy is one of the oldest in the world. Jews have been in Italy since the Romans conquered Jerusalem and forced the Jews to build the Arch of Titus in Rome.

While many Jews assimilated, others came to Italy from Spain, Greece, Turkey, the Balkans and North Africa and brought their diverse traditions with them.

Primarily Sephardic Jews, these immigrants spoke Ladino, “a jargon language very close to Spanish,” says David Glukh, whose five-piece ensemble will perform medieval Ladino songs as well as songs composed by Italian-Jewish Renaissance composer Salomon Rossi and Italian-Jewish Chanukah songs.

To prepare for this assignment, Glukh, a 31-year-old Juilliard graduate, sought out arcane recordings and compositions from specialty Jewish music stores, libraries and even ventured online. What he found were beautiful, old melodies but no harmonies, so “we came up with our own arrangements,” he says from New York, where his ensemble is based.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect to his research was his discovery that “almost every city in Italy or even community has its own set of different songs and different liturgy.” He points out that, since these songs come from the oral tradition, one community’s “Maoz Tzur” will be distinct from another’s, which means that melodies and meters often differ. Some songs originating in the Balkans have 7/8, 9/8 or even 12/8 time signatures, he says.

Glukh, who hails from Moscow, has not limited himself to Italian-Jewish music. Over the years, he has performed in fusion klezmer bands, bands that combine klezmer with Irish, Eastern European, Far Eastern and Israeli music.

In addition to the Glukh ensemble, the Skirball will feature an exhibition of Chanukah lamps from Italy, with an accompanying workshop, as well as a workshop in Italian silver etchings in which participants will learn to make Sephardic hamsas, ancient hand symbols, from metal.

The event is also child-friendly and will include a Chanukah puppet show performed by Jenny Nissenson and Bill Burnett, creators of Nickelodeon’s “ChalkZone!”

The “Hanukkah Family Festival” will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., on Sunday, Dec. 10, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Menorah on the Mountain


Kibbutz Ketura, in the south of Israel, is a small, quiet agricultural settlement, with a rich tradition of community celebration.

Behind the kibbutz looms a stately limestone cliff that can be reached by a 45- minute climb up a well-worn goat path. The view from the top of the cliff is stunning, particularly at sunset, when the red mountains of Jordan on the opposite side of the Arava Valley turn radiant shades of pink and purple. With Ketura and its neighboring kibbutzim laid out in crisp panoramic detail, one might easily miss the seemingly irrelevant series of nine giant ashcans that stand along the edge of the cliff like silent, rusted sentinels. But they are one of the most important cultural icons of this little kibbutz. This is the community’s Chanukah menorah.

Each night of Chanukah, a different child from Ketura’s b’nai mitzvah class ascends the mountain at sunset, accompanied by a parent, and lights the Menorah. This is by no means a simple task. First, though, the climb itself is a rite of passage, which the children generally have mastered by the age of 5. In the winter it may be cold or windy and, by definition, the harrowing descent is under cover of darkness. Moreover, there is a complicated series of primitive tools employed in order to light this somewhat makeshift arrangement.

On this night, I am the parent, but as such, I am only a passive participant. The menorah is prepared and lit by my daughter, the bat mitzvah. First, there are rags, pilfered from the kibbutz laundry, which are stuffed in the top of the cans and soaked with diesel fuel to serve as giant wicks. Special care must be taken to load the central ashcan, perched higher than the others on a bump in the hill. This is the “shamash.” Then, an old, dry palm frond, stripped bare of its leaves and crowned by fuel-soaked rags, becomes the torch to light the “candles.” All is prepared. We wait. We ponder the vast emptiness of the desert and the stunning good fortune that has befallen us that we may be allowed to call this little spot of heaven our home. Just as the darkness begins to descend on the valley, it is time. My daughter pulls out the matches and prepares to light the shamash. Together, standing in the wind, we couple a modern tradition and an ancient one and recite the blessings. “Asher kidshanu” (We have been commanded); “she’asa nisim” (He has performed miracles for our ancestors), and, of course, the blessing that never fails to move me, “Shehechiyanu.” He has brought us this far. This far to this place in our lives. This far to this spot in the world. This far to this moment. This far to this mountain, to this celebration of miracles, ancient and modern.

The lighting itself is dramatic. Moving with simple grace through the darkness, my daughter lights the torch and, finally, returns the torch to the shamash. We gaze in silent awe for a few minutes before we begin our descent, constantly looking back over our shoulders at the flames that can be seen for miles. Below us in the kibbutz, though we can’t see them, we know that families are gathered outside, staring up at the menorah that we have lit. The little children are pondering the homemade miracle of lights and the adults are perhaps pondering other miracles. Together, as if cued by the menorah on the mountain, the families will each go back inside to light their own little menorahs and say their own blessings.

The Jewish people are a people of endless cycles. Relearning the Torah every year, rebuilding the sukkah every year. Recounting the omer and rehanging Haman. When my daughter and I reach the bottom of the mountain, just before we return home through the back gate of the kibbutz, we look up one last time, and without a shred of self-consciousness, we sing a lusty chorus of “Maoz Tzur.” One more cycle rekindled, one more reinterpretation of an ancient tradition. One more generation. Chag Sameach. Shehechiyanu.

Bill Slott is a licensed Israeli tour guide, educator and cantor. He lives on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel’s Arava Desert with his wife and three daughters.

Ode to Chanukah


Enjoy this poem by Sinai Akiba fifth-grader Shana Saleh as you munch onthose latkes.

Chanukah means miracles,

Miracles means light —

Light in our hearts

And lights in our minds.

Minds mean thinking back

Sometime long ago

When the Greeks made a

Riot because of hate for

The temple, a temple strong

But yet broken

As the hearts of the Jews.

But one pure jar, sits

Alone with oil

Just enough to last one day

Instead eight days stood

The fire so faithful

Faithful as Jews praying

In shul, with light in

Their hearts and warmth

In their souls, as their

Families bring love and

Light the menorah

Eat the latkes

And celebrate

The wonderful meaning of

Chanukah!

 

Holiday Celebration of Arts and Eats


The year-to-year tradition of celebrating Chanukah doesn’t change at our home. It always includes lighting candles, playing dreidel, eating latkes and having the children open gifts. But, the highlight of Chanukah for me is having all of our family together at the same time. It is one of the few holidays when our children and grandchildren arrive from everywhere, so we can celebrate and spend time with each other.

But, for the past 15 years, the festivities have included our special friends, artist Peter Shire and his wife, Donna. It all began when we invited Peter to visit the Skirball Museum, which was then located on the campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, next to USC. We toured the collection of Judaica in the basement of the museum, and when Peter saw the menorahs, he was intrigued by their design and how the artists had adapted the local culture and architecture into their creations.

Several days later we called Peter and asked if he would be interested in a commission to create a chanukiah for our family, and he was delighted with the idea. He combined contemporary shapes, cactus, the local mountains, and included many colorful symbols that depicted a Southern California theme.

Peter’s chanukiah has a permanent place in our art collection, and is similar to the one that he later created for the Israel Museum and the Skirball. He recently designed several more, some contemporary, with simple architecture elements, others made in the shape of birds or plants.

During the holiday, Peter always lights the candles on his California-inspired Chanukiah at our home. After they are lit, it is time to eat the first batch of crisp and hot latkes, which have been fried in olive oil to commemorate the story of the one-day supply of oil that burned for eight days. I still remember the family Chanukah celebrations from when I was young, consisting of our extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. This was a special time when everyone eagerly awaited the latkes, and later all commented on who had eaten the most.

Of course, while the latkes are served, the children are looking over the wrapped Chanukah gifts, eager to open them, but they have to wait until after dinner when we return to the living room.

The Chanukah meal this year begins with a salad composed of chopped chicken livers, placed on a bed of baby greens and garnished with pomegranate seeds. The main course, ground chicken loaf, everyone’s favorite comfort food, is baked in a tomato-wine sauce and served with homemade cooked apple slices.

For dessert we have a cookie exchange and ask everyone to bring his or her favorite ones to go with the Chocolate Sorbet that I have made. This supersmooth sorbet, made without milk, cream, or eggs, tastes as rich and creamy as ice cream, and I think the addition of Concord grape wine really enhances the sorbet’s intense chocolate flavor. At the end of the evening there are always bags of cookies for the children to take home as a Chanukah treat.

Award-Winning Perfect Potato Latkes

This latke recipe was chosen as one of the top 10 recipes of 1998 by the Los Angeles Times. “The best we’ve ever eaten,” said their test kitchen and food editors.

4 baking potatoes, peeled

1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 extra-large eggs

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

Pinch of baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Olive oil, for frying

Grate the potatoes, using a food processor or fine shredder. Immediately transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and add the onion, lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8-inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot oil with a large spoon and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 4-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, three to five minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about two minutes. (Turn once only.) Drain well on paper towels and serve immediately, plain or with topping.

Makes 12 latkes/four servings.

Chocolate Sorbet (nondairy)

3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

1 cup Concord grape Wine

Combine the cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add 4 cups of water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with a wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil and boil for five to 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in the melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil and simmer for about four minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place in a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Mix until cool. Remove bowl from ice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a covered container and freeze for at least one hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving.

Makes about two quarts.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

A Minor Holiday’s Major Following


 

It’s not a religious holiday per se, it appears nowhere in the Torah, God’s name isn’t even mentioned and it’s considered one of Judaism’s minor festivals. Yet over the years, celebrating the holiday of Purim has become a major event on the Jewish calendar. Why?

It’s easy to understand why getting dressed up, eating lots of candy and hamentaschen, drinking the night away and partaking in a festive meal appeals to many. But it’s only really in the post-war era that Purim has become a major player in the Jewish calendar.

Purim was a far more significant holiday in the 19th century, according to Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and the author of “American Judaism: A History” (Yale, 2004). However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the popularity of Purim gave way to Chanukah and its concept of gift-giving because of the abundant gift-giving at Christmas.

“Purim had the misfortune of not falling at the same time as an equivalent Christian holiday,” Sarna said. “And with Halloween being stripped of any religious significance, Jews preferred to participate in Halloween, leaving Purim without a lot of energy.”

The only real equivalent to Purim is Mardi Gras, but with that holiday focused in New Orleans, it wasn’t enough to put Purim on the map.

So when did the tide turn back toward Purim?

Purim began to enjoy renewed vigor in the post-war era, Sarna said, for a variety of reasons.

“Part of it is because it’s a naturally appealing holiday,” he said.

Particularly with the emphasis on rebelliousness.

“Jews are rebels and the idea of turning a structure on its head is very appealing to us,” Sarna added.

And part of that appeal came from Jews ceasing to worry less about what their neighbors thought and having the freedom to dress up and violate various taboos without fear of repercussions.

Purim has also become more and more centered on children, with a strong focus on carnivals and dressing up.

“As a rule, child-centered holidays in the U.S. are much more likely to gain popular support,” he said, adding that in the post-war period, there was a rise in suburban synagogues in response to the baby boom. As such, synagogues were able to mount large carnivals, which was part of the whole movement back to child-centered Judaism.

It has certainly taken hold. This Purim, Los Angeles synagogues and schools, as in previous years, will be holding large carnivals aimed primarily at children but with incentives thrown in for the adults, too.

Temple Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica has been holding a carnival in one form or another since 1942.

“It’s a huge communal event,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels. “We usually have around 500-600 people show up.”

Temple Beth Am has been holding its annual carnival for 10 years, with the carnival attracting around 1,000 people each year.

“We’re creating memories for kids,” said carnival organizer Susan Leider. “And being connected Jewishly is about being able to call upon this bank of Jewish memories, and a fun Purim experience for kids is an important part of that.”

But it’s not just children who are reaping the rewards of the holiday — in recent years it’s also been widely embraced by women. In an ever-evolving religion where women are looking to play more significant roles, seizing on Purim was a natural choice, and it’s no longer strange to see women’s megillah readings.

“Some women have also turned Vashti into a type of pro-feminist,” Sarna said, referring to the one-time queen of Persia who is often simplistically considered a villain in the Book of Esther for refusing to show up naked to a party given by her husband, King Ahasveraus, forcing him to find a new queen (Esther).

Women and children are not the only ones who have benefited from the Purim renaissance. Part of the holiday’s success is its appeal to Jews of all religious affiliations.

“With the renaissance of Jewish life in this country, there has become a stronger desire to celebrate our own holidays, particularly when they have resonance on the larger culture,” said David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “And ethnicity now has a respectability that it did not previously possess.”

Jews today are much happier to embrace Purim than Halloween, Ellenson said, because both offer similar elements (the parties, eating candy, dressing up), but Purim is an authentic Jewish holiday that is specifically connected to Jewish pride, survival and continuity.

Once, the whole issue of vengeance against Haman and his sons was deemed problematic by earlier generations of Reform Jews, Ellenson said.

“But with the rise of ethnic pride, concerns with Jewish continuity and the universal themes of escape from prejudice and destruction, Purim has found a ready audience among Jews of all types,” he added.

It’s something that Rabbi Sharon Brous, of the newly founded IKAR synagogue in West Los Angeles, has incorporated into the shul’s first Purim celebrations.

Founded 10 months ago with the vision to “create a community of intellectual and spiritual life and the pursuit of Justice,” IKAR’s Purim carnival for adults and children is a “Justice Carnival.” Every fun carnival booth will be accompanied by a social justice or human rights booth so people can still enjoy the Moon Bounce or the bean bag throw but read about the fight against AIDS in Africa or efforts to help tsunami relief.

“The idea is that the kids understand that by being Jewish and celebrating Purim, it’s also connected to other things,” Brous said. “That performing mitzvot for other needy people is a critical part of being Jewish.”

Whatever the rationale behind each individual organization’s celebration of this “minor” Jewish holiday, celebrating Purim looks like it’s here to stay.

“It doesn’t yet vie with Chanukah …,” Sarna said. “But the appeal is certainly growing.”

 

Through God’s Eyes


 

We call it the Festival of Lights, but Chanukah starts in a very dark place.

It begins with two stories, each very serious. One

tells of a severely outnumbered band of Jews who fought a powerful enemy for religious freedom.

And there’s the other, even more painful tale of Jew vs. Jew, of the Macabees struggling with widespread Jewish assimilation into the culture and religion of that enemy.

In many ways, Chanukah represents the most painful aspects of Jewish history in one full account: the Jewish community facing threats both from outside and within.

The tales are so painful, in fact, that thinking about them can be depressing. And what’s worse, many aspects of Chanukah — bloody battles, inner fighting, treacherous choices between life and death — have been reenacted over and over again, throughout the centuries.

But despite the seriousness, despite the painful, dark history of Chanukah, we spend eight days in lightness. We play, we sing, we eat — we remember the tales of the Maccabees with latkes, gelt, songs and games. For us, Chanukah is a party — bright, sweet, joyous. It’s serious, but we’re playful.

The stories — dark and sobering — are recalled with light and celebration. How do the bloody battles of Chanukah translate into a ritual of fun?

The answer can found in the dreidel.

The Hebrew letters on each side of the toy — nun, gimmel, heh, and shin — famously serve as an acronym for neis gadol haya sham — “a great miracle happened there” — a reference to the miraculous eight-day staying power of the little bit of oil lighting the menorah in the Holy Temple when it was re-taken by the Maccabees.

Like Chanukah, the dreidel is a combination of intensity and lightheartedness. Historically, it was initially adopted by Jews not as a game or toy but as a front, a ruse used by persecuted Torah scholars who were forbidden by non-Jewish authorities from study. Pretending to play a game, rabbis would actually teach their students Torah, enabling the traditions to be passed to each new generation.

How fitting then to have those same toys in the hands of happy, free Jewish children today, spinning the dreidel as a simple game after learning Torah in security. The dreidel represents that same relationship between terror and confidence, between threats and joy, darkness and light.

The spinning top is actually even more than just a reminder of persecutions past and more than a simple game for happy children. The Jewish mystical tradition teaches that the four letters on the sides of the dreidel have a wholly different significance. The nun is for neshama (soul); the gimmel is for guf (body); the shin is actually a sin, for sechel (mind); and the heh is for ha-kol (everything).

The playful little toy is a miniature but complete person: body, mind and soul — everything wrapped up together. And like the dreidel, we are also a combination of the playful and the serious. On one hand, we are light and fun and lively. But on the other hand, we spin out of control. We live in chaos.

A human being is a dreidel: busy, moving. We reach near vertigo, tilting and spinning until at last we finally drop.

Like the Chanukah tales, our personal narratives are marked by difficult choices and numerous battles, both external and internal. A human being is a dreidel: spinning and falling, spinning and falling. Yet we come up, again and again. How can that be?

Because, as the dreidel tells us: neis gadol haya sham. Great miracles happen, not just in ancient times but now, constantly, for us every single day. We spin and fall, but thanks to God’s miracles, we stand up to try again — as a nation and as individuals. That’s serious stuff. But it’s also worth celebrating.

This column originally appeared in The Journal on Dec. 14, 2001.

Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer is instructor of Bible and liturgy at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism and creator of Ozreinu, a spiritual support group for special-needs families.

 

It’s All About the Olive Oil


 

“I like to have fun in the kitchen,” said Susie Fishbein, a stay-at-home mother of four — three girls and a boy — who became an overnight success with the publication of her cookbook, “Kosher by Design: Picture-perfect food for the holidays & every day” (Mesorah, 2003).

While some food writers automatically push the same old latke and brisket menu at Chanukah, Fishbein offers a lighter touch by mixing in Mediterranean fare. And although she tweaks culinary tradition, she honors it. Fishbein believes in presenting beautiful food in unique ways.

Because Fishbein never attended culinary school, she has empathy for the home cook who is working blindly from a stranger’s instructions and, maybe, a picture. Her recipes are easy to follow; even novices can achieve professional results.

Although she is playful and adventurous, Fishbein is serious about finding inspiration.

She talks to lots of people, asking them about their favorite foods. She reads restaurant menus the way some people study the stock market. She’s never just eating; she’s figuring out what ingredients she’s tasting and which flavors compliment each other. Her aim is to keep ahead of the kosher curve.

“Creating recipes is my forte,” she said. To invent novel ways of preparing food, she spends huge amounts of time experimenting in the kitchen. She asks her husband and children to test her creations.

“Through trial and error, I attempted a new dish several months ago,” she said with a laugh. “It went through three phases before my family said: ‘Give it up! It just isn’t any good.'”

With a bubbly personality, Fishbein describes a recent December when a Hadassah chapter on Long Island invited her to demonstrate how to make beignets, a type of French fritter.

“Beignets are fresh and exciting at Chanukah,” she said. “A change of pace from jelly doughnuts.”

Because she expected 200 Hadassah women at the demonstration, Fishbein asked her mother for assistance.

“Ironically, I don’t come from a long line of good cooks,” she said. “My ancestors were amazing women, bold beyond their time. But we gagged on their food.”

Watching Fishbein whipping up the beignet batter and frying fritters, her mother said: “Those aren’t beignets, they’re punchkis!” She then claimed that Fishbein’s grandmother used to make an Ashkenazi rendition of this French confection. “It’s the one thing that Bubbe made well!”

Fishbein found this hiliarious, because she had searched long and hard for this upscale idea. Then, through a series of missteps followed by corrections, she perfected her version of the recipe, only to find something similar had been in the family for decades.

Every Chanukah, Fishbein throws a block party and includes all of her neighbors. Inviting 18 adults and 14 children, she serves many of the recipes from “Kosher by Design,” especially the ones calling for olive oil.

Olive oil, a precious commodity in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, is at the heart of Chanukah cooking. After the Maccabees prevailed in a series of bitter battles, there was only a 24-hour supply of oil left to light the Temple menorah.

This created a crisis, because it took eight days to replenish lamp oil. But, miracle of miracles, one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days. Paying homage to this joyous event, no Chanukah menu would be complete without food fried in oil.

True to this theme, Fishbein serves family and friends Rigatoni ala Norma, a scrumptious Italian dish made with red sauce riddled with fried eggplant and basil. Her Parmesan Crusted Grouper is a remarkably easy recipe that yields amazingly delicious results.

A perennial favorite, Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza is surrounded by phyllo dough and layered with fried veggies and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Fishbein likes these two dairy recipes because of the role cheese plays in the Chanukah story.

Aware that food is mightier than the sword, Judith, an unsung heroine, entertained an enemy general and plied him with salty cheese. To quench his thirst, he consumed far too much wine. After he fell asleep from the wine, Judith cut off his head with his sword, helping her people prevail against the enemy forces.

Today, the Festival of Lights remains a joyous occasion. In accordance with the holiday’s spirit, there’s a photo of a glittering table flooded with glowing candles and blue and gold accouterments in the Chanukah chapter of “Kosher by Design.”

Fishbein knows how to turn an ordinary dining room into a dazzling scene that impresses guests. She has become the doyenne of Jewish entertaining. As a matter of fact, she’s publishing “Kosher by Design Entertains” in time for Passover.

No matter what your home looks like, Fishbein suggests firing up your imagination when setting holiday tables (see page 50). Last Chanukah, her house was under construction. “We had bare walls down to the studs,” she said. “The place was a disaster zone.” Yet at her annual Chanukah party, she overshadowed chaos with extravagance.

“Would you believe the photo from my cookbook was actually my table — taken during the demolition,” she said. “It goes to show, you can create ambiance anywhere.”

But how do the creatively challenged get started? Fishbein suggests beginning with the best food. Yet, she says, it’s not only what you serve, but how you serve it.

A simple garnish creating contrast, an offbeat tablecloth such as a quilt, an Oriental pot filled with flowering plants — these things elevate the mundane to the magnificent. Search your house for lovely objects long forgotten. Mix and match things representing different styles and adapt them when you entertain.

“Above all, enjoy yourself,” Fishbein said. “Let each meal be a wonderful journey — the sharing of something special with people you care about and love.”

Rigatoni Ala Norma

6 medium Asian eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices crosswise

Salt to taste

1 1/4 cups or more olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 (28-ounce or 32-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus ex

tra for garnishing

1 pound rigatoni, uncooked

Paper towels

Lay eggplant slices in a single layer. Lightly salt both sides. Cover with paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Press on paper towels occasionally to soak up water that will come from eggplants.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 cup, or more, of olive oil over medium high heat. Make sure you have at least an inch of oil, so it will cover the slices and eliminate the need for flipping each piece over. When oil is hot, carefully add the eggplant in batches and fry until golden on both sides. Add more oil, if necessary. Transfer to clean paper towels and drain. Season generously with salt and black pepper.

Place 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and sauté until golden. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices. Add the sugar and simmer about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken. Add the chopped basil leaves and simmer three to four minutes longer.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the pasta according to package directions until al dente (chewy). Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water in case sauce needs thinning.

Toss the pasta with the eggplant and sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Makes six to eight servings.

Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped

spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

2 teaspoons dry oregano

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

15 ounces ricotta cheese

10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed

1/4 cup butter, melted

4-6 fresh tomatoes, evenly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté about five minutes, or until onion is transparent.

Add spinach and saute until all excess moisture has evaporated. Add oregano, basil and pepper. Mix well. Remove from heat. Mix in ricotta cheese. Set aside.

Grease a large jelly roll pan (the kind with a small rim). Lay one sheet of phyllo in it. The phyllo may be just a little bigger than the pan. Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with a second phyllo sheet and brush with melted butter.

Repeat process until all ten sheets are buttered. Roll the ends of phyllo into themselves to form the “pizza crust.” NOTE: Phyllo dough dries out quickly, so keep sheets covered with a damp cloth until use.

Using a spatula, spread the spinach ricotta mixture in an even layer over the phyllo. Arrange tomatoes over this layer. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, cut into squares.

Makes 12 servings.

Parmesan Crusted Grouper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4 small (1-inch thick) grouper fillets

1 lemon

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat broiler to high.

In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, butter, mayonnaise and scallions. Reserve.

Place grouper fillets on a lightly greased boiler pan. Squeeze juice from lemon over fillets. Sprinkle with black pepper.

Broil 6 inches from heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread tops of the fillets with cheese mixture. Return to oven and broil for two minutes longer, or until topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove fillets to platter.

Makes four servings.

Beignets

4-6 cups vegetable oil

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 large egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons sugar

confectioners’ sugar

Pour oil into a deep pot to a depth of 3-4 inches. Heat oil to 370 F.

In a large bowl with the mixer at medium-high speed, combine the milk, water and egg. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix until batter is smooth.

Using a 1/8 cup measure, drop the batter into the hot oil and fry about 3-4 minutes. Don’t make them much bigger or the inside won’t cook properly. The beignets will float to the surface. Turn them a few times, until the beignets are golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Use a strainer to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on all sides. Serve hot.

Makes 20-24 beignets.

Recipes from “Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day,” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah).

 

Ex-Communist ‘Burb Makes Menorahs


 

The model suburb of Nowa Huta was built here under a Communist philosophy of atheism.

Now it houses a workshop that manufactures menorahs — popular with both Poles and tourists.

Metalodlew, a private company that was started 10 years ago, rents space from the Nowa Huta steelworks, a factory that is part of a complex established in the 1950s on the outskirts of Krakow.

In the workshop, menorahs are produced alongside plaques for Catholic cemetery plots and life-size bronze figures of Pope John Paul II.

The menorahs were originally designed by an artist; now they’re cast into a mold.

Menorahs are made and sold year round, alongside Metalodlew’s larger business of ship parts, plaques and smaller artistic pieces.

Other Judaica items can be custom-made but requests are rare, according to Pawel Bieniek, export sales manager for Metalodlew.

Waldemar Pietras, who runs the workshop, said all kinds of people buy the menorahs, which are sold in the gift shop located at the factory site.

“They know what they’re buying,” Bieniek said. “People like to have these things. They know about Jewish history.”

All the menorahs made at the factory have seven branches, a departure from the nine-armed versions most American Jews light to celebrate Chanukah.

Karolina Komarowska, a master’s student in Jewish studies at the Jagiellonian University here in Krakow, says most American Jews are largely unfamiliar with their design.

Komarowska, who also works at the Galicia Jewish Museum, says many Eastern European Jews traditionally used the seven-branched menorah.

“When Poles think about symbols of Judaism, they think Magen David and seven-armed menorah,” she said.

The custom is ancient: The Temple contained a seven-branched menorah, although the nine-branched version — for the eight days of Chanukah, plus the shamash, or lighting candle — is now more popular worldwide.

That the workshop is in Nowa Huta is something of an irony.

Nowa Huta was designed in the 1950 as a garden city, with housing blocs and greenery sharing space in a series of neighborhoods that spun out from a central plaza.

The centerpiece of Nowa Huta was the steelworks, which is located far from any mines or ores but which sought to offset the intellectual atmosphere that pervaded Krakow.

Workers were given jobs in various parts of the steelworks, and were assigned apartments nearby for convenient access to the factory.

Today, the factory languishes, buildings stand empty and many of the former workers and their families are unemployed, Bieniek said.

While communism has fallen, Poland has become infatuated with its Jewish past — Poland, currently home to fewer than 5,000 Jews, had 3.5 million Jews before World War II.

In Krakow, one can find many examples of Judaica sold on Krakow’s main market square and in museums and specialty shops throughout the city, including Jewish stars, Torah-reading pointers, carved wooden figurines of old-fashioned Jews as well as menorahs.

Komorowska says the menorahs manufactured in Nowa Huta are often bought by Polish merchants who sell souvenirs to tourists and interested Poles.

“When people come to Krakow, [Kazimierz, the city’s historic Jewish district] is something they all see along with the city center and Wawel Castle,” Komarowska said. “Tourists buy these things because they like Jewish people.”

 

Applesauce Warms Holiday Celebration


 

By the time Chanukah rolls around, I’ll have spent the last three to four weeks cleaning and cooking up a storm for a Thanksgiving feast; planning, decorating, and baking for my daughter’s birthday party; volunteering and baking some more for several school holiday celebrations; shopping, preparing and delivering gifts for family and friends; and, of course, working full time. Usually, as I take the menorah out of the cabinet, I am fighting off a cold and longing to the celebrating to end, so I can sleep.

But as a single mom, I have no choice but to dig deep, and find one more layer of energy, and holiday joy, to share with my daughter as she excitedly waits to open gifts, play dreidel, light candles and eat latkes.

I have this wonderful old book, “A Treasury of Jewish Holidays, History, Legends, Traditions” by Hyman E. Goldin. My father must have bought it at one of his cherished used book sale haunts, because on the title page, next to where my mom wrote her name, is the price, written in pencil: 35 cents.

Inside it starts with a 20-year calendar of Jewish festivals and fasts, from 1951/52 to 1970/71. Each holiday section begins with vintage pen-and-ink drawings of observant men in prayer; women preparing food; families at a festival meal; men and boys seated and dressed in slacks, shirts, and ties; women and girls standing, wearing perfectly pressed dresses, and holding platters of food and a smile.

I don’t use this book as a factual resource so much as for a cultural one, because even the choice of words, as well as their meaning, reflect the standards of another generation. Under the Chanukah chapter I found sentences such as, “Returning from the synagogue after Maariv [evening] service, the master of the house finds the Chanukah lamp all prepared for the occasion. A holiday spirit pervades the house and all is cheerful and gay.” Or, “During Chanukah, after the evening meal, people usually indulge in playing such games as checkers, chess, dominoes, card and one special game known as Kautowes … arithmetic riddles and puzzles.

I am intrigued by the quaint orderliness of the books’ words and pictures, however one Chanukah as my throat burned and my body’s center of gravity pushed me down, I found particular relevance in the very first sentence in the Chanukah chapter. It asks, “What is Chanukah?” and answers, “In Hebrew, Chanukah means dedication.”

Although the term refers to the rededication of the Temple by the Jews after they defeated the Greeks, I think it is a perfectly modern description for many of us who celebrate the holiday today. Since Chanukah falls during such a busy time of year, celebrating requires a special dedication. Like the Maccabees who were outnumbered, outsupplied and certainly low on energy, we must also work with what we have left to keep this holiday alive.

On the day preceding the first night of Chanukah, I was too tired to make yet another trip to the grocery store for latke fixings, so we had warm bowls of soup, lit the Chanukah candles, and without much fanfare, my daughter opened her first present. But on the second day, I re-entered my kitchen and found one box of instant latke mix and a refrigerator drawer full of apples.

I set a dozen apples on the kitchen table so we could sit while my daughter peeled, and I sliced and cored. We added into the mix a couple of ripe pears and some delicious dried Turkish apricots. Soon three pots holding three different version of applesauce simmered on the stove. My daughter loved the cinnamon smell, and I couldn’t wait to feel the warm applesauce on my raw throat.

When we sat down to our latke dinner, late on the second night, three colorful candles were lit on the menorah, the gifts were lined up on an old bookshelf, a bowl of shiny chocolate gelt was on the table, I was wearing wrinkled corduroy overalls and my daughter was in her sparkly embroidered blue jeans. We ate together — my daughter thrilled with the latkes and excited for the coming dreidel game, and me soothed by the warm applesauce and our modern picture of Chanukah dedication.

Chunky Applesauce

Since Granny Smith apples are firmer, they add the chunks to this mixed applesauce as well as a nice tart contrast to the sweeter sauce.

3 Granny Smith apples

2 Jonagold apples

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

Peel, core and cut apples in 3/4-inch chunks. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apples, cinnamon, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, mashing and stirring every few minutes. Uncover the last few minutes so excess water cooks off. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until some apples softened into sauce and some are chunky. Serve warm or chilled with latkes.

Makes six servings.

Pear Applesauce

My daughter loves pears, so I thought this might be a nice combination. It is sweeter, softer, and darker in color and extra soothing warmed.

2 Jonagold apples

1 Granny Smith apple

2 Bartlett Pears, ripe

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch ground clove

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

Peel, core and cut apples into chunks and pears into slices. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apples, pears, cinnamon, clove, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered, mashing and stirring every few minutes. Uncover the last few minutes so excess water cooks off. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until apples and pears are soft and saucy. Serve warm or chilled with latkes.

Makes six servings.

Lisa Solomon writes food articles for several publications, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.

 

Fritter Away Your Time for Chanukah


 

We just returned from a trip to Italy, concentrating on the provinces of Puglia and Campania close to Naples. It is a region that we enjoy because of the diversity of the foods and wines available.

We visited several new places but returned to one of our favorites, La Caveja, a country restaurant with eight rooms, in the village of Pietravairano. It is owned by Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo. They hosted us two years ago, when we had a remarkable experience that lasted past midnight, observing just-picked olives being crushed into olive oil.

However, since our last visit, they have remodeled their farmhouse into a wonderful villa. It is a bed and breakfast, and includes six additional rooms. In Italy, it is called an agri-turismo.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner that they cooked in their newly restored kitchen, and for dessert, Antonietta served us honey-glazed fritters fried in olive oil. She called them Scavatelle and said they were made from a traditional recipe that was handed down from her grandmother.

I couldn’t help but think how perfect these fritters fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration. She was happy to share the recipe with me, when I told her that I would like to serve them to our family.

This pastry is easy to make, and it is a project that you can share with your children or grandchildren. Baking helps teach children to follow directions, how to measure and weigh ingredients, tell time and other useful skills. So, let them help in the shaping and dipping of these delicacies.

The dough can be rolled out several hours in advance and covered with a dry towel. Fry and dip in the honey syrup just before serving, so they will be warm and crisp.

Remember, Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Happy Chanukah!

Scavatelle (Fried Pastries)

Adapted by Judy Zeidler from Antonietta Rotondo at La Caveja.

Antonietta said that these pastries are traditionally served on a large lemon leaf.

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon olive oil

Peel from 1/2 of a lemon

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup flour

Syrup

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon sugar

Peel of 1/2 a lemon

1 tablespoon water

Olive oil for frying

In a saucepan, place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Boil for two or three minutes. Remove zest and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once, and using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down and knead into a flat disk to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes.

Cut into 6-inch ropes and working with one rope, bring one end of rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1/2-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a dry dish towel.

In a saucepan, place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water. Mix well and simmer over low heat.

In a deep fryer or heavy saucepan, heat oil and fry pastries until browned. Dip in honey syrup and serve at once.

Makes about four dozen.

Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo can be contacted at:
La Camere della Locando
La Stalla della Caveja
Via s.s. Annunziata
Pietravairano (ce), Italy
Telephone (0823) 984824, fax (0823) 982977.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

Gift of Chanukah


 

To my husband, Larry, it’s “Project Yankee Doodle,” a circa-1960 rocket launcher made by Remco Toys.

To me, it’s a generic plastic pickup truck.

We’re talking favorite childhood Chanukah presents. And while Larry also recalls a toy robot and battalions of Army men, the truck remains the favorite — and only — Chanukah gift embedded in my memory.

“That’s it? That’s all you remember?” my mother asks.

I nod my head guiltily.

Perhaps I remember it because of the circumstances — a hastily purchased gift, one that I was allowed to select myself at Doden’s Drug Store en route to my grandparents’ house.

Perhaps I remember it because of the context — in 1956, in Davenport, Iowa, girls didn’t play with, let alone own, toy trucks.

As the mother of four boys and the chief shopper, wrapper and often exchanger of almost two-decades worth of Chanukah gifts, I feel my mother’s chagrin.

And, payback being an inevitable part of parenting, I feel my own.

“What’s your all-time favorite Chanukah gift?” I mistakenly ask my sons.

“I remember when I was 5 and got stuck with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles girl action figure, April O’Neal, because all the good ones were sold out,” Zack, 20, says.

“I don’t know,” Jeremy, 15, says.

“I don’t really like Chanukah presents,” Danny, 13, admits.

Only Gabe, 17, who will be visiting his girlfriend in Boston over winter break, responds positively: “My airplane ticket, of course.”

But here’s the up side. Far greater than that little truck — and the furry slippers, scarf and mitten sets, books and phonograph records that I undoubtedly received — was another gift: a love of Chanukah and a love of being Jewish.

“How did you do that?” I ask my mother.

This is important to Larry and me. We want to ensure that we have Jewish grandchildren, although — and I can’t emphasize this strongly enough — not yet.

And this is important to Jewish spiritual leaders and educators across the country and across denominations who seek to discover sure-fire forces that forge strong Jewish identities.

Maybe the answer isn’t Jewish day school, a bar or bat mitzvah, a Jewish summer camp, a Birthright Israel trip or a subscription to Heeb magazine. Maybe the answer is as simple as this: unmemorable Chanukah presents.

Along with a memorable Chanukah.

Growing up in Iowa, even with only three other Jewish kids in my elementary school grade, I never felt left out or less than. I never felt the desire to sit on Santa’s lap in Petersen’s Department Store or have a big flocked and frosted Christmas tree in our living room. And it wasn’t as if — sorry, Mom — Chanukah was a big blow-out in our family.

“Go and make Christmas out of Chanukah,” my mom always said, quoting her friend, Alice Weitzman.

But she did better: she made Chanukah out of Chanukah.

A holiday of joy and warmth. Of chanting the blessings and lighting the “lion” chanukiyah, of eating freshly made latkes with burnt edges that my mother cooked in the electric frying pan, of playing dreidle with my siblings and parents and betting with gold-foil wrapped Chanukah gelt. Of driving across the river to Rock Island, Ill., to celebrate with my grandparents. Of baking poppy seed cookies using my grandmother’s recipe and the dreidel-, Star-of-David- and menorah-shaped cookie cutters.

A holiday that reflected the anti-assimilationist ideals of the Maccabees, that ancient band of guerilla fighters who, unaware of what an identity crisis was, refused to submit to the Syrian Greeks. Who were willing to sacrifice their lives to continue studying Torah, observing Shabbat and circumcising their sons.

But the threat to Judaism, interestingly enough, was internal as well as external. Many Jews of the second century BCE were easily drawn into the dominant Greek culture. Not unlike today, where, according to the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) 2000-01, 42 percent of Jews who define their religion as Jewish describe their outlook as secular. And where we have to work hard to remain Jewish in a non-Jewish world.

Chanukah gives us that challenge and opportunity. Especially since younger Jews already tend to express their Jewish identification through the celebration of holidays, according to “The Sovereign Self: Jewish Identity in Post-Modern America” by Steven M. Cohen and Arnold M. Eisen (Indiana University , 2001). And since, according to the NJPS, 72 percent of all Jews already profess to kindling Chanukah lights.

And so this year, emulating my mother, I will once again try to make Chanukah out of Chanukah. I will go through the ordeal of buying, wrapping and perhaps exchanging all those Chanukah gifts, which dollars to donuts — or, more appropriately, gelt to sufganiyot — my kids will soon forget.

And maybe that’s OK.

As Zack says, “Ten years from now will I remember all of the presents I received? No. But will I remember that magical feeling of celebrating Chanukah? Absolutely.”

And, I hope, that magical feeling of being Jewish.

Jane Ulman is a freelance writer in Encino and has four sons.

 

Create Festive Table in a Blue Mood


 

Following are pointers on livening up your Chanukah table from “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah, 2003).

1. In the Beginning: Dress your dining table with a snazzy tablecloth. A gold one will glitter. Using narrow runners and/or yards of wide ribbons, preferably in shades of blue and gold, weave them under and above each other, creating a lattice effect.

2. Gifted Settings: Create place settings that look like Chanukah presents by using placemat-sized rectangles of Styrofoam (about 2-inches thick). Cover them with blue fabric. Straight pins will secure the fabric to the underside of rectangles. To simulate a bow, wrap gold tulle ribbon on a diagonal around two opposite corners of rectangles.

3. Box Appeal: Find boxes about 3-inches square. Cover boxes with Mylar foil wrapping paper. Tie a bow around them with gold ribbon. With two-sided tape, attach them to the upper left-hand corner of placemats.

4. Got the Gelt: In front of each placemat, situate a gold netted sack of Chanukah gelt. Write each guest’s name in gold ink on place cards. Then, with narrow gold ribbon, tie place cards to gelt sacks.

5. Twinkling Fantasy: Flood the center of the table with as many blue votive candleholders as you can find in every size and shape. Fill them with candles and light just before guests arrive.

6. Gaming Table: Scatter around dreidels in varying sizes and shapes, ones made from silver, gold, porcelain, plastic, wood — and anything blue. Antique dreidels are particularly decorative.

7. Blue Plate Special: Set the table with blue dishes, preferably ones that mix and match. Place a salad plate of one pattern over a dinner plate of another. Wal-Mart sells glass blue plates for $1.25 each.

8. Color Wave Silverware: Set the table with gold-plated flatware or stainless steel with blue plastic handles.

9. Crystal Collection: Buy glasses and wine goblets with blue striations or purchase glassware with a blue tint, found at stores such as Crate and Barrel.

10. Clear Water: Buy mineral water in blue bottles.

11. Fruit of the Vine: Buy wine in blue bottles.

12. Congratulations: You’ve created a show-stopping setting! Photograph your table for inspiration when planning your next holiday meal.

 

Maccabee Meaning Changes With Time


 

The oldest tradition of Chanukah is that it celebrates many stories: freedom from religious oppression, Jews fighting back against their oppressors and the communal struggle about what it means to be and live as a Jew. It is the story of unexpected fuel found in unexpected places, providing light to an entire nation — and it is the story of miracles and redemption in moments of darkness and despair.

These stories have been told in many languages: Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Yiddish and English. They’ve been told by every kind of Jew, and even by non-Jews, from almost every nation on the face of the earth. They are tales of a people on a journey looking for ways to confront the challenges that lay before them, and celebrating the victories they experience along the way.

However, in American Jewish life, Chanukah is often described as the story of the Jewish fight against assimilation. Judah Maccabee and his forces arose to defeat their Hellenistic persecutors. The underlying premise of this telling is the presumption of a pure Judaism struggling against external influences that would pollute it. Like most stories about the fight against assimilation, there is a false dichotomy in this retelling between Judaism and the larger world. The complexity and nuance that have defined Jewish life in every age are removed from the story.

Ironically, the Chanukah story, with its many tellings, preserves those nuances better than almost any other holiday in Jewish tradition. It celebrates a variety of ways to be Jewish — ways which have changed through the generations, the challenges and the times.

Whether in ancient times after the destruction of the Temple, when God felt very far away and the rabbis told the story to help bring God back or in more recent history, when early Zionists told the story in ways that emboldened them to return to the Land of Israel, our tellings of the Chanukah story have invited new interpretations, questions and meanings, each helping a generation of Jews rise to the challenge of its moment in history. In fact, the richness of Jewish tradition is its remarkable capacity to embody many forms of Jewish expression. Failing to recognize this on Chanukah would be truly absurd.

On a holiday that reminds us, among many things, of the danger of idolatry, we dare not turn Jewish identity into an idol. Anything can be an idol, including the definition of what it means to be Jewish. Idolatry is what happens whenever we falsely make absolute what is by definition infinite. In telling of the fight against idolatry, we must be careful not to turn our own tradition into an idol — presuming a static definition of what it means to be Jewish and how to contribute to the future of the Jewish people.

While no one can say what Jewish life will look like in the future, we need to continue the oldest tradition of Chanukah by inviting people to enter the process of creating that future. After 2,000 years of playing dreidel, a game of chance that epitomizes the precariousness of Jewish life, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to play a new kind of game — one that reflects the blessings, challenges, and possibilities of this moment in American Jewish life.

Contrary to much in Jewish life, this is a game that everyone can play and win. Here is how it works:

Answer these questions by telling your own story, based on your own experience. For each question, try to find an answer that describes something you think of as typically Jewish, and a second that describes something you don’t think of as typically Jewish. There are no wrong or right answers.

\n

• Which foods or meals evoke Jewish associations for you?

\n

• In what places have you been where you felt particularly Jewish?

\n

• On what occasions did you feel very Jewish?

\n

• Who is a “real Jewish hero” for you? (That person doesn’t have to be a Jew.)

\n

• What makes your relationships Jewish?

\n

• Bonus question: Is there something important in your life that you really wish was a part of what you usually think of as being Jewish?

To score, give yourself one point for each question for which you can give at least one answer. Since each question can be answered for both expected and unexpected circumstances, the maximum score for the five questions is 10. Adding the bonus question for three points, the maximum score is 13.

Actually, forget the points. What counts is not numbers, but being in the game. If you play, you win. The only way to lose this game is not to play at all.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the vice president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

 

Perfect Gadgets for Jetsetter, Homebody


When it comes Chanukah, you’ve got eight nights to get your gift giving right. Our Gift Guide points you toward a cornucopia of categories for every evening of the Festival of Lights. From low- to high-ticket pricing, we’ve got your loved ones covered, including frequent fliers, adventurers, techies and homebodies of all ages. Last-minute shoppers never fear. With online and phone-in orders, you won’t have to battle holiday traffic.

Bon Voyage

Breathe right with the ionic 1.5 oz. Ultra-Mini Air Supply ($125). Bless your car with a compact version of “Baruch HaCar” ($20), the traveler’s prayer. Surprise your favorite road warrior with a collapsible flashing orange Pack-A-Cone ($25). And supply travelers with Eagle Creek’s astonishing Pack-It Compressors, Two-Sided Cube and other well-priced, smart ideas, such as the Flat Pack Organizer, Jewelry CarryAll and waterproof Splash Caddy ($10 and up). Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943.

Streamline laptop travel with an action-packed lightweight Vertical Computer bag ($85). Awesome convertibility, with a removable computer sleeve for quick getaways. REI.com, (800) 426-4840.

Retrieve luggage with the Victorinox’s astonishing Global Track I.D. Tag ($15). You lose it, they send it back — gratis. SonomaOutfitters.com, (800) 290-1920.

Lux

Cuddle up with a scrumptious F horseshoe head pillow ($25), Brookstone.com, (866) 576-7337.

Eshave’s rich shaving creams, in floral for her and cucumber for him, complement a his/her kit with pink and blue Lucite-handle razors ($195). The picture is complete with a T-shaped chrome stand. Plumparty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Top-of-the-line, foldable “noise canceling” stereo headphones are pricey. Save with NoiseBuster ($69) from Pro Tech Communications.com. Amazon.com (free shipping).

Brew full-bodied gourmet coffee or tea anywhere in the unbreakable, portable Bonjour French Press Carafe ($15). Add romance with a totally flat, packable plastic WonderVase (three for $15) that you mold under warm water. Or create ambiance with a flickering, battery-operated CandleSafe made of real wax ($25). Magellan’s.

Oprah loves a shimmery lime and powder blue silk throw ($100). Will you? PlumParty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Washable suede shirts, sweater jackets and “cashnear” knits are equally yummy ($89 and up). Travelsmith.com.

Techno

Save money and the planet with a Dual-Voltage Battery Recharger ($35). Complete with four AA NiMH batteries, this practical gift runs on both 110 or 220 volt current. Magellan’s.

Shape up with a digital pedometer ($30), loaded with a panic alarm and calorie counter. Or tune in with Orion’s AudioView AM/FM radio binoculars ($90). Travelsmith.

Navigate 20 reversible routes with a wrist-mounted GPS receiver/personal navigator from Garmin Foretrex ($130 to $170). In under three ounces, compute speed, track trips and calculate distances, all while telling time. REI.

Countdown

The flip-top, analog Dakota Mini Travel Clock ($35), features sleek stainless steel in a charming wooden box. Or keep time here and in Israel with easy-to-set dual-time tank style watches ($79 each) for him and her. Magellan’s.

Wake up to shortwave with Grundig’s ultra-compact Mini Radio ($40). Draws in seven bands of shortwave signals, plus AM, FM. With a digital clock, sleep timer and earphones, it’s good to go. Or indulge and download news, weather and calendar dates on the Suunto Web Watch ($299). Includes stopwatch, alarm and date. Subscribe to MSN Direct for stock quotes, sport scores and more. Travelsmith.

Call of the Wild

Prepare for all-weather winter adventure with outdoor gear. Add breathable warmth with soft, moisture-wicking Performance Wool separates ($95 and up). Fast drying and machine washable. Bundle up with 650-fill-power goose down jacket ($99) with a water-repellent, breathable finish that resists light moisture. Doubles as a zip-in liner for REI parkas and packs small for the space conscious. And hydrate with the REI Runoff Pack ($60 and up). The women’s version boasts super comfortable shoulder straps for women-specific contouring. REI.

The ultimate camping mat, the self-inflating Therm-A-Rest Dreamtime Sleeping Pad ($199) includes a cushy pillow top and washable fleece cover. Campmor.com, (800) 525-4784.

His

The classic calfskin Taxi Wallet ($49) or the Cash InCase key ring ($20) stash cash for all occasions. Magellan’s.

Gift gentlemen with the English Butler Shoe Shine kit ($80), includes a distinctive leather case. Delight amateur astronomers with the Night Navigator digital electronic compass ($99). And help Zayde fight off chills and spills with a stylish “Teflon” Stain-Free Cardigan ($99). Travelsmith.

The Gerber Nautilus Flashlight Tool ($69) packs a four-mode LED light with Fiskars scissors, a fine-blade knife, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, with a bottle opener. REI. Or cut loose with Leatherman’s “high-wattage” Charger Ti multitool. It boasts interchangeable bits, perks galore and lightweight titanium handles. Cabelas.com, $100.

Hers

Classic equestrian-style boots ($160) combine comfort and fashion. Bornshoes.com. Or prep her for wet weather with a 100 percent waterproof, packable microfiber Balmacaan raincoat ($179), optional lightweight liner ($70) and plenty of rain-worthy boots ($89 and up). Travelsmith.

For the perfect shoulder bag on the road or at home, Hobo’s women-designed, microfiber Essential Traveler ($69) hides travel documents and organizes pens, travel guides and more. Attach a handsome leather phone tote ($25) that doubles as an eyeglass case. Magellan’s.

Wrap her in a cultural souvenir from the Himalayan region of Kashmir. This black merino wool shawl ($89) features colorful hand-embroidered flowers. ShopNationalGeographic.com, (800) 437-5521.

Kids

Wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, hornless rhinos and giant sloths hold court in NatGeo’s Prehistoric Mammals book ($30). Ages 8 and up.

Or explore the “Atlas of the World,” eighth edition ($125). Hard copy purchases include online access to customized maps, satellite imagery and downloadable updates. National Geographic.

Little ones beam in super-bright blue light with a tiny Microbeam flashlight keychain ($20). Brookstone.

A responsible teen ready for a pocketknife? A miniature Jewish version of Victronix’s “Star of David” model ($15) features a bright blue case and white Magen David. SwissArmyExpress.com, (877) 289-2769.

Little Robosapien ($100), a carefree “pet,” combines robot technology with personality. Command Robo with a remote or speech to fetch books and perform 65 other functions. Ages 6 and up. SharperImage.com, (800) 344-5555.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed orfaxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least threeweeks in advance to: calendar@jewishjournal.com.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

NOVEMBER 27/Saturday

SHABBAT

Hebrew Discovery Center: Nov. 26-28. Family Shabbaton with special guest speaker Rabbi Isaac Balaness. $195, $375 (couples). Ventura Beach Marriott, 2055 Harbor Blvd., Ventura Beach. R.S.V.P., (818) 348-4432.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Padua Playwrights: 4:30 p.m. Padua Playwrights presents a workshop production of “Tirade for Three” and “Gary’s Walk,” parts one and two of a trilogy by Murray Mednick. $10. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710, ext. 4.

28/Sunday

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family JCC: Noon-5 p.m. “Diversity of Life: A Photographic Exhibit” by Zion Ozeri. Free. David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla. (858) 362-1348.

EVENTS

Yiddish Alive: 4-7 p.m. A new conversation group in Orange County. All ages and experience levels welcome. Temple Beth Tikvah Fullerton, 1600 N. Acacla, Fullerton. (714) 671-0707.

29/Monday

LECTURES

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel: 7 p.m. Discussion on “‘In God’s Image’ or ‘The Image of God’: a Spiritual Look at Your Brain.” $15 (includes dinner). 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7311.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Workmen’s Circle: 3-5 p.m. Stanley Schwartz presents his “The Peaceable Kingdom” sculpture. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Academy for the Performing Arts at Huntington Beach High School: 7:30 p.m. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” the story of one boy’s journey through the Terezin ghetto on the way to the Auschwitz death camp. $6. Huntington Beach Library Theatre, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach. (714) 536-2514, ext. 4305.

MET Theatre Company: 8 p.m. Opening of “The Merchant of Venice,” the classic play reset in early 20th-century New York. $15, $12 (students and seniors). 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.

EVENTS

Beth Jacob (teens): 9 a.m. “NFL” Non-stop Fun and Learning, featuring four big-screen NFL games playing simultaneously. Free. 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911, ext. 120.

OASIS (seniors): 1:30-3 p.m. Yiddish conversation group. All levels welcome. $5 (per trimester). Jewish Family Service, 8838 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-8053.

City of Hope Singers: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Vocal group for singers of all skill levels from all over Los Angeles. Hope Village, Comedy Theatre, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte. (714) 562-0860.

30/Tuesday

LECTURES

Caravan for Democracy: 5 p.m. Natan Sharansky, Israeli minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs addresses students and faculty at UCLA. Free. www.caravanfordemocracy.org. For more information, see page 16.

The Menachem Institute: 7:30 p.m. Rabbi Laibl Wolf discusses “The Art of Jewish Meditation.” ($5 in advance), $7 (at the door). 18181 Burbank Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 758-1818.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Hammer conversation with screenwriter Bill Condon and author T.C. Boyle. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7056.

EVENTS

Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley Jewish Book Festival: 7:30 p.m. Author Kate Wenner discusses “Dancing With Einstein.” La Canada residence. R.S.V.P., (626) 967-3656.

1/Wednesday

LECTURES

Adat Ari El: 12:30-1:30 p.m. Erika Jacoby a Holocaust survivor discusses her new book, “I Held the Sun in My Hands – a Memoir.” $3. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

StandWithUs: 7 p.m. Lecture by Khaled Abu Toameh, award-winning Palestinian journalist. $10 (in advance), $15 (at the door). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 836-6140.

Jewish Book Month: 7:30 p.m. Author Ruth Ellen Gruber speaks about her latest book, “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.” Alpert JCC, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 985-7585.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Hammer Museum: 7 p.m. Some Favorite Writers presents Jonathan Franzen. Free. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 7 p.m. (beginners), 8 p.m. (regular class), 9:15 p.m. -midnight (open dancing). David Dassa leads Israeli dancing. $7. Irmas Campus, 2112 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. ddassa@att.net.

OPEN HOUSES

Valley Beth Shalom Day School: 9:15 a.m. Kindergarten Live. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 530-4072.

EVENTS

Temple Isaiah: 4-7 p.m. Chanukah Bazaar. 332 W. Alejo Rd., Palm Springs. (760) 325-2281.

PROGRAMS

Northridge Hospital Medical Center: 6:30 p.m. The Healing Arts program offers its monthly topic, “Balanced Nutrition for Holiday Eating.” Roscoe Campus, Penthouse Auditorium, 18400 Roscoe Blvd., Northridge. (818) 885-5488.

2/Thursday

LECTURES

Israel Cancer Research Fund: 7 p.m. Dr. Timothy Cloughesy, associate clinical professor, UCLA department of neurology, discusses “Using Molecular Biology to Individualize Brain Cancer Care.” Free. Loews Beverly Hills Hotel. 1224 Beverwil Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-1200.

California Museum of Ancient Art: 7:30 p.m. “Warrior Women of the Bible” with speaker Dr. David Noel Freedman. First in a two-part series, “Women of the Ancient Near East.” $15 (adults), $12 (seniors), free (members). Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Piness Auditorium, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 762-5500.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

L.A. Film School: 8 p.m. Larry Hankin’s “10 Funny Fables Plus 1” with cameos by Janeane Garofolo, Larry Hankin, Jeff Garlin, Jerry Stiller and others. Free. 6363 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (877) 952-3456.

3/Friday

SHABBAT

B’nai Tikvah Congregation: 6:30-7:30 p.m. A musical family shabbat. Services and potluck dinner. Free. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 645-6262.

Nashuva: 6:45 p.m. Nashuva community service-oriented Kabbalat Shabbat.

Westwood Hills Congregational Church, 1989 Westwood Blvd, Westwood. www.nashuva.com.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

CSUN Arts Council: 7-9 p.m. Eighth annual high school art invitational opening reception. Thirty-nine Valley high schools and more than 200 students are participating in the show. Main Gallery, N. University Drive, Northridge. (818) 677-2226.

Camelot Artists Productions: 8 p.m. David Steen’s “A Gift From Heaven” is the story of an Appalachian family’s demise. $28 (general), $20 (students). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 358-9936.

Vanguard Theatre Ensemble: 8 p.m. Opening night gala of the holiday play “Greetings.” Champagne reception immediately follows the show. $23. 120-A W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton. (714) 526-8007.

Imaginary Friends Music Partners: 9 p.m.-midnight. Jazz pianist George Kahn and the George Kahn Quartet play songs from their newest release “Compared to What?” Featuring Andy Suzuki, Karl Vincent and Paul Kreibech. $10 cover, plus minimum. Lunaria Jazz Club, 10352 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City. (310) 282-8870.

EVENTS

Chai Center: Dec. 3-5. Desert Hot Springs Retreat. Hot springs mineral baths, women speakers and teachers, gourmet healthy food, stress reduction, massage and informal classes. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-6691.

UPCOMING

Sat., Dec. 11

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

MnR Dance Factory: Creative drama workshops for children with Chicago actress/writer Lisa Diana Shapiro. Free. 11606 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 826-4554.

Sun., Dec. 12

PROGRAMS

ATID (21-39): Dec. 12, 4 p.m. “Adventures in Judaism II” for young professionals ages 21-39, an afternoon of workshops, latkes, cocktails, “ultimate dreidel” and a Middle Eastern buffet. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.

Dec. 30-Jan. 2

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: Winter Rikud in Malibu. Israeli dancing weekend. From $175. www.rikud.com.

Feb. 17-21.

PROGRAMS

Jewish Student Union: Applications now available online for the annual JSU New York experience trip. www.jsu.org.

SINGLES

27/Saturday

Conversations at Leon’s: 7:30 p.m. Post-Thanksgiving mixer. $15-$20. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s): 8 p.m. “Not-So-Speedy Meeting” and game night in conjunction with Temple Ner Maarav. $9. 17730 Magnolia Blvd, Encino. R.S.V.P. by Nov. 26, (818) 750-0095.

28/Sunday

Jewish Singles Volleyball: 3 p.m. Volleyball and post-game no-host dinner. Free. Playa del Rey Beach court No. 11 at the end of Culver Boulevard, Playa del Rey. (310) 278-9812.

JDate: 7 p.m. (reception), 7:30 p.m. (concert). Performance by Israeli recording artist Noa. $45 (online only). Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. www.jdate.com.

New Age Singles (55+): 7 p.m. “Starlight Ballroom Dance” with music by Johnny Vana Trio. $10-$12. University Synagogue 11960 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 473-1391.

29/Monday

Nexus (20s and 30s): 7:30 p.m. (beginners), 8:15 p.m. (intermediate), 9-10 p.m. (open dance). Israeli dancing lessons and open dance. $5 (members), $6 (nonmembers). Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. www.jewishnexus.org.

Project Next Step: 8 p.m. “Coffee Talk” with coffee and pastries. $7. 9911 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 284-3638.

30/Tuesday

L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: 6-9 p.m. Dinner at Marmalade Cafe. The Grove, Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Therapist Maxine Gellar leads a discussion about “My Most Embarrassing Moment.” $10. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

The New JCC at Milken: 8-11 p.m. James Zimmer leads Israeli folk dancing. $5-$6. Salsa, swing and tango lessons for an additional $3 (7-8 p.m.). 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (310) 284-3638.

1/Wednesday

Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball followed by no-host dinner. End of Culver Boulevard, near court No. 15, Playa del Rey. www.jewishnexus.org.

2/Thursday

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Date or Mate, What Are You Looking For?” $15-$17. 639 226th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P. (310) 393-4616.

J Networking: 7:30 p.m. The new Jewish networking group meets in the West San Fernando Valley. R.S.V.P. by Nov. 26, (818) 342-2898.

Mosaic: Dec. 2-5. Trip to Kartchner Caverns, Ariz. info@mosaicla.org.

3/Friday

Brandeis-Bardin/Makor Jewish Learning Circle: Dec. 3-5. Partnership weekend with the theme “The Search for Roots and Wings: Commitment and Creativity” with Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin. $130 (singles), $240 (couples). Simi Valley. (805) 582-4450.

New Age Singles: 6 p.m. No-host dinner at Nibbler’s in Beverly Hills followed by Creative Arts Shabbat Service at Temple Beth Am. 1039 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 838-7459.

Singles Toward Marriage (30-39): 6:30 p.m. Monthly Shabbat dinner with group discussions led by Rabbi Shlomo and Tovi Bistritzky. 5998 Conifer St., Oak Park. R.S.V.P., (818) 993-0441.

upcoming

Sat., Dec. 11

Sephardic Singles Havurah (40s-60s): 7 p.m. Chanukah celebration and potluck dinner with candlelighting, prayers, songs and dancing. $5. R.S.V.P., (323) 294-6084.

Jan. 21-23

J-Ski (20s-40s): Mammoth Ski Trip. $185. Also, March 2-6, Whistler Ski Trip. $759. JskiLa@aol.com.

Keren’s Corner

Le Nouvel Anti-Semitism

What’s new in French anti-Semitism? Head downtown Thursday, Dec. 2 to find out as ALOUD at Central Library presents Michael Curtis, who will discuss “Anti-Semitism in France: Past and Present.” The author of numerous books on the history of France and anti-Semitism will discuss the relationship between historic traditional anti-Semitism in France and its current manifestations, including new factors like the extreme political left and Muslim

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."

Commercial Success


At Universal Studios, all the usual characters — Spider-Man
and the Rugrats — were out in force on Sunday, Nov. 24. But they weren’t just
there for photo ops with children, instead they were lighting menorahs,
spinning dreidels and eating the world’s biggest latke at the Chanukah
celebration in Universal City.

“We thought that Chanukah was one of the best Jewish
holidays that lent itself to the fun family entertainment, and so we worked
with a consultant and spoke with a number of rabbis from a variety of groups to
create this event,” said Brian Pope, Universal vice president of marketing
services, who said he hopes that the event — attended by Los Angeles Mayor
James Hahn, the Dodgers’ Shawn Green, and actor Justin Burfield from “Malcolm
in the Middle,” — will become an annual one.

That Chanukah has gotten its own event at Universal Studios
shows how far it has come: The little-known Jewish holiday –which once had to
fight for display space next to Santa — is now a major event on its own, even
when it comes a month before Christmas.

From movies to malls, from sitcoms to shopping, Chanukah has
gone mainstream; and while some see it as a sign of the resurgence of Jewish
identity and the acceptance of Jews in American society, others wonder if the
holiday’s success has come at the expense of its spirituality.

This Chanukah, if you head down to your local multiplex you
can see Adam Sandler belching his way through “Eight Crazy Nights,” an animated
Chanukah comedy (see story, page 10).

On television, Chabad’s “Chanukah, the Miniseries,” will be
broadcast on KCAL-TV each night at menorah-lighting time (between 4:15 and 4:30 p.m.). Two Chanukah shows will be presented on KCET-TV: a special Chanukah
episode of “Alef…Bet…Blastoff,” followed by “A Taste of Chanukah.” They
will be shown on Dec. 1 starting at 8:30 a.m.

You might also see Chanukah pop up on some sitcoms. Last
season on “Friends,” for example, an episode had Ross trying to teach his son,
Ben, about Chanukah. For children, Disney has a Chanukah book out, “Winnie the
Pooh and the Hanukkah Dreidel,” and there is “A Rugrats Chanukah” video.

Reminders of Chanukah abound: Every Ralphs supermarket will
display a large menorah, courtesy of Chabad, and most banks will put a small
plastic menorah in their windows. Chabad is also sponsoring a number of public
menorah ceremonies, such as the lighting of a 35-foot menorah in Beverly Hills Gardens,
the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and at the Nixon Library in Yorba
Linda.

For shoppers there is an abundance of Chanukah items.
Hallmark offers 119 different Chanukah cards. Online flower sellers, such as
proflowers.com or 1800-Flowers, offer Chanukah bouquets for $39.99 and gift
baskets, complete with dreidl cookies, for $69.99. For those who have the urge to
splurge for Chanukah, Neiman Marcus has a $4,000 Steuben crystal menorah with
silver-plated candle cups.

The proliferation of Chanukah products has led retailers to
focus less on the fact that the holidays are solely about Christmas. “I have
noticed over time that it has gone from being the Christmas season to holiday
season,” said Tom Holiday, president of the Retail Advertising and Marketing
Association, a division of the National Retail Federation, which represents 100
trade organizations. “In retail, there is always a conscious effort to be aware
of the dates of Jewish holidays, but I see a more ecumenical approach in
general.”

All of this has taken Chanukah out of the Talmud and into
the mainstream.

Jews started celebrating Chanukah 2,000 years ago, when a
small band of Jewish fighters led by Judah Maccabee emerged victorious in their
battle with the Hellenists, who, led by King Antiochus, wanted to sway the Jews
away from God and turn them into idol-worshipping hedonists.

After the battle, the Jews found their Temple desecrated,
with only one vial of pure olive oil remaining, enough to light the menorah — a
daily ritual in the Temple — for one day. A miracle occurred when the oil
lasted eight days, which provided enough time for new oil to be pressed.

Since then, every year beginning on the 25th of the Hebrew
month of Kislev, Jews have been commemorating the occasion by making a blessing
and lighting a menorah for eight nights and by eating foods that are cooked in
oil, such as latkes.

Today, while many people don’t know the details of the
correct way to light the menorah (halacha dictates that the candles/oil must be
the same height and lit from right to left, using a shamash servant candle, and
that the lights must burn for at least half an hour), thanks to the the
ubiquity of its symbols, Chanukah has become a significant holidays on the
Jewish calendar, and one that Jews can easily identify with.

The fact that Chanukah usually occurs around Christmastime —
although this year it coincides with Thanksgiving — means that Jews don’t have
to co-opt another religion’s holiday as an excuse to give each other gifts
(although traditionally gelt — money — is given on Chanukah), and they don’t
have to feel left out during the holiday season.

Chanukah is not the only Jewish holiday or practice that has
over time accreted aspects of the larger culture.

“Jewish tradition has generally been responsive to the
various cultures that Jews live; that adds up to the idea of minhag (custom)
that varies from locale to locale,” said UCLA professor David N. Myers, who
teaches Jewish history. “[Jewish] language, culinary habits, dress norms all
change according to the different environments that they find themselves [in].”

“In the modern period,” Myers said, “the forces of
acculturation are very powerful, and one of the reasons Chanukah has been so
malleable is because it is not a major festival, and therefore the ritual
stakes not as high when you modify its meaning or significance.”

Rabbi Alan Flom of Burbank Temple Emmanuel said, “Most
rabbis think that Chanukah is a very minor holiday, but in our culture we have had
to make it a bigger holiday to compete in the marketplace. If we didn’t, I
think that Christmas would be so overwhelming, it would be even more difficult
to keep our people Jewish in this kind of an environment.”

However, many see the mainstreaming of Chanukah not as a de
facto response to Christmas but as a positive resurgence of Jewish identity.
“Chanukah has become front and center in Jewish life, and it’s a way for a lot
of people to discover a bridge to their heritage,” said Rabbi David Eliezrie of
Chabad of Orange County. “The subjective message in the mainstreaming of
Chanukah is that its OK to be Jewish, and I think that’s good.”

Others think that having Chanukah symbols everywhere
actually does have a religious significance, and not just a Jewish feel-good
one. “The Talmud says that one of the key ways to observe Chanukah is through
pirsumei nissah, publicizing the miracle,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, public
relations director for Chabad-Lubavitch on the West Coast. “That means lighting
the menorah, spreading the beautiful message of Chanukah. And thank God, you
can open your newspaper now and find that everyone is helping to publicize this
beautiful miracle.”

However, others believe that Chanukah has become a kind of
Jewish Christmas — a holiday whose religious significance has been almost
overshadowed by its commercial possibilities and universal appeal.

“The commercialization of Chanukah is particularly tragic,”
said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step of the Simon
Wiesenthal Center. “Commercializing Chanukah is a contradiction of its very
essence. If you take Jesus out of Christmas, you have a holiday where people
are nice to each other, feel upbeat. Although it’s missing the point, it is not
a violation of what Christmas is.

“Commercializing Chanukah is the opposite of the point.
Chanukah is not a liberation story — [under Antiochus] the Jews could have
lived in their country as free people without any other problem, other than
being asked to renounce their faith. The story of Chanukah is not one of being
asked to throw off the yoke of a foreign oppressor, but it is the issue of the
spiritual prevailing over the might of the decidedly unspiritual.”

“Chanukah is the story of the spark of Judaism striving to
be united with its God and its Torah and its mitzvot,” Alderstein added. “It is
not a substitute for the gift-giving of prevailing culture. Chanukah is about
the resistance of Jews to the prevailing culture of modernity and aesthetic
beauty.”

Claudia Wolf, an educator and program director for the
Shalom Nature Center in Malibu, holds a similar view. “It is bad that Jews feel
like they have to compensate by becoming almost like Christians,” she said.
“One student at my program told me that she was going home for Thanksgiving/Chanukah,
and her mother told her that she was not going to get any gifts until
Christmas, because that is really the gift-giving season.”

Rabbi Shlomo Holland, the director of development at Los
Angeles Kollel, agreed. “When we portray Chanukah in a superficial, shallow and
trivial way, in a sense we are ingraining in ourselves a new version of
Chanukah that was never meant to be, and we celebrate a holiday that is not the
essence of that holiday,” Holland explained.

“When we commercialize it, we don’t portray that, we just
portray a cute holiday where we light the menorah,” he continued. “Which, in
the eyes of the world, is not too different than a cute holiday where you light
up a tree-and you give presents here, and you give presents there, and rather than
looking for the obvious difference, one is looking for the similarities and the
sameness.”

Holland said that the essence of Chanukah is the message of
the light of Torah. “That light could break through what appeared to be the
wisdom of the Greek Hellenists, but was truly the darkness of illusion,” he
said. “The only thing that shines so powerful a light, that shows you what is
real, and what isn’t real, is the light of the Torah. If anything, that is
really the essence of Chanukah.”

Your Letters


Fuel for the Fire

Nothing is more frustrating than seeing another United Against Terror bumper sticker, bedecked with the American and Israeli flags, stuck on the back of a mammoth SUV (“Fuel for the Fire,” Nov. 22.) Stand by the gates of many a shul in Los Angeles on a Saturday morning and the column of SUVs filing out looks like a military operation. The publication of this critically important story in The Jewish Journal was long overdue.

Of course, a car is a necessity in Los Angeles, but aside from the enormous environmental consequences of automobile use, Jews, in particular, must be mindful of the fact that every time we fill up at the pump, we are sending money to governments that fund terrorist groups bent on the destruction of Israel.

Steffen Turoff, Los Angeles

When I read Rob Eshman’s article,”Fuel for the Fire,” Ilooked closely for the use of federal subsidies given to fossil-fuel producers,to be directed toward renewable energy production. I found nothing.

There is no question that upping automobile miles per gallon is the fastest way to reduce gas consumption. But getting the fossil-fuel producers into windmills or solar cells could be the basis to provide a long-term solution to producing energy when the oil and gas resources run out — and they will.

Using windmills, which are economically competitive now, is a way to make money, reduce our reliance on Middle East oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Amory Lovins probably doesn’t care to take on the fossil-fuel lobbyists to get the Congress to force the fossil-fuel companies to use part of their subsidies for funding renewable energy production.

If we were able to get those producers to fund renewables, it would be a win-win deal.

Masse Bloomfield, Canoga Park

Eight Crazy Nights

I took my family to see Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights.” This is not a Chanukah movie. I left the theater embarrassed, disgusted and disappointed. Those feelings were exacerbated when I received my Journal. I’m not sure that The Journal, and especially Naomi Pfefferman, saw the same movie I did (“‘Crazy’ for Chanukah,” Nov. 29).

There was no valuable Chanukah lesson in the entire movie, and there was no telling of the Chanukah story in any form as the title implies.

To write “some people were offended by the juxtaposition of Yiddishkayt and toilet humor” is an understatement, as well as an incredible diluted sense of what Yiddishkayt is. I did enjoy the third rendition of the “Chanukah Song,” but it was performed during the credits, as if Sandler knew that the movie had nothing to do with Chanukah.

I am embarrassed that the non-Jewish community thinks that this movie is anything remotely associated with Chanukah. I am embarrassed that The Journal put Sandler on the front cover and dedicated a full page to his movie. I intend to encourage my congregation not to see the movie. I am sorry I took my family.

Won’t someone produce a Chanukah cartoon or movie with the uplifting and powerful messages of Chanukah. Everyone, every day, at any age, has Maccabean moments.

Rabbi Jim Kaufman, Temple Beth Hillel North Hollywood

Potential Suicide Bomber

I take serious offense to many of Uri Avnery’s statements (“The Making of a Potential Suicide Bomber,” Nov. 29). As a paratrooper in the 101st from November 1994 through February 1997, who spent a total of nine months in Hebron, I can say that there are few soldiers — and none in my experience — that “do repulsive things” with the approval of their commanding officers or without (and contrary to Avnery’s opinion, those few do receive punishment).

Every soldier that I came in contact with, from many different units, showed the utmost professionalism and compassion. Some of my chevre (comrades) are still serving, and I hear it has not changed.

Why doesn’t Avnery take note of what happens to the nice Palestinian boys and girls who become “order-fulfilling robots” and “do repulsive things?”

Nate White, Los Angeles

While condemning suicide bombings, Uri Avnery thenexplains that the “rage” experienced by the Palestinians, because of thebrutality of the Israelis, is understandable, and understanding that can help us”cope.”

In other words, their heinous acts of murdering children in cold blood are “understandable.” And he has a solution — cease the “occupation.”

Never mind that the PLO was formed in 1964, three years before the “occupation” in 1967. Avnery continues to display selective memory loss by ignoring the Clinton/Barak offer, which would have removed the remaining “occupation.” So is it really the “occupation?” Or is it something more fundamental?

Jack Salem, Los Angeles

Listening to Needs

I appreciated Wendy Madnick’s article (“Listening to Needs,” Nov. 29), on the Jewish deaf. However, the article stated that Our Way NCSY is aimed at observant Jews. Our Way, like its sister organization, NCSY, is designed to provide outreach to the nonreligious, in this case, the Jewish deaf.

Through its programs, Our Way helps deaf Jews learn about their heritage, as well as providing services like the deaf Jewish singles registry that helps to combat the high rate of intermarriage in the deaf community.

Anyone desiring additional information can reach us at OurWayLA@juno.com.

Lori Moore. Director Our Way Los Angeles

One Community, Many Voices

To all my friends who hold a stake in the Jewish community: I assure you, I do hold dear to my heart all the same values you so eloquently shared with us on the back cover of The Jewish Journal (full-page ad, Nov. 22).

Only two small items defied my comprehension.

1. We, as a Jewish community, have had an open debate on the ongoing conflict since before I was born. The only side that is closed to debate and stands as a united front in its efforts to destroy Israel is the Arab world and its supporters in the West.

2. Your assumption that the State of Israel is strong enough to withstand all the onslaught of terror and world pressure is optimistic. We are only people, we hurt when we are beaten, we bleed when injured and we fight when our back is against the wall.

That is why we are called to support them in these hard times, even if we do not believe in every decision made by the government they elect. Please ask all that oppose us to have the same open mind that we share.

E. Teitler , Sherman Oaks

I object to much in “One Community, Many Voices.” Forexample, “Our blood is no redder than theirs….” This statement suggests thatpeople support Israel for racist reasons. I know no one in Los Angeles likethat. Could this be an attempt to deflect criticism of the signatories’position?

Apparently, to their mind, “occupation” is the problem. They ignore that Israel offered the Palestinians a state with 97 percent of the “occupied” lands returned to them. The offer was rejected, and the Palestinians left the negotiating table. To the Palestinians, “occupation” means all of Israel.

The statement also suggests that the two sides of the conflict are equal. Our blood may be equal, but there is no equality in action between blowing up a mother with her children and fighting hand to hand combat with terrorists.

The final irony lies in the Palestinians’ refusal to accept blood plasma from Israelis because it was Jewish.

I don’t accuse the signatories of being anti-Semitic. I accuse them of being wrong. Israel and world Jewry are being attacked on many fronts. It’s time for our many voices to work together.

Robert Bonem, Los Angeles

A Stamp of Approval

Michael Aushenker (“A Stamp of Approval,” Nov. 22) missed an important piece of local history connected to the Chanukah stamp. The stamp was issued at Kadima Hebrew Academy in 1996 in response to an extensive letter-writing campaign regarding this matter. The letter-writing campaign was set in the Chanukah context of teaching students about the democratic process.

Dr. Barbara Gereboff, Head of School Kadima Hebrew Academy Woodland Hills

Jewish Book Festival

On behalf of the Jewish Federation serving the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, I would like to thank The Jewish Journal for its extensive coverage of our community’s fourth annual Jewish Book Festival (“Turning a New Page,” Nov. 8).

A success since its inception, our celebration of Jewish Book Month has grown each year, featuring increasingly more author events and garnering more sponsors, as well as more Book Festival committee members.

From the beginning, we have worked in partnership with the Jewish Book Council. In its early stages, our staff consulted with and sought out resources from the JCCA (Jewish Book Month coordinator Seville Porsch) and the Jewish Community Library (Abigail Yasgur, librarian).

As always, we welcome all members of the Los Angeles Jewish community to attend our Book Festival events.

Alan Whitman, President Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys

Corrections

In “Take It to the Church” (Nov. 29), the quote, “I know that it’s going to be the most unusual eighth night of Chanukah I’ve ever seen,” should have been attributed to Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts.

A Holiday Hits the Big Time


At Universal Studios, all the usual characters — Spider-Man and the Rugrats — were out in force on Sunday, Nov. 24. But they weren’t just there for photo ops with children. Instead, they were lighting menorahs, spinning dreidels and eating the world’s biggest latke at the Chanukah celebration in Universal City.

Joining them were Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Justin Burfield of "Malcolm in the Middle," the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shawn Green and Remedy of the Wu-Tang Clan, who performed "Chanukah Rap."

"We were looking for a way to bring Hollywood magic and star power to Chanukah," said Brian Pope, Universal vice president of marketing services, who said he hopes that the event will become an annual one.

"We thought that Chanukah was one of the best Jewish holidays that lent itself to the fun family entertainment, and so we worked with a consultant and spoke with a number of rabbis from a variety of groups to create this event," he said.

Pope noted that Universal Studios is the first major theme park to put on a Chanukah event.

That Chanukah has gotten its own event at Universal Studios shows how far it has come: The little-known Jewish holiday — which once had to fight for display space next to Santa — is now a major event on its own, even when it comes a month before Christmas.

From movies to malls, from sitcoms to shopping, Chanukah has gone mainstream; and while some see it as a sign of the resurgence of Jewish identity and the acceptance of Jews in American society, others wonder if the holiday’s success has come at the expense of its spirituality.

This Chanukah, if you head down to your local multiplex you can see Adam Sandler belching his way through "Eight Crazy Nights," an animated Chanukah comedy (see story, page 37). If you turn on the radio, you might hear Sandler singing, "Put on your yarmulke/It’s time for Chanukah," or Tom Lehrer crooning about "spending Chanukah in Santa Monica."

On television, Chabad’s "Chanukah, the Miniseries," will be broadcast on KCAL-TV each night at menorah-lighting time (between 4:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.). Two Chanukah shows will be presented on KCET-TV: a special Chanukah episode of "Alef…Bet…Blastoff," followed by "A Taste of Chanukah." They will be shown on Dec. 1 starting at 8:30 a.m.

You might also see Chanukah pop up on some sitcoms. Last season on "Friends," for example, an episode had Ross trying to teach his son, Ben, about Chanukah. "Saturday Night Live" featured a character, Chanukah Harry, who dressed in a blue-and-white Santa Claus suit and had a black beard instead of a white one.

For children, Disney has a Chanukah book out, "Winnie the Pooh and the Hanukkah Dreidel," and there is "A Rugrats Chanukah" video.

There are other reminders of Chanukah. Every Ralphs supermarket will display a large menorah, courtesy of Chabad, and most banks will put a small plastic menorah in their windows. Chabad is also sponsoring a number of public menorah ceremonies, such as the lighting of a 35-foot menorah in Beverly Hills Gardens, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

For shoppers there is an abundance of Chanukah items. Hallmark offers 119 different Chanukah cards. Online flower sellers, such as proflowers.com or 1800-Flowers.com, offer Chanukah bouquets for $39.99 and gift baskets, complete with dreidel cookies, for $69.99.

Godiva sells a $23 Chanukah Ballotin box of chocolates. Kmart has a 20-piece Hanukkah Lights dinnerware set for $19.99 and Avon sells a $14.99 Festival of Lights Bear that lights an accompanying menorah when its paw is pressed.

For those who have the urge to splurge for Chanukah, Neiman Marcus has a $4,000 Steuben crystal menorah with silver-plated candle cups.

The proliferation of Chanukah products has led retailers to focus less on the fact that the holidays are solely about Christmas. "I have noticed over time that it has gone from being the Christmas season to holiday season," said Tom Holiday, president of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of the National Retail Federation, which represents 100 trade organizations. "In retail, there is always a conscious effort to be aware of the dates of Jewish holidays, but I see a more ecumenical approach in general."

All of this has taken Chanukah out of the Talmud and into the mainstream. Jews started celebrating Chanukah 2,000 years ago, when a small band of Jewish fighters led by Judah Maccabee emerged victorious in their battle with the Hellenists, who, led by King Antiochus, wanted to sway the Jews away from God and turn them into idol-worshipping hedonists.

After the battle, the Jews found their Temple desecrated, and only one vial of pure olive oil remained, enough to light the menorah — a daily ritual in the Temple — for one day. A miracle occurred when the oil lasted eight days, which provided enough time for new oil to be pressed.

Since then, every year beginning on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, Jews have been commemorating the occasion by making a blessing and lighting a menorah for eight nights and by eating foods that are cooked in oil, such as latkes.

Today,while many people don’t know the details of the correct way to light the menorah (halacha dictates that the candles/oil must be the same height and lit from right to left, using a shamash servant candle, and that the lights must burn for at least half an hour), thanks to the the ubiquity of its symbols, Chanukah is a significant holiday on the Jewish calendar, and one that Jews can easily identify with.

The fact that Chanukah usually occurs around Christmastime — although this year it coincides with Thanksgiving — means that Jews don’t have to co-opt another religion’s holiday as an excuse to give each other gifts (although traditionally gelt — money — is given on Chanukah), and they don’t have to feel left out during the holiday season.

Chanukah is not the only Jewish holiday or practice that has over time accreted aspects of the larger culture.

"Jewish tradition has generally been responsive to the various cultures that Jews live; that adds up to the idea of minhag [custom] that varies from locale to locale," said UCLA professor David N. Myers, who teaches Jewish history. "[Jewish] language, culinary habits, dress norms all change according to the different environments [in which] they find themselves."

"In the modern period," Myers said, "the forces of acculturation are very powerful, and one of the reasons Chanukah has been so malleable is because it is not a major festival, and therefore the ritual stakes not as high when you modify its meaning or significance."

Rabbi Alan Flom of Burbank’s Temple Emmanuel said, "Most rabbis think that Chanukah is a very minor holiday, but in our culture we have had to make it a bigger holiday to compete in the marketplace. If we didn’t, I think that Christmas would be so overwhelming, it would be even more difficult to keep our people Jewish in this kind of an environment."

However, many see the mainstreaming of Chanukah not as a de facto response to Christmas but as a positive resurgence of Jewish identity.

"Chanukah has become front and center in Jewish life, and it’s a way for a lot of people to discover a bridge to their heritage," said Rabbi David Eliezrie of Chabad of Orange County. "The subjective message in the mainstreaming of Chanukah is that its OK to be Jewish, and I think that’s good."

Others think that having Chanukah symbols everywhere actually does have a religious significance, and not just a Jewish feel-good one. "The Talmud says that one of the key ways to observe Chanukah is through pirsumei nissah, publicizing the miracle," said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, public relations director for Chabad-Lubavitch on the West Coast. "That means lighting the menorah, spreading the beautiful message of Chanukah. And thank God, you can open your newspaper now and find that everyone is helping to publicize this beautiful miracle."

However, others believe that Chanukah has become a kind of Jewish Christmas — a holiday whose religious significance has been almost overshadowed by its commercial possibilities and universal appeal.

"The commercialization of Chanukah is particularly tragic," said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "Commercializing Chanukah is a contradiction of its very essence. If you take Jesus out of Christmas, you have a holiday where people are nice to each other, feel upbeat. Although it’s missing the point, it is not a violation of what Christmas is.

"Commercializing Chanukah is the opposite of the point. Chanukah is not a liberation story — [under Antiochus] the Jews could have lived in their country as free people without any other problem, other than being asked to renounce their faith. The story of Chanukah is not one of being asked to throw off the yoke of a foreign oppressor, but it is the issue of the spiritual prevailing over the might of the decidedly unspiritual."

"Chanukah is the story of the spark of Judaism striving to be united with its God and its Torah and its mitzvot," Alderstein added. "It is not a substitute for the gift-giving of prevailing culture. Chanukah is about the resistance of Jews to the prevailing culture of modernity and aesthetic beauty."

Claudia Wolf, an educator and program director for the Shalom Nature Center in Malibu holds a similar view. "It is bad that Jews feel like they have to compensate by becoming almost like Christians," she said. "One student at my program told me that she was going home for Thanksgiving/Chanukah, and her mother told her that she was not going to get any gifts until Christmas, because that is really the gift-giving season."

Rabbi Shlomo Holland, the director of development at Los Angeles Kollel, agreed. "When we portray Chanukah in a superficial, shallow and trivial way, in a sense we are ingraining in ourselves a new version of Chanukah that was never meant to be, and we celebrate a holiday that is not the essence of that holiday," Holland explained.

"When we commercialize it, we don’t portray that, we just portray a cute holiday where we light the menorah," he continued. "Which, in the eyes of the world, is not too different than a cute holiday where you light up a tree-and you give presents here, and you give presents there, and rather than looking for the obvious difference, one is looking for the similarities and the sameness."

Holland said that the essence of Chanukah is the message of the light of Torah. "That light could break through what appeared to be the wisdom of the Greek Hellenists, but was truly the darkness of illusion," he said. "The only thing that shines so powerful a light, that shows you what is real, and what isn’t real, is the light of the Torah. If anything, that is really the essence of Chanukah."

Competing With That Other Holiday


"Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights," croons Adam Sandler in that humorous holiday tune, "The Chanukah Song." Sandler speaks for many American Jews in feeling a certain pressure and longing for Chanukah to live up to the glitz and excitement associated with Christmas. In keeping up, many Jews feel it is necessary to give and receive a large assortment of holiday gifts.

In our commercialized culture, communicating the true meaning of Chanukah, acknowledging the hoopla surrounding Christmas and preserving a child’s interest in our own holiday can be a challenge for parents. With these goals in mind, three local rabbis shed some light on the Festival of Lights.

While most Jews know that Chanukah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, many are unaware (or have forgotten) the deeper meaning of this time of the year. Rabbi Elie Stern, outreach director of Westwood Kehilla, explained that Chanukah is a celebration of the Jews’ ability to continue their traditions and not give in to the majority culture.

Stern feels that the influences of our culture have overshadowed this history. "What’s happening in the Western world is a very superficial comparison with Christmas," said the Orthodox rabbi. "Rather than resisting assimilation and highlighting the uniqueness of Judaism, we end up aping the worst of secular culture and bringing it into Chanukah."

To combat this tendency, Stern suggests instilling Jewish pride in children every day of the year, rather than simply reminding them at holiday time. In addition, he feels Jews should stop trying to compete with Christmas. "We’re going in the wrong direction if we feel we have to keep up with the Joneses, but with Chanukah wrapping paper," he said. "It’s a shallow ‘me, too-ism.’ We have our own values, and one is not to be ostentatious and recognize that we’re serving God. It’s God’s miracle, not a one-upmanship."

With these values in mind, Rabbi Sheryl Nosan of Temple Beth Torah, a Reform congregation in Granada Hills, feels that one way to instill these ideas is to monitor family gift-giving traditions. If children expect presents on every single evening of Chanukah, parents can adjust their customs to include donating money to a charity. "Based on the traditional notion of giving gelt, we can build the idea of giving tzedakah at Chanukah time," Nosan said. To keep things light and fun, parents can make a game of choosing the charity. Perhaps each family member can choose a different charity and the family can have a dreidel tournament to determine where the money will go.

Nosan also suggests incorporating different activities into the eight nights to take the focus off of receiving gifts. One night can be "latke night" where the family spends time making potato pancakes together. Another night might include inviting friends over to light the candles in order to share our traditions with others. Parents can find special projects to do with their kids or do something special just for the sake of being together — be it hiking, going to a museum, seeing a play or anything else you can do as a family.

Similarly, Rabbi Tracee Rosen of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino suggests creating actual theme nights throughout Chanukah, including gift night, song night, dreidel night and invite-a-guest night. Rosen suggests parents emphasize that the holiday is a celebration of both giving and receiving. One way to accomplish this is to alternate in the types of activities the family will engage in so that kids will take note of both ends of the spectrum "For example, maybe on the first night, the kids get presents," she said. "Then on the second night you might take used toys to a shelter or toy drive so kids can get a sense of the cyclically of [the holiday traditions]."

Rosen also recommends the book, "A Different Light: The Chanukah Book of Celebration" by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre (Pitspopany Press, 2000), which details innovative gift ideas for Chanukah. Suggestions include designating nights for homemade gifts, edible gifts, low-cost grab-bag gifts and homemade "coupons," where the giver promises to give his time or services (i.e. baby-sitting, cooking dinner, playing a game, etc.) to another. Whether it is gifts, extravagant decorations, carols taking over the radio airwaves or Santa Claus in the department store, the rabbis agree that Chanukah is not a counterpart to Christmas.

"Christmas will always be brighter and gaudier," Stern said. "We have to remember the value of Judaism and the purity of the small little light that endured all the darkness. That is the message of Chanukah."