Chanukah Gift Guide


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song [VIDEO]


A message from Matisyahu from

An enduring miracle


This coming Shabbat, together with Jewish communities around the world, we will celebrate the joyous festival of Chanukah. Most of us are quite familiar with the story of Chanukah and the miracle that our tradition recalls.

We learned as children that when the Maccabees rededicated our ancient Temple in Jerusalem, they found enough oil to light the menorah for only a single day. God’s miracle, we learned, was that the oil that should have lasted but one day lasted, rather, for eight days.

The rabbinic sages, explaining the ritual lighting of Chanukah, recounted in the Talmudic tractate of Shabbat the miracle noted above. We might wonder whether this miracle actually occurred. And, if it did not occur, we might question whether we should continue to observe the ritual lighting associated with this nonevent.

In order to understand the original and continued significance of the lighting of Chanukah’s flames, we might explore the manner in which we light the chanukiyah — Chanukah’s eight-branched menorah. We can thereby gain a deeper and enduring appreciation of the lighting, one that chronicles a miracle we live today as much as it commemorates a miracle of long ago.

The Talmud instructs us to observe Chanukah’s ritual lighting in accordance with the sage Hillel’s practice. We are to kindle one additional flame for each successive day of the holiday. On the first day, we kindle one flame; on the second, two flames; etc. According to the sage Shammai’s dissenting opinion, we ought eliminate one flame for each successive day of the holiday; on the first day, eight flames; on the second day, seven flames; etc.

At first glance, Shammai’s approach seems compelling: In recounting the miracle of the single jar of oil that lasted eight days, we should acknowledge that, despite our rational conclusion to the contrary, there was in actuality enough oil on the first day of Chanukah to last eight days, on the second day to last seven, and so on. In other words, Shammai suggested that the proper way to recount the miracle is to recall what once occurred from the perspective of one who knows how the story ends.

Still, the Talmud rules in accordance with Hillel. I believe Hillel’s view prevailed because it reflected a belief that the ritual lighting of Chanukah is more than commemorative; it exists very much in the present tense, experientially. Standing outside the miracle, remembering it historically as Shammai did, the focus is simply on how much oil remained each day. However, when we use the ritual to relive the miracle in our present, when we experience each day of it anew, we are not certain that our oil will last yet another moment. We cannot be sure that the lights we revisit from our ancient Jewish past, or even those we strive to preserve and nourish today, will endure. Will the Jewish flame of our era burn forth unto our children and our children’s children? Are we any less at risk of losing our light than the menorah in the Temple was so very long ago? Might it have been the case for the rabbis long ago that the “miracle” of Chanukah was a metaphor for our people’s unlikely but persistent survival and flourishing, against all odds? Is it possible that the miracle that we celebrate in our own era, when kindling our own flames of Chanukah, is the ever-constant miracle of our presence in this world, altogether, as Jews?

The flames of Chanukah, as Hillel had us kindle them by adding one more flame each day, express our enduring faith that our flame of today will grow ever stronger, in our own generation and beyond. The flames we kindle on Chanukah represent our commitment to the work we must do to enhance and clarify the light of our people and the beauty and depth of Jewish meaning and purpose. Ultimately, from within the annual and ongoing miracle of Chanukah, we might even come to recognize that we, ourselves, are the flames; we are the enduring miracle of Chanukah, if we make it so.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid, a Conservative congregation in Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, visit http://www.nertamid.com.

A Fishy Miracle


 

The fish was the ugliest I had ever seen. I actually recoiled as my son proudly pointed him out in the aquarium. He loves fish.

Most boys want a dog or a cat. Fish, it seems, capture my son’s imagination.

“Fish,” he told me, “don’t bark or jump on guests.”

“You can’t pet them or teach them tricks,” I replied.

They look at me sometimes, he claimed, and that was enough.

He brought the ugly fish home on a cold, dark December day. Jet black, just like the winter night, the fish’s eyes were perched on the ends of hideous balls protruding from his unfortunate body. The rest of him looked like a regular black goldfish, but the awful eyes made me cringe. He was quite out of place in the aquarium.

After a few visits to the tank, I began to admire the fish’s moxie. We bonded and I started to call him Bugsy. He glided past the more elegant fish, ones with tiger stripes and brilliant dots of color, with his big baseball eyes held high. He found his way and found his place in the underwater world.

A few days before Chanukah began, my son came to me, expressing concern for Bugsy. It appeared that the black scales around the horribly shaped eyes were coming off. We looked at Bugsy and felt a terrible sadness. We turned away.

My son felt the fish was looking to him for help. He didn’t know what to do. Although I appreciated his concern, I knew that his beloved pet was a $2 fish and could be easily disposed of. He rejected that idea immediately and said he would call the fish supply store for advice.

He got busy with school and work and didn’t consult the store. When the other fish began to nip at Bugsy, he removed the fish from the tank and put in him in a big jar of water.

Bugsy was on deathwatch. We could not know for certain if he suffered, but, nonetheless, we felt his pain.

Darkness descended.

The next day, after his geography final, my son planned to release Bugsy into a fountain in a park to let him die with dignity, but first he promised he would stop at the fish store to see if anything could be done. I said goodbye to Bugsy as my son walked out to his truck, gently cradling the big glass jar in his arms with the fish swimming blissfully in tiny circles.

Less than 30 minutes later, my son returned, holding the big glass jar aloft. Bugsy, it seems, had contracted a virus.

All he had to do was put some pills in the fish tank for a period of time and Bugsy would recover quite nicely.

He showed me the pills, eight in all, in a tiny plastic packet. Eight pills, eight days.

Chanukah! Bugsy was our Chanukah miracle — his recovery lit the night.

A tiny fish that could have been tossed out was given a second chance by a compassionate young man. Bugsy is holding his own and we are quite optimistic.

We hope he will survive the odds and light our winter nights, as the lamp lit the dark nights of the Jewish people centuries ago. We light the Chanukah candles to keep away the winder darkness and find our miracles where we may.

 

Bubbie’s Menorah Miracle


Bubbie, my sweet grandmother, is a small woman, barely
5-feet tall. Her candelabra wasn’t just a candleholder used for the Sabbath and
Chanukah lights. It was a family symbol; a magnet that brought family and
friends together. On Sabbath evenings Bubbie would don a special Shabbos
kerchief. With great fanfare she would light each candle. When she finished
lighting the last candle she stood in front of the candelabra and clenched her
eyes; tears ran down her cheeks. She prayed for her husband, her married children
and her grandchildren. She spoke in Yiddish, “Her mien tinere tata heat mien
kinder un de eynikloch” (Dearest Father, God watch and protect my children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May it be Your will that they grow up to
be good people and are loyal to our religion. Please grant my dear husband a
livelihood and patience. Watch over us all.).

We all stood by the Shabbos table in awe. Bubbie looked like
a queen speaking to the King of Kings, the Almighty God. When she finished her
prayer, we began our Sabbath.

As our family grew, Bubbie spent more time with her candles.
By the time she reached the beginning of her 96th birthday, Bubbie had many
married grandchildren who also had children. There were five generations in
Bubbie’s family. When lighting the candles, Bubbie prayed for each family
member.

Her candelabra was made of solid silver with a heavy silver
base. It was 2-feet tall. Year round it had three branches of two candlesticks.
In the middle was a stem for another candle. The traditional custom for Shabbos
eve is to light one candle each for the father, mother and children. As each
child is born, another candle is added. Throughout the year Bubbie’s candelabra
was fitted for five candles.

During the week of Chanukah she added another branch of two
candlesticks each, making a total of nine candles. The candelabra was built in
such a way that the candle holders could be removed and oil cups could be
inserted for the special lighting on Chanukah. Our Shabbos candelabra became a
menorah.

During Chanukah the prized candelabra was given to my
grandfather. He used it to fulfill the commandment of lighting candles for the
holiday. Chanukah was the happiest time for the family. All the children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Bubbie and Zadie to receive
holiday gifts of Chanukah gelt and joined in the lighting of the menorah.

Imagine the menorah lit with nine candles shining in its
glory. Zadie stood like a Kohen, the Jewish high priest, when he lit it. He
would be dressed in a special fur hat, called a streimel, with a magnificent
long, silk caftan.

When Zadie died, Bubbie would spend her winters in Miami
Beach. She took her candelabra with her. Every Shabbos, Bubbie would polish
it and pray, “May my mazel (luck) always shine!”

All this came to an end when someone stole her candelabra.
Bubbie was livid. Her small body shook like a willow in a storm as she spoke
about her most prized possession. How could anyone steal it? Her only concern
was how she would light her candles.

She believed it would return.

“I have prayed that the menorah would protect us and I’m
sure that the menorah has done just that. Now I pray that the menorah protect
itself and be returned to me.”

With silent determination she prayed and prayed. We, the
family, did not know what to do. Unexpectedly, a childhood friend from Austria,
Bubbie’s birthplace, visited us and announced, “I have never seen another
menorah like yours until today. I always wondered if there was a second
majestic menorah. Surprisingly I just saw a menorah just like yours in the
window of a gift store. It is a replica of yours.”

We were dumbfounded. Could it be that our guest had seen the
stolen menorah? Bubbie jumped up and said, “Let’s get my menorah back! It soon
will be Chanukah and I need the menorah.”

Bubbie, my parents, Bubbie’s girlfriend and a policeman made
their way to the gift shop. With a gleam in her eyes and a shout of joy Bubbie
pointed to the menorah and said, “Yes, you have done well. You have protected
us and now you have protected yourself. Come back home to my family and me.”

Before anyone could say anything, Bubbie grabbed the menorah
off the shelf and held it close to her heart. Nobody was going to stop her.
Neighbors, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined her in her triumphant walk home. The
closer she got to her home, the more people that joined her. Bubbie, dressed in
the European manner, with her slight frame carrying a menorah that was almost
as big as her, with a procession of excited family and friends following, was a
sight to see. It truly was a Chanukah parade. The owner of the shop was
flabbergasted.

Needless to say, the menorah was given a special cleaning.
It became the most respected object of our Bubbie’s home. That Chanukah was the
brightest in Bubbie’s home. Who says that miracles can’t happen anymore?  


Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.

What Is the Holiday Miracle?


Nes Gadol Hayah Sham.

We all agree that the letters on the sides of the dreidel stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There." (In Israel, of course, the letters stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Po — "A Great Miracle Happened Here.")

But — and this is why there’s a book titled "Two Jews, Three Opinions" — what miracle are we talking about?

"It’s obviously the oil," my son Zack, 17, says. "Read your Rashi."

When the Talmud asks "What is Chanukah?" Rashi, one of the leading rabbinic commentators, interprets this to mean "What is the miracle of Chanukah?" The Talmud then explains that when the Maccabees entered the defiled Temple, they found a small amount of oil, enough to last only one day. But, miraculously, the oil burned for eight days.

Thus, we light candles on our menorah for eight days to commemorate this miracle, fulfilling the only commandment of this — yes, hard to believe, minor and nonbiblically ordained — holiday, which is also appropriately called the Festival of Lights. Additionally, if possible, we display the menorah in a window to publicize the triumph of Jewish faith over the forces of darkness.

"No," says Jeremy, 12. "The miracle is that the Maccabees conquered the Greek army. I studied Ancient Greece, and they had a pretty good army."

The First and Second Books of the Maccabees, which are contained in the Apocrypha, a series of books that were excluded from the Bible, support Jeremy. These tell the story of how the small band of Maccabees, led by Judah, fought for the right to practice Judaism — to observe Shabbat, to study Torah and to eat kosher foods. They overcame the stronger, larger army of the Syrian-Greeks, as well as scores of Jews who readily embraced the Hellenistic culture, and reconsecrated the Temple. There is no mention of oil.

The military victory, and not the oil, is also commemorated in "Al Ha’nissim," the special prayer included in the Amidah during Chanukah. "You delivered the mighty into the hand of the weak, the many into the hand of the few… " it says.

"That’s not a miracle. That’s hard work," Zack argues. "A miracle implies something that is beyond human capacity."

"Like fighting holiday crowds and standing in long lines to buy a Microsoft Xbox?" I ask.

In truth, that is the miracle of Chanukah. Not merely that we stand in long lines to buy the Xbox or GameCube or Fisher-Price Rescue Heroes. But that year after year, century after century, we gather with our families to kindle the Chanukah lights, chant the blessings, eat latkes, spin dreidels and, a recent innovation, exchange gifts.

Even in darkest Europe during World War II, many Jewish concentration camp inmates saved bits of oil or shoe polish, fashioned wicks out of threads and enlisted spoons or scooped out potatoes to serve as menorahs. They risked their lives to light Chanukah candles.

For the miracle, in short, is that we Jews have survived, or, as we say in the "Shehecheyanu" blessing on the first night of Chanukah, that God has "kept us alive and sustained us and let us reach this time."

To achieve this, we needed both miracles — the oil, which symbolizes our commitment to Judaism, and the military prowess. Without either, we would have perished.

This, of course, is an old story, going back to Amalek, the quintessential evil-doer and the first to attack the Israelites. Amalek was defeated, but, as the Torah states in Exodus 17:16, "The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

This is also a modern story with a new Amalek, Osama bin Laden, who wants to annihilate our Western and Jewish ways and institute his fundamentalist brand of Islam.

And so Chanukah seems darker this year. Not because it comes in the Northern Hemisphere before the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, but because it comes after Sept. 11.

Nearly three months later, it comes after our shock, which has protected us with a shield of surrealism, has worn off, leaving us with the stark and painful reality of thousands of senseless deaths.

And it comes after we’ve seen unemployment and long lines at food pantries across the nation rise, along with increased reports of depression and anxiety.

In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian violence — now 14 months old — shows little sign of abating.

But despite our somber moods, it is imperative that we celebrate Chanukah this year as fully and joyfully as possible, focusing on its enduring story of survival.

My sons, along with ancient and modern Jewish authorities, can continue to debate the nature of miracles. Whether they result from divine intervention, such as the parting of the Red Sea or Daniel’s escape from the lions’ den. Whether these supernatural phenomena are preordained or allegorical. Or whether miracles come from human struggles that eventually triumph in the face of great adversity.

But at the end of day, this Chanukah, we again need both kinds of miracles — our faith, as Americans and as Jews, and our military might — to dispel the darkness that has fallen on our world.