Menorah vandalized in New York City park


A large menorah was found vandalized on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Police found the menorah on its side with one half broken into pieces Monday morning at Carl Shurz Park on 86th Street and East End Avenue, two blocks from the mayor’s official residence at Gracie Mansion. They believe it had been toppled over on both Saturday and Sunday nights.

“Incidents like this have no place here or anywhere,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Chabad of the Upper East Side lit the menorah in a highly attended ceremony Sunday night. They plan to lead another lighting at 8 p.m. Monday.

“Last night we gathered to kindle the menorah, bringing light to the world, and this morning we found that we were met by an act of darkness,” Rabbi Elie Weistock of Kehilath Jeshurun said Monday. “But light always overcomes darkness, and tonight we plan to light the menorah again.”

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the incident, WNBC in New York reported.

A different menorah was stolen from a Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Salt Lake City, Utah, over the weekend. It was found outside an alumni house at a nearby college.

The theft was not being investigated as a hate crime.

 

Rabbi Benny Zippel told The Associated Press that the perpetrators were likely just “bored souls” who did not mean to be anti-Semitic.

Gross’ release, and changes in diplomatic ties, signals new day for Cuban Jews


Alan Gross was imprisoned while trying to connect Cuba’s isolated Jewish community to the wider world. The deal that got him released five years later may do just that and much more.

Gross’ flight home to suburban Washington on Wednesday with his wife, Judy, was part of a historic deal that overturns over five decades of U.S. policy isolating the Communist island nation helmed by the Castro brothers.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” President Obama said in announcing Gross’ release and radical changes in U.S. Cuba policy.

U.S. officials in a conference call outlined sweeping changes, including the resumption of full diplomatic relations, the opening of an embassy in Havana, and a loosening of trade and travel restrictions.

Dina Siegel Vann, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, said Gross’ release and the opening of ties with Cuba is a twofer for the Jews: In addition to the benefits accrued to all Cubans from open relations, she said, Cuban Jews “will have stronger ties to Jewish organizations, they will be much more in the open.” An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Jews live in Cuba.

Gross, who is now 65, was arrested in 2009 after setting up Internet access for the Cuban Jewish community while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Never formally charged with espionage, Gross was convicted in 2009 for “crimes against the state.”

Back in the United States on Wednesday, Gross held a news conference, which he began with the greeting “Chag sameach,” noting that his release coincided with the first day of Hanukkah. He thanked political leaders, the Washington Jewish community, the local Jewish Community Relations Council and other faith groups that pressed for his release.

“But ultimately – ultimately – the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office,”said Gross, reserving special praise for President Obama and his National Security Council.

Vann said improved U.S.-Cuba relations would have a rollover effect, removing obstacles to U.S. ties with other Latin American countries — and this in turn would remove tensions that have affected Jewish communities.

“Cuba and Venezuela have a very interdependent relationship,” she said. “Anti-Semitism and anti-American rhetoric are being used by the regime in Venezuela, and with this that’s being undermined.”

Daniel Mariaschin, who directs B’nai B’rith International, a group with a strong Latin American presence, said a new era of ties “will raise the profile of Latin American communities and interest in those communities.”

In a deal American officials said was technically separate from the Gross release, the United States and Cuba agreed to exchange the three remaining incarcerated members of the “Cuban Five,” a Florida-based spy ring, for an American spy held in Cuba for 20 years and whose identity remains a secret.

Obama insisted that Gross was not part of the spy exchange and that, in fact, his imprisonment held up changes to the U.S. Cuba relationship he had intended on initiating years ago.

“While I’ve been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way,” the president said, referring to Gross’ “wrongful imprisonment.”

Republicans who have opposed easing the Cuba embargo blasted the deal.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, told Fox News that Obama was “the worst negotiator since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country.”

Many Jewish groups welcomed the deal, however, and noted the political difficulties it must have created for the Obama administration.

“We know the decision to release the Cuban three was not an easy one,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of President Obama and Vice President Biden in bringing this about.”

Gross is in ill health. He has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration and suffered from painful arthritis.

A senior administration official who spoke to reporters before Obama’s announcement said the Vatican played a key role in negotiating the deal, in part through Pope Francis’ pleas to Cuba to release Gross as a humanitarian gesture.

In a statement, the pope said he “wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

The administration official also noted the significance of the Jewish holiday season of freedom.

“We believe that Alan was wrongfully imprisoned and overjoyed that Alan will be reunited with his family in this holiday season of Hanukkah,” the official said.

On heroes and gratitude: A real Thansgivukkah message


It has a clever, catchy name.  It will allegedly occur once every 78,000 years.  It has inspired dozens of fusion recipes like sweet potato latkes with cranberry applesauce.  It has even inspired a Hanukkiah or menorah in the shape of a turkey,  a “menurkey.”  It is the perfect blending of two of your favorite holidays….It’s Thanksgivvukah.  Next week  we will  celebrate the fortunate overlapping of these two holidays—lighting the 2nd candle as we ate our fill. 

Let’s not forget that at its core, both holidays give us an opportunity to express our gratitude for the abundance in our lives.  And while there are many important themes connected to Hanukkah, the festival of lights, one that really sticks out, is the idea that that the holiday is about heroes.

Our Beverly Hills community as well as the music community at large lost a true hero last week.  Joel Pressman, a teacher of mine, lost his valiant battle with cancer.  Joel, Mr. Pressman, or Mr. P was a consummate teacher.  He was THAT teacher to literally thousands.  The one you remember, the one who left an indelible mark on your life.  He wasn’t always easy.  He had a big personality and wasn’t afraid to share his opinions or judgments. 

In the last few months before he died, Mr. P became more and more public about his condition- with many video posts on Facebook.  And what became clear was that this teacher’s teacher would continue to teach us all up until his dying day.

“I’m not afraid of death.  That’s the easy part” he said. “It’s dying that is really hard.”

In his dying months, he gave us all a gift.  Rather than retreat into anonymity, he became more and more public.  Even hosting a “Day in the Park with Joel” where literally hundreds lined up to say goodbye and to let him know just how much he meant to them.

That, I believe, was the most profound blessing (if there is a blessing in all of this) of his illness and passing.  He got to know first-hand, just how significant he was to so many people.  He got to hear, feel and truly understand just how loved he was. Most people don’t get that opportunity.  We usually talk about people only after they are gone.

How did he do this?  By sharing his one powerful and simple message.  Love.  Just love.  Nothing else.

He told us all he loved us, and in so doing, encouraged us to tell him how we felt about him.  He even inspired me to pick up the phone and tell several other important mentors in my life just how important they are to me. 

At this time of year, just a few days before Thanksgivukkah, I encourage you to put real meaning behind this conflated holiday.  Seek out an old mentor or teacher –one of your unsung heroes.  Express gratitude for  changing your life.  In so doing, you just might change theirs.


Yonah Kliger is the senior cantor at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills–tebh.org.  @cantoryonah

A modern maccabee


As the holiday season approaches, I find myself reflecting back on the story of Hannukah and summon inspiration by the immense strength our ancestors showed in the face of unimaginable adversity. For those of us unfamiliar with the story of Hannukah, our ancestors, the Maccabees, were living in Eretz Israel under the reign of the Selucids – a might empire that, at its peak, stretched from the rolling hills of Central Turkey to the fertile plains of Northwest India. Over time, the rule of the Selucids had become increasingly inhospitable to the Jews, as they began adopting policies designed to wipe away Jewish autonomy, culture and religion by forcing them to embrace Hellenism — the adoption of Greek culture, traditions and, most insultingly, paganism. As the Second Holy Temple was desecrated and our High Priests were replaced by Hellenized puppets loyal to the Selucid Regime, the Maccabees, who could no longer stomach these intolerable transgressions, rose up and launched a two-pronged revolt against the Selucid Empire and the Hellenistic Jews who abandoned their identities for the false promises of assimilation and security. The Maccabees, blessed with unbreakable zeal and numerous victories on the battlefield against a far better sized and well equiped foe, vanquished their enemies, reconquered a large chunk of Eretz Israel and established a Jewish Kingdom that held out for over 100 years against various empires vying to conquer the Holy Land. The Maccabees, perhaps most importantly, managed to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem and, within the walls of the newly rededicated Second Temple, made a one day supply of sacred oil last for eight special days, thus bringing forth the miracle of Hannukah.

A wonderful story by anyone's measure, but as an IDF soldier serving in a combat infantry unit stationed on the frontline of the Gazan Border, the story of Hannukah bears a special importnce to me. Two years ago I left my hometown of Los Angeles, CA with the intention of drafting into the IDF and fufilling a higher purpose: becoming a “Modern Maccabee” by coming to the defense of my people and our right to exist freely in our ancestral homeland. But what exactly does it mean to be a “Modern Maccabee” and why is it so important to try to aspire to be one? A Modern Maccabee is someone that exemplifies the strengths of our predecessors by standing up for our people and our right to exist freely in a world that continues to push for the opposite. Just like the Maccabees before us, we continue to face innumerable threats that challenge the notion of a future for our people; nations and terrorist groups continue to call for our extermination, anti-semitism and general anti-Israel apathy is on the rise and, most alarmingly, more and more Jewish people are leaving the Community and choosing to start families devoid of any Jewish upbringing. As Jews, we have a responsibility to continue the work of our ancestors to ensure a future for our people and way of life on Planet Earth.

There are no simple solutions to these myriad of threats, but we can start by beginning to connect ourselves to the past in order to better appreciate the unspeakable suffering previous generations endured just to make sure we could exist freely, let alone thrive, in the world today. Maybe this appreciation would encourage young people not to spurn their heritage so easily and prompt ourselves to engage more of our time, wealth and energy to the development of our community and others less fortunate than our own (a major Jewish tenent that also must not be forgotten). Accepting the falsehood that it is okay to be complacent because of the immeasurable strides the Jews have made in the past sixty-five years is both naive and incredibly foolish, as it allows us to forget the lessons of our past — an unacceptable reality that would assuredly lead to our downfall.

As Hannukah approaches, let us take time to reflect on our ancestors and the versatility and resilience they showed in the face of the extermination of their way of life. We are the descendants of titans; our forefathers dared to challenge the world's mightiest empires for the sole purpose of ensuring a future for our people. Do not let their sacrifices die in vain — summon your “inner-Maccabee” and play your part in making a place in the world for our way of life. As history has shown us, we only need to look to our past in order to build upon our future.

Oh, it’s (latke) frying time again—but it doesn’t have to be


Gone are the days when the Chanukah holiday meant an eight-day binge fest of all things fried.

The Festival of Lights, which commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, has a longstanding tradition of oily foods such as latkes and donuts in remembrance of the miracle of the temple oil, which lasted eight days instead of the expected one. But for some, the holiday has become an excuse to inhale fried potato pancakes and custard-filled pastry.

“People have a misconception of the tradition to fry on Chanukah,” Yosef Silver, the author of the popular blog This American Bite, told JTA. “The concept is to remember the oil, but that doesn’t necessarily mean frying. We’ve gotten so wrapped up with frying, but there are ways to make Chanukah food, like latkes, just using oil.”

These days, with everyone from the first lady on down drawing attention to our widening waistlines, Jewish foodies have plenty of options for consuming traditional holiday fare without packing on the pounds.

Silver was raised on the old way — frying everything. But now he prefers to bake latkes rather than fry them.

“If you prefer to use the traditional potato latke recipe, the best way to make it healthy would be to pan fry it with an oil substitute like Pam,” Silver said. “If you want to incorporate oil, add only a tablespoon and lightly pan-fry it.”

For those who prefer a fried taste, Silver suggests swapping potatoes for healthier vegetables that provide vitamins and nutrition as opposed to starch. 

“My favorite latke variety to make is my variation using rutabaga and turnip,” Silver said. “Rutabaga is a starchy vegetable, but it’s not actually a carb. It gives a similar consistency to potatoes and is delicious.”  

Shaya Klechevsky, a personal chef from Brooklyn who writes the kosher cuisine blog At Your Palate, says there are ways to make healthier donuts, or sufganiyot — also a traditional Chanukah food though one generally more popular in Israel than the United States. But Klechevsky warns about playing too much with recipes. 

“When making the batter, you can use a little bit of whole wheat if you want to veer away from white flour, but you need to be careful because too much whole wheat will turn your donuts into bricks,” Klechevsky said. “You can also substitute sugar with honey.”

Rather than altering the recipe for the dough, Klechevsky says the best way to make healthy donuts is to use healthy fillings, like sugar-free jams, nuts, fruit and granola.

“The best option is to bake donuts rather than fry them,” Klechevsky said. “The taste won't be the same, but it will be close. You can buy little round molds and fill them with batter.”

Erica Lokshin, a wellness dietitian at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, points out that baked donuts have half the calories and one-third the fat of fried.

“Chanukah foods loaded in oil are high in cholesterol, which can be really bad for your heart, and eating them for eight says straight increases risks,” Lokshin said.

Lokshin says that when serving toppings to go with latkes, reduced-fat sour cream and unsweeted applesauce are the best options. And since no one wants to feel deprived around the holidays, she suggests picking one night to indulge.

“It’s better to designate which night of the holiday you will enjoy latkes and donuts, and stick to your regular eating routine on the other nights,” Lokshin said. “Otherwise, you’re picking at a donut here and a latke there, and over an eight-day period you will probably consume more than you hoped you had and it will throw off your eating routine in the long run.

Below are a couple of healthier latkes recipes.

ROASTED GINGERED CARROT LATKES
(Shaya Klechevsky)

Ingredients:
6 cups coarsely grated peeled carrots
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
7 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
Blended olive oil (for frying)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with olive oil, or take a pastry brush dipped in olive oil and lightly coat the foil. Place grated carrots in a large bowl; press with paper towels to absorb any moisture. In another bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and pepper, and blend together. Add carrots, ginger and eggs to the flour mixture and combine. Mixture shouldn’t be too wet or too dry. When forming patties, the mixture should stick to itself and not come apart. If it’s too wet, add a little bit more flour; if it’s too dry, add more beaten egg. Allow to stand for 10-12 minutes for ingredients to absorb into each other. Place patties, about 3 1/2-inch rounds, onto the greased baking sheet. Leave a little room around each one. Place tray into middle rack of oven and roast for 10-12 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Makes about 15 latkes.


RUTABAGA AND TURNIP LATKE
(Yosef Silver)

Ingredients:
2 rutabaga, shredded
2 turnips, shredded
1 large onion, shredded
1 egg, plus one egg white
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients, then shape the latkes so they are approximately the size of your palm and about 1/4-inch thick. Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil if you want to keep with tradition, or substitute coconut oil for a lighter alternative. Place the latkes on the cookie sheet with space between them. Once the oven has heated, bake the latkes until golden brown.

Santa Monica nativity ban hits menorahs, too


The Santa Monica City Council has banned all future nativity, anti-nativity and Chanukah displays at the oceanfront Palisades Park. The 5-0 vote on June 12 ends a nearly 60-year winter tradition.

The religious displays have been the subject of controversy in recent years, with friction rising between religious groups and atheists. Historically, these displays have mostly been Christian, with Chanukah displays appearing in more recent years. Atheist community members made a formal complaint in December 2010 objecting to religious symbols being displayed on public property.

The result was that in June 2011, the seasonal display places were put up for a lottery. Of the 21 plots given out, 18 were won by atheists, two by Christian groups and one by Rabbi Isaac Levitansky of Santa Monica’s Chabad. The atheist displays that went up later that year expressed anti-religious sentiments, causing further complaints from a Christian group, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce started the nativity tradition in 1953 to attract more visitors to the area. This year visitors will have to do without.

Levitansky, who organized the only Jewish display in Palisades Park, says he’s disappointed with the decision.

“I feel bad that the city council and the city attorney could not find a medium to have the displays in public,” he said.

But Levitansky says the ban won’t deter him from promoting his religion.

“We will be putting around 60 public menorahs around Simcha Monica,” he said, “and if one goes down, two will go up.”

Rabbi Jeff Marx of the Reform Santa Monica synagogue Sha’arei Am says religious displays should stay on religious property.

“Religious displays make sense to be on religious property,” he said. “I would put it in our parking lot, as I wouldn’t expect the city to host our symbols.”

Marx also says menorahs have deep religious meaning, and are not meant to be cultural.

“There’s nothing traditional about a having 17-foot menorah in public. It’s unnecessary; these symbols belong in our homes,” he said.

Even as the city council was creating the ban, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, a coalition that includes 13 churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, submitted a petition with 1,721 names, requesting that the ban be rescinded.

Karen Ginsberg, director of Santa Monica’s Community Recreation Division, which had allocated spaces for the displays, says the ban on unattended private displays will apply to all of Santa Monica’s parks, and will allow the city to continue to be religiously impartial.

“Under the first amendment, we cannot favor one religion over another, or one religious display over another,” she said. “This ban will help normalize the rules for all of our parks.”

Valentine’s Day: Use what you’ve got


Valentine’s Day can be a tough time for a young Jew. Fancy restaurants do not cater well to our people. The last time I took a lady to a snooty eatery, the special was baked swiss-cheese-topped-pork stuffed into a lobster served on a picture of Jesus.

Why do we put ourselves through this fahklumpt meshugas? Why not treat your special someone to a romantic night right in your own home? What if you prepared this same sexy evening, from ingredients that you have left over from Jewish holidays? The possibilities, my friends, are endless.

Set the mood with candles. Hanukkah candles.

You’ve got a menorah just sitting on a shelf as a decoration? If that menorah had a Jewish mother it would get yelled at for being so lazy. Put it to work softly lighting the room, and watch your significant other marvel at your ability to create ambiance and your resourcefulness. If she asks why a menorah, look deeply into her eyes and say “because I never stop believing in miracles,” and kiss her, you smoothie.

What’s for dinner? What isn’t?

A romantic dinner comprised of Jewish leftovers from around the house could be any number of tantalizing combinations. When you think of a sexy dish, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Gefilte fish, I knew we were on the same page. What if you upped the ante and served up some Manischewitz-marinated Gefilte fish?  That latke mix box you’ve got lying around doesn’t make latkes, it makes, “salt-encrusted potato medallions.” You just created a fancy dinner and freed up pantry space (for more Gefilte fish).

Sukkot: The gift that keeps on giving.

What is the point of a gift like chocolates? They’re gone when you eat them, and then you forget about them. A gift should be something practical, something you can really use in your daily life. I say, take the wood and hammers you used to make your sukkah, and gift them to your lady. She’ll always have them as a reminder of your romantic gift-giving skills and thoughtfulness. Who knows what she could create with them? As long as she doesn’t build a chuppah, you can’t go wrong.

Sprinkle rose petals on the bed? More like sprinkle matzah.

Why would you waste perfectly good flowers creating a sexy atmosphere when you’ve got what you need collecting dust in the back of the pantry since last April? Keep those flowers in a vase and crumble (let’s be honest—it’s already crumbled) some matzah on that bed. What you lack in traditional symbols of love you will gain in the cute, uniting task of gathering all the tiny matzah bits when they get everywhere. And have you ever been with your lady on top of a bed of matzah? I won’t make a find the Afikomen joke here, but she will, and she’ll thank you for it.

Put all these steps together, and you’ve got yourself a sexy dinner for two followed by an intensely romantic evening. A successful evening and using all your Jewish holiday leftovers? Now that’s a good Tuesday. Just be sure to save the Purim noisemakers for some fun in the bedroom.

Chanukah events around Los Angeles


TUE DEC 20

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

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

WED DEC 21

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

THU DEC 22

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

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

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

FRI DEC 23

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

SAT DEC 24

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

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

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

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

SUN DEC 25

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

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

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

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

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

MON DEC 26

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

TUE DEC 27

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

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

Chanukah Gift Guide


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

Old game, new spins


When it comes to Chanukah, playing the dreidel game is as ubiquitous as lighting the candles on a chanukiyah and eating latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts).

The dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, can be made of almost any material, including wood, plastic, paper, clay, silver or porcelain. And Judaica artists work in a variety of media — sterling silver, ceramic, glass, enamel — to create collectible dreidels that are meant to be displayed, rather than played.

"The hottest trends now are in the ultra-modern segment of dreidels," said David Cooperman, owner of Shalom House in Woodland Hills, referring to dreidels made from materials like laser-cut aluminum.

The word dreidel is Yiddish, and comes from the German word drehen (turn). Every dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side: nun, gimmel, hay and shin. These letters represent the phrase nes gadol hayah sham, which means "a great miracle happened there." In Israel, dreidels (called sevivon in Hebrew) have a pey in place of the shin. The pey stands for po, or "here," as in: "a great miracle happened here." Both phrases refer to the miracle of Chanukah — when a small quantity of oil found by the Maccabees lasted for eight days, long enough to rededicate the ransacked temple.

There are many stories that attempt to explain the origins of the dreidel and its connection to Chanukah. The most accepted story dates back more than 2,300 years ago, from the time of the Maccabees, when King Antiochus had forbidden Jewish customs and religious practices. According to legend, Jews would gather in small, clandestine groups to study Torah, but they would also bring along wooden spinning tops — a popular form of gambling at the time. When the Jews saw soldiers approaching, they would hide their texts and pretend to gamble with their dreidels.

If you are like most Jewish adults, you have dreidels lying about the house, but you often forget the rules of the game when Chanukah rolls around.

The dreidel game, in its most basic form, is a simple betting game. Each player gets an equal amount of "money," which can be anything from buttons to nuts to pennies to chocolate gelt, and contributes to the pot at the beginning of a round. The players each get a turn to spin the dreidel once during the round.

Based on how the dreidel lands, the player whose turn it is will:
nun: do nothing; gimmel: get the entire pot; hey: take half the pot; shin: put in one piece.

If the pot is emptied during a round, each player should contribute one piece. Once a player runs out of money, he is out of the game. The game ends when one player has all the money.

In recent years, people have come up with new spins on the dreidel game.

Two strategy games by Long Beach-based game designer Dan Siskin are "Maccabees" and "Operation: Maccabees" (flasterventure.com). Instead of dice, the games use dreidels.

In "Maccabees," players use action cards and colored dreidels to acquire enough oil — while avoiding remnants of the Seleucid army — to light the chanukiyah. In "Operation: Maccabee," players spin the dreidel to lead an elite squad of commandos from four Allied countries — the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and France — to defeat the Nazis and liberate the Jews in 1944.

"No Limit Texas Dreidel" takes the best of dreidel and combines the game with Texas Hold’em poker. Jennie Rivlin Roberts of ModernTribe.com created the game with her husband because they were bored playing the traditional dreidel game at their annual Chanukah party.

"We were coming back from visiting my husband’s grandfather, and we were in the car for a long ride. We just started talking about it and we came up with this game," Roberts said.

The objective of the game is for each player to create the best dreidel "hand" by combining spins. You combine dreidel "spins" in your shaker, which only you can see, with other Community Spins, which can be seen by all players. Players bet in rounds using poker rules.

"Staccabees" (staccabees.com), by Dan Singer and Bruce Kothmann, is a game of strategy and chance. Instead of money, two to six players get colored cubes. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and, based on the results, place colored cubes on a "stac." If a player knocks over a "stac" with the dreidel, they must take the cubes that fell. The first player to either complete a "stac" or end up with no cubes wins.

In "Major League Dreidel" (majorleaguedreidel.com), a game by Eric Pavony of Brooklyn, N.Y., players compete for the longest spin in a stadium called a "Spinagogue." And each year, around Chanukah, Pavony holds "Major League Dreidel" tournaments in clubs around New York City with the tag line, "No Gelt, No Glory."

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song [VIDEO]


A message from Matisyahu from