October 22, 2018

New Album Brings Reggae to Jewish Songs and Prayers

Photo from davidsolidgould.com

How about something different this year for Hanukkah? How about some reggae?

That’s what you’ll get with “Festival of Lights,” the creation of David Solid Gould, a Jewish bassist who recorded it with his own group, The Temple Rockers, as well as with three veteran Jamaican performers who sing in Hebrew and English. 

Gould, 48, told the Journal via telephone from his home near Ithaca, N.Y., that he has spent more than 20 years working on the musical fusion between Jewish and Jamaican music, and that this resolve grew out of two musical epiphanies. When he was 25 and already a professional musician, he saw a live performance of Jamaica-born singer Burning Spear.

“That’s when I first heard reggae,” Gould said. “Feeling the bass in the sound system. The groove feeding back into itself. It was like a spiritual rebirth for me. It really flipped my world.” 

Hooked on the tantalizing sounds of Jamaica, Gould became bassist for John Brown’s Body, a reggae band whose musicians dubbed him “Solid,” as much for what Gould calls his “low-end grooves” on bass as for the wordplay on his last name. 

Gould’s other musical epiphany came a couple of years later when he was touring in California with John Brown’s Body in the late 1990s. Suddenly, he sensed that the reggae music he was playing could be merged with songs and prayers he recalled from childhood. He rushed to a synagogue where he heard “Sim Shalom” chanted by a cantor and congregation. 

“I realized that I could use reggae to play the songs I’d sung at Hebrew school, at shul, at my bar mitzvah, during holidays like Passover and Hanukkah,” he said. 

This second epiphany led directly to his forming The Temple Rockers, a musical group that fuses reggae with Jewish musical traditions. In 2001 they recorded an album called “Adonai and I” — reggae versions of traditional prayers such as “Leha Dodi” and “Adon Olam.” This was followed in 2009 by the “Feast of the Passover,” seder songs and melodies, also in reggae style. 

“I realized that I could use reggae to play the songs I’d sung at Hebrew school, at shul, at my bar mitzvah, during holidays like Passover and Hanukkah.”  

— David Gould

On Oct. 19, the third album of this melding of Jewish and Jamaican musical traditions will be released: “Festival of Lights,” Gould’s reggae versions of Hanukkah songs. Gould said he found the project challenging. “For Hanukkah, I had to do research and seek out music and learn about music that was new to me and choose songs that suited the theme of the collection and also suited reggae music. So it was a fun project for me because I got to learn new music.” 

During the last 20 years, Gould has made several trips to Jamaica, where he’s stayed with reggae musicians who have helped him learn about Rastafarianism, a Jamaican religion. “They taught me about its origins, about their beliefs,” Gould said, “and I saw lots of connection to Judaism. Many of the lyrics in reggae songs refer to stories in the Bible.” 

Indeed they do. Babylon, Exodus, Zion, Egypt, and especially Jah (God). 

In Rasta belief, the late Ethiopian leader, Haile Selassie, was descended from the union between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which is why the fence at the Kingston, Jamaica house of the late Bob Marley — a sainted figure in the reggae world — is studded with Stars of David. 

For “Festival of Lights,” Gould felt it was vital for the Jamaican singers to explore the Jewish origins of Rasta traditions, and he made sure they learned some Hebrew, at least enough to sing in the language. “Every Jamaican singer that I worked with on this has loved the music, and they love the connection between Jewish music and Jamaican music,” Gould said. 

When he first started planning “Festival of Lights,” Gould made a list of the Jamaican singers he wanted, and he snagged three who were on his wish list: Linval Thompson, Wayne Jarrett and Ansel Meditations, three singers who have been performing and recording since the 1970s. During that time Bob Marley was an international superstar, and the soundtrack of the Jamaican movie “The Harder They Come” — featuring Jimmy Cliff as well as Toots and the Maytals — became the background music of daily life, not just in Jamaica but in other places, including Israel. 

On “Festival of Lights,” as is usual in record production, the instrumentals were recorded first (at Solid Studios, near Ithaca, where Gould lives); but what is very unusual is that Gould recorded every bit of this record, vocals and instrumentals, on two-inch reel-to-reel tape.

“It’s very rare these days that people record on tape because it’s so expensive. It’s so much easier and cheaper and convenient to record on digital,” Gould said. “But there is a warmth and richness when you record on analog tape. Digital strips away that warmth and richness. It makes everything harsh.”

Having first taped the instrumentals with The Temple Rockers — a large group that includes keyboards, strings, horns, and percussion — Gould traveled to Miami to record Wayne Jarrett.

“I brought my reels with me and they’re heavy,” Gould said. “I had two reels in a bag and it was like a 40-pound bag I was lugging around.” It was the same when Gould went to Kingston to record Thompson. In Jamaica, he had to hunt around for a studio that could handle reel-to-reel tape. Fortunately he didn’t have to travel far to record Ansel Meditations, who lives in New York and recorded his songs at Gould’s house. 

From the way that Gould describes all the hoops he’s jumped through to record this music, it’s clear that it’s a labor of love: for the Jewish and Jamaican parts of his musical soul. 

Maybe because the music is often in a minor key, or maybe because it uses traditional Hanukkah and Biblical tropes, or maybe because of the high quality and professionalism of the musicians, or maybe because of all of the above, the result is an album that grows on you stealthily with each hearing, touching some deep core. Listening to “Days Long Ago” and other songs from the record, you feel you’re listening to a dreadlocked Rasta group from the ’70s and ’80s. It’s easy to get carried away by the soulful Jamaican vocalists whose voices — like Hanukkah itself — embody the unquenchable hope of a miracle in a time of darkness.

For more information on obtaining “Festival of Lights,” visit www.templerockers.com.

Moving & Shaking: Federation Lights Menorah at City Hall; Jewish Communal Professionals Honored

Los Angeles City Councilmembers, City Attorney, City Controller and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles celebrate Hanukkah with the Menorah lighting ceremony in Los Angeles City Hall Rotunda. Photo courtesy of City of Los Angeles

Marking the first day of Hanukkah, the Los Angeles City Council and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held a menorah lighting ceremony on Dec. 13 at City Hall.

“The Federation was honored to partner with our elected officials to host and celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, at City Hall,” said Alisa Finstein, Federation’s senior vice president of community engagement. “This event brings all corners of our community together each year to light candles, sing songs, eat sufganiyot and remember the miracle that happened long ago.”

Among the elected officials and Jewish community leaders who attended the morning event in the City Hall rotunda were City Council members Paul Koretz, Bob Blumenfield, Mitch O’Farrell, Paul Krekorian, Monica Rodriguez and David Ryu; Becky Sobelman-Stern, Federation’s executive vice president and chief program officer; and Federation board member Jesse Gabriel. Rabbis Joshua Hoffman and Jaclyn Cohen led the celebration.

From left: Shalom Institute Executive Director Bill Kaplan and Shalom Institute honorees Michael and Linda Bennett, Adam Weiss, and Arthur Pinchev and Shalom Institute Associate Executive Director Joel Charnick attend the Shalom Institute gala at the Skirball Cultural Center. Photo by Dmitry Rogozhin Photography.

Shalom Institute, the home of Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, honored four leaders’ contributions and commitment to its organization and to the Jewish community.

About 330 people attended the Dec. 2 event at the Skirball Cultural Center that celebrated the achievements of Adam Weiss, Linda and Michael Bennett, and Arthur Pinchev.

The gathering also raised nearly $200,000 for the Shalom Institute’s Sherut L’Olam Teen Leadership and Advocacy Program, the Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center and Garden, and Camp JCA Shalom scholarships.

Weiss, president of the Shalom Institute, received the Rae and David Finegood Leadership Award. He has helped the organization secure its land in Malibu, solidify its financial position and begin to implement its strategic plan.

The Bennetts were honored with the inaugural Marla Bennett Inspiration Award, named for their daughter, a Camp JCA Shalom camper, counselor in training, unit head and program director who was killed in a 2002 bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Linda and Michael’s unwavering support and vision ensures that future generations can benefit from all Marla was passionate about,” a Shalom Institute statement said.

Pinchev, director of Shalom Institute’s Sherut L’Olam: Teen Leadership and Advocacy Program, which trains students to become leaders on environmental and social justice issues, received the Vision Award. He was recognized for improving the program and engaging more teens from bar and bat mitzvah age through high school.

Shalom Institute staff who attended included Executive Director Bill Kaplan and Development and Community Engagement Director Marsha Katz Rothpan. Other attendees included Jacob Knobel, recipient of the Shalom Institute’s 2013 Emerging Young Leaders Award; and David Spieser, who serves on the Shalom Institute board of directors.

Front row, from left: Camp Ramah in California Executive Director Rabbi Joe Menashe, board members Karmi Monsher and Lesley Wolman and board chair Andrew Spitzer and (back row, from left) Camp Ramah in California honorees Abner and Roz Goldstine and Abby and Jonny Mars. Photo courtesy of Camp Ramah in California

Camp Ramah in California, which operates a Jewish summer camp in Ojai, held its annual gala celebration on Dec. 3 at Sinai Temple.

More than 530 Ramah families, friends and community members celebrated the evening’s honoree couples: Roz and Abner Goldstine, and Abby and Jonny Mars.  The Goldstines are involved in a number of community organizations. Jonny, who is a member of the organizaton’s board of directors, and Abby Mars received the inaugural Alumni Leadership Award.

Proceeds from the evening established Camp Ramah in California’s Mercaz Yisrael: Endowment for Israel Programs, to enhance programs that include Ramah’s Israel Seminar summer experience in Israel for campers, and Mishlachot, a program bringing Israeli counselors to Ramah for the summer.

The event began with cocktails, followed by dinner and the program.

The Conservative camp in Ojai draws young Jews from around the world, who become known as “Ramahniks.”

From left: Masa Israel Journey Project Manager Julia Smelensky, Masa Israel Journey’s new southwest regional director Avital Khaazanov and American Israel Gap-Year Fair founder and Executive Director Phyllis Folb participate in the American Israel
Gap-Year Association Fair. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Folb

The fifth annual American Israel Gap-Year Association (AIGYA) Fair was held at YULA Girls School on Nov. 16.

Participants included Masa Israel Journey’s Project Manager, Julia Smelensky, and its new southwest regional director, Avital Khaazanov; AIGYA founder and Executive Director Phyllis Folb; The Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University’s experiential education director, Meir Balofsky; and Artzi Executive Director Yishai Ashkenazi.

Students attended the event to learn about gap-year opportunities in Israel after they graduate from high school. They spoke with representatives of various Israel-based gap-year programs.

Skirball Cultural Center Founding President Uri Herscher (left) presents Rob Eshman, former Jewish Journal editor-in-chief and publisher, with the Career Achievement Award. Photo by Marvin Steindler Photography.

The Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California held its JCPSC Honors 37th annual dinner on Dec. 14 at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, honoring the contributions and achievement of eight outstanding Jewish communal professionals.

The event honored former Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman with the Career Achievement Award.

“I’m proud to say that for a good period of my life I was a Jewish professional, and it is so humbling to count myself among people who have dedicated their professional lives to serving this community, upholding its values and making those values come to life every single day,” Eshman said upon receiving the award from Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center.

The other honorees and their awards were: IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban and MAZON President and CEO Abby Leibman, the Alan J. Kassin Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President Carol Koransky, the Bobbi Asimow Award for Professional Mentorship; Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Services Dan Rothblatt, the Award for Professional Excellence in Fundraising; Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles Director of Community Engagement Ashley Waterman, the Mark Meltzer Young Professional Award; and Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County Director of Senior Care Cally Clein and Senior Director of Program Impact Terri Moses, the Dora and Charles Mesnick Award for Achievement in Senior Adult Programming.

“We all stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us,” Rothblatt said. “Recognition from one’s peers is sweet and rare.”

The approximately 230 attendees included Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi at IKAR; Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles; and Becky Sobelman-Stern, Federation’s executive vice president and chief program officer.

JCPSC Co-Presidents David Bubis and Randy Lapin delivered opening remarks.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


When Jews Defend “Merry Christmas”

Photo from Pixabay.

Every December, for many Jews, constantly hearing “Merry Christmas” is an uncomfortable reminder of our outsider status in American society – that no matter how integrated we are, in some ways we’re still excluded. Hurtful childhood memories of feeling left out of holiday fun never seem to go away.

So for some of us, the more inclusive “Happy Holidays” reaffirms that Chanukah (and by extension Passover and Rosh Hashanah) are also fully American expressions of religious faith. As such, we encourage our offices to turn Christmas parties into holiday parties, and our employees to avoid “Merry Christmas” when interacting with customers.

Now, for several years, conservative Christians (led by Fox News) have complained of an imaginary “War on Christmas” – aggressive secularists oppressing Christians by watering down the season with generic greetings and pareve department store sales.

Many Jews, then, are caught in the middle, wanting equal inclusion in the joyous holiday season without sounding like soldiers in the War on Christmas.

Certainly, on an interpersonal level it makes no sense to pick fights with people whose greetings are heartfelt and unaware. Some Jews have well-honed retorts like “Guess again!” or even “Happy Chanukah.” Others just smile and say thank you, or offer a Merry Christmas in return.

But Christians saying Merry Christmas to Jews (or to everyone) is problematic.

I don’t go around telling everybody “Happy Birthday” on October 9th, and I don’t tell my British friends “Happy Independence Day” on July 4th. If a lesbian told all her office colleagues “Happy Pride” on the day of the parade, it might seem a little aggressive. And here in Israel, I would be a real jerk telling Arabs the traditional greetings “have an easy fast” on Yom Kippur or “have a kosher and happy holiday” on Passover.

We wish people well for their holidays, not ours. It’s basic courtesy.

Indeed, for many gentiles, learning how their Merry Christmas-es are sometimes perceived by friends and neighbors is enough to make them switch to Happy Holidays-es. They may be surprised, confused, or even defensive, but not hostile.

Sometimes hostility comes only from other Jews for whom the season’s greetings are touchy in the other direction. They get aggressive toward other members of the Jewish community who don’t welcome “Merry Christmas.”

The greeting “doesn’t bother” them at all, they insist – an entirely reasonable stance, particularly regarding day-to-day interactions with Christians who celebrate the holiday. But when their defense of Christmas means denouncing fellow Jews who want to keep December public school parties generic, for example, they’re crossing a line.

It doesn’t matter why so many American Jews are made uncomfortable by Merry Christmas – that’s how they genuinely feel. And telling someone to change their feelings (as opposed to their minds) is rarely successful. It is incontrovertible that hundreds of thousands of American Jews prefer Happy Holidays, and personal accounts that implicitly or explicitly shame them for hypersensitivity are unkind.

Interestingly, that kind of chastisement seems to come from the right as often as it comes from the left, with Orthodox and Reform, conservative and liberal American Jews sharing testimonials of enjoying the songs and the lights. That’s fine, but not everyone does. (I enjoy hearing Christmas music at the grocery store, but less so when, inevitably, I start singing along.) One person’s comfort with a practice doesn’t make it illegitimate for others to object.

In what other matters of communal disagreement does one group of Jews tell another what to feel, as opposed to what to think or do? The Kotel? Intermarriage? Support for Israel? Who is a Jew?

The same Jews who holiday-shame their co-religionists wouldn’t dream of telling an African-American she’s wrong for objecting to Confederate statues, or demanding transgender people stick with their biological pronouns.

This subject is particularly touchy because a common trope in Christmas mythology – expressed in countless TV specials and stage productions – involves bringing “the Christmas spirit” to people who don’t have it. And nobody wants to be a Scrooge or a Grinch.

Look, Jews who enjoy the Christmas season should do so. But scolding those who don’t is disrespectful – and not very Christmas-y, to boot. (Look over the comments on this essay on Facebook and elsewhere and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

Personally, I rarely encounter this problem, because I spend the season in virtually Christmas-free zones: the British Jewish learning extravaganza Limmud and my home in Israel. Please don’t tell me I’m wrong to feel less comfortable when I’m in the United States during the month after Thanksgiving. When it comes to coping with the complications of being an American Jew, nobody’s feelings are wrong.

David Benkof is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or Facebook, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Letters to the Editor: Jerusalem, Hanukkah, Gun Control and ‘Wonder’


Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

This article attributes wisdom to a president who does not deserve it. Donald Trump’s statements are not about what is good for Israel, or what is good for the peace process, or even what is good for the U.S. In some way, these statements serve only one purpose — Trump. It’s a shame so many Jews miss this critical point. And while we may clamor for the recognition of an empire, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Brian Lichtman

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. We Israelis never doubted it. Even if someone argues that it was meant to be an international city, we know that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that can keep it as free and international while it’s also its capital.

Ora Cooper

The truth needs to be repeated that President Donald Trump’s speech contained much wisdom. He acknowledged the reality of Israel’s capital city being Jerusalem while stating that the final borders would be left up to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That the Palestinians’ response was to declare multiple “days of rage” and their refusal of further meetings with U.S. representatives speaks volumes about their true desire for peace.

Bill Bender

How Jerusalem Decision May Impact Jews

David Suissa’s column “Can Jerusalem Be Good for All Religions?” (Dec. 15) was great! However, I believe this event creates an urgent need to ask a second (and more important) question: Can Judaism be good for most Jews? Obviously, to answer this question we must first define “Judaism” — so that most Jews (and especially, most young Jews and old rabbis) actually can agree about Judaism in 2018.

Aaron H. Shovers, Long Beach 

David Suissa’s Editor’s Note about Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is outstanding. I was so impressed that I took it with me today to read to my daughter while she drove me to the Veterans Affairs/West Los Angeles Medical Center. He is an excellent writer and a brilliant man. And I have noticed a distinct improvement in the type and quality of the articles now being published for our community.

Keep up the good work.

George Epstein via email

Fond Memories of Hanukkah on the Go

The Hanukkah story by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, “Stronger Together” (Dec. 8), is a heartwarming reminder that Jewish life and many of our holiday customs are both joyful and portable.

And they’re even better when we manage to share them with others, wherever and whenever possible.

I’ll add three of our Hanukkah travel tales: First, at California’s Yosemite National Park lodge when my children were young, the desk clerk allowed me to post my hand-drawn sign with an eight-branched menorah plus candles along with an open invitation for hotel guests to join us in our room to light and sing Hanukkah brachot/prayers together.

Among several couples and families who arrived, one couple turned out to be formerly unknown distant family relatives with roots in Western Europe, visiting from the American Midwest.

On another occasion, we managed to light Hanukkah candles at Los Angeles International Airport (not likely permitted today) while en route to Argentina to visit my wife’s family.

Another memorable time I lit a hanukkiah while traveling was while en route to Israel on a stopover at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on an American Professors for Peace in the Middle East faculty group study mission (an important U.S. and Canada faculty Israel support group founded in 1967). The two-hour layover before boarding our El Al flight was enough to allow the minimum half-hour needed for the candles to burn, per Jewish custom and law.

With permission from nearby boarding gate staff, I set up a menorah and three candles on the counter to light them, readily visible in the area. Others approached and while singing the prayers, together we recalled the living yet ancient “ages-old victory and miracle” (nes gadol hayah sham) while awaiting our flight to depart.

Again, as airport travelers en route to Israel, we joined in prayerful melodies and lights in a public reminder and joyful Hanukkah celebration of the Maccabees’ victory and our enemies’ defeat with God’s help — to restore the Temple in Jerusalem and enabling us to honor Jewish values and practices, thanks to this wonderful and supportive country, the United States, in which we have the privilege to live!

Allan Levine via email 

Gun Laws and Gun Violence in the U.S.

I read Danielle Berrin’s column about the need for gun control in this country (“The Great Gun Debate,” Dec. 15). First of all, homicides have gone way down from a high of nearly 20,000 over 10 years ago to around 12,000 to 14,000 thousand now. Of course, mass murders have increased, though.

The city of Chicago had very weak gun control laws years ago and had about 250 homicides a year. Now, with among with the strictest gun control laws in this country, the city has recorded more than 600 homicides this  year.

Gun control has never been effective in reducing homicides in this country and never will. Homicides may go up or down regardless of stricter gun control laws.

Lynda Wadkins, North Hollywood

Did Columnist See the Same Movie as Letter Writer?

How in the world could one possibly see the movie “Wonder” as “one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate”? (“ ‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels,” Dec. 1.)

You not only printed a piece contending that protecting America is hatred personified, you made sure the whole point of Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column was mainly about that.

You’ve bought (and are now selling) the craziness of MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, comedian Kathy Griffin and the rest of the people who claim that all of the Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables.”

Hasn’t that gotten a little old by now?

Steve Klein, Encino

Letter About Rohingya Was Misinterpreted

I am saddened by Usman Madha’s letter (“Muslim Wants to Dispel Distortions About Rohingya,” Dec. 15) misinterpreting the facts contained in my original letter regarding the Buddhist-Muslim strife in Myannmar (“Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets,” Dec. 8). I was clear in expressing sympathy for the innocent Rohingya at the outset of my letter, which focused primarily on the years of jihadist wars that have left indelible scars on the people of the Indian subcontinent.

This reality sheds light on the reactive behavior of Myanmar’s Buddhists to the Muslim Rohingya today. Madha admits he is well aware of the Jihadist problem in Islam when he proclaims he is a “practicing pluralist, non-jihadist Muslim.” Moreover, my letter did not focus on Jewish-Muslim relations but rather on Islamic-Buddhist relations, which lie at the heart of the Myanmar dispute.

I am a fan of moderate Muslim thinkers such as Zuhdi Jasser, who has called for a reform of Islam’s jihadist roots in a post-9/11 world. The recent rapprochement of Saudi Arabia and the moderate Arab countries with Israel, as well as the tone of Madha’s welcoming letter, give me hope for a better future.

Richard Friedman, Culver City

A Hanukkah Party Hits the Streets

Eli Chaim Hurwitz and Shmuel Forer, students of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon. Photo by Ryan Torok

Nuchie Shapiro watched from the corner of Melrose Avenue and Alta Vista Boulevard, outside Lala’s Argentine Grill, as minivans, sedans and convertibles drove by slowly with electric menorahs latched to their roofs and trunks. Noticing the occasional outage, Shapiro shouted at drivers to get their acts together.

“Your bulbs are out! Turn your bulbs on!” he hollered. “There you go!”

Shapiro was among the many spectators gathered the night of Dec. 14 to watch the Chabad Los Angeles Car Menorah Parade, an annual celebration organized by Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad–West Coast Talmudical Seminary, a Los Angeles-based Chabad yeshiva.

The parade featured Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad students marking the third night of Hanukkah in a raucous and lively expression of Jewish pride.

“We’re just lighting up the world one candle at a time,” said Eli Chaim Hurwitz, 17, a student at the yeshiva.

Around 6:30 p.m., cars lined up outside the yeshiva, at 7215 Waring Ave., as the sounds of an instrumental version of “Dreidel Song” played from a speaker in the flatbed of a parked pickup truck. Yeshiva students were ready to party. Some were dressed in clown costumes and others in their everyday yeshiva clothes: untucked white button-down shirts and black slacks.

“We’re just lighting up the world one candle at a time.”  —Eli Chaim Hurwitz

They piled into one another’s cars and at 7 p.m. the vehicles drove slowly away from the yeshiva and down the closed-off, residential North Alta Vista Boulevard, before turning onto the busy Melrose Avenue. The route also included Fairfax Avenue, Beverly Boulevard, La Cienega Boulevard and Third Street.

Rabbi Ezra Binyomin Schochet, rosh yeshiva (dean) of the seminary, the West Coast’s largest yeshiva college, was among the spectators, watching along with Hadassah Spalter, his daughter, and Mecha Schochet, his daughter-in-law, who teaches at Ohel Chana High School, a Chabad girls high school.

The Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department were on the scene.

Mendel Marasow, director of the seminary’s outreach program, helped organize the event. In an interview, he said Hanukkah is an important holiday because it reminds Jews of the importance of spreading the light at a time of darkness.

“Although our world is filled with many challenges and much darkness, the story of Hanukkah teaches us that just like one candle can transform so much darkness, so too can every good deed of kindness we do,” he said.

Shapiro, meanwhile, turned out with his family to show his support for the Chabad movement, he said.

“I’m just a member of the Jewish community here in Los Angeles, and I’m here with my children because to see this is very inspirational, but more so it teaches them to be proud Jews,” Shapiro, a member of Chabad SOLA, said. “So coming here to see this is very special and a big deal for us.”

What to Give Jewish Friends for Hanukkah

The holiday season is upon us, with Christmas fever getting into full swing. Christmas, however, is not the only gift giving religious winter holiday. Hanukkah predates Christmas by many a century and lasts a lot longer. This eight-day Jewish celebration, also known as the “Festival of Lights”, commemorates a Jewish revolt and successful rededication of the Temple in the second century BC. As Hanukkah coincides with Christmas, many of the lines and traditions have been blurred between the two. This leaves many people with the following question: what is an appropriate gift for Hanukkah?

It’s not Jewish Christmas


The biggest misconception about Hanukkah is that it is just like Jewish Christmas, when in fact the two have very little in common. When you sit down at your computer to find a good gift deal on the web, there are some specific unspoken rules for buying Hanukkah gifts you should be aware of. It is not your typical Christmas shopping. First of all, Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, far less religiously important than Christmas is to Christians. Secondly, gift giving was never an integral part of the holiday, as the only religious observance attributed to this holiday was lighting candles. It is only in the last century or so that kids started getting small presents on each day of Hanukkah.

Traditional gifts


If you are uncertain of what would be appropriate for a Hanukkah gift, you can always rely on the age-old traditional gifts. The Jewish equivalent to stocking-stuffers for kids are dreidels and little bags of chocolate coins wrapped in golden foil. The cradle is a four-sided spin top has with one letter of the Hebrew alphabet on each side that spell “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” which translates to “a great miracle happened here”. The chocolate coins are also known as Hanukkah geld. The coin is significant as a national minted coin was a great celebration of freedom for the ancient Hasmoneans, the ruling dynasty of Judea during classical antiquity. When shopping for adults, stylish menorah candles, a Jewish cookbook or a fine kosher wine or cooking oil are all sure bets for a traditional gift.

No Christmas wrapping


Whatever you decide on buying, do not be color blind. Christmas themed wrapping paper may be auspiciously abundant in all of the stores, but avoid it at all costs. Note that Christmas colors are red and green, while Hanukkah colors are blue and white, so color coordinate accordingly. If you do wrap your present, go for a plain generic pattern or splurge on some special Hanukkah wrapping paper. The same applies to gift cards, stay well away from anything Christmas themed. You can buy or even make a custom Hanukkah card with a gift card inside.

Observe tradition


Hanukkah lasts for eight days, so there really is no excuse to give your gift late. Show respect for tradition by giving your Hanukkah gifts on time. Also be aware of dietary restrictions and steer clear of gift baskets that contain Canadian bacon, fancy dried shrimp, Italian blood sausage or Christmas fruitcake. Splurging on gifts may be ok for some holidays, but it really misses the point of Hanukkah. Stick with small gifts that have some special meaning. A large part of Hanukkah is Tikkun Olam, translated as “repair the world”, through altruistic actions and honest communication. You can be a part of this by speaking to your friends about their beliefs and learning about the significance of Hanukkah traditions.

Although there is far less hype around Hanukkah than Christmas, giving a small Hanukkah gift is a nice gesture. That being said, the best gift you can give is love and friendship. Gifts are great, but spending time with family and feasting on oil fried food with loved ones is a much more important part of Hanukkah. It truly is an occasion where the expression “it’s the thought that counts” rings particularly true.

Hanukkah Celebrations Canceled in German City Over Safety Issues

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Hanukkah celebrations in the German city of Mülheim have been canceled over safety issues.

According to German media, a Hanukkah event at Mülheim’s city hall was nixed at the Central Council of Jews because the building was not considered to be secure enough and a safer location couldn’t be found in such a short period of time.

“We feel grief, because Hanukkah is a festival of joy. We have canceled all outdoor events,” local Jewish community leader Alexander Drehmann told the Bild Zeitung newspaper. “We are going to our community hall with secured entrance checkpoint, instead of being at the municipal theater. There were warnings, even from the non-Jewish sources, which I cannot name.”

Drehmann added, “It is a bad feeling. Surely one of the lowest points in our post-war history.”

Over the weekend, protests erupted in front of the United States embassy in Berlin in response to President Trump declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The protests featured Arabic chants of “Death of the Jews!” and “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is coming again,” a reference to the tale of the Prophet Muhammad conquering the Jewish populace in the oasis of Khaybar. Israeli flags were also torched at the protests.

German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert condemned the anti-Semitic protests.

“One has to be ashamed when hatred of Jews is put on display so openly on the streets of German cities,” said Seibert.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, as evident by the fact that anti-Semitic incidents tripled from 2014 (691) to 2015 (2,083). The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won almost 13% of the vote in the country’s most recent elections, and a recent report found that anti-Semitism is rampant among the mass influx of Muslim migrants that have entered Germany.

Overall, around 16% of German adults harbor anti-Semitic views, according to a 2015 profile by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Menorah-Inspired Floral Arrangement

Photos by Jonathan Fong.

Some may assume that because I create so many floral arrangements that I prefer big, complicated designs. But the reality is I have better things to do — like practicing my ukulele or dressing my pups in crazy costumes — so I like expending the least amount of effort possible when arranging flowers.

You can’t get much easier than this bud vase arrangement inspired by the candles of a menorah. Nine bud vases hold nine flowers in a row, with eight at one level and the middle one higher than the others. What a perfect centerpiece this would make for a Hanukkah celebration, or as an elegant decoration for a fireplace mantel.

Lest you think this could get pricey with nine vases, I picked up the ones in this example at a 99 Cents Only Store for a buck each. If you’re having guests over for Hanukkah, you can even give away the individual flowers in their vases as favors at the end of the night. Then you can say, “This bud’s for you.”

What you’ll need:
9 bud vases
9 individual flower stems


1. Gather nine bud vases. They can be identical, as in my example, or you can mix and match what you have around the house. You also can get creative by upcycling soda or perfume bottles. Try to select vases with narrow openings so that the stems stay upright rather than tilt.


2. Flowers like tulips, calla lilies or roses work well for this arrangement because the buds look like flames. Remove any leaves from the stems. Cut eight stems to the same length and one that is a few inches longer. Place the stems in the vases, lining them up with the taller flower in the middle.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Letters to the Editor: Kotel Clash, Sprituality, Anti-Semitism and Rohingya


‘The Dazzling Idea of Hanukkah’ (Dec. 8)

If parents want children to believe in the Jewish religion, it must be made fun. The games, treats and gifts are all part of the holiday. They see Santa everywhere and fun and gifts for all the Christian children, so if they don’t get a celebration, they will end up leaving the religion.

Dani Lester

Happy Hanukkah to all. Light up the darkness and rejoice.

Lauri Garber

‘Stronger Together’ (Dec. 8)

I am not Jewish but I wish so strongly that I had been in that hotel lobby that night celebrating Hanukkah. I am moved by the sense of community shared. Thank you for making this story available to me. It lifts my spirit.

Anne Kelly

‘The Light We Create’ (Dec. 8)

I loved this piece. It costs us nothing to be kind. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

Deidre Duke

Kindness as an everyday reminder of holy light. Beautiful essay, Karen Lehrman Bloch. Your best yet for the Journal.

Harold Henkel

Clash at Kotel Was Misrepresented

I was disappointed to read Jay Geller’s account of the Nov. 16 protest at the Kotel, which we attended together as governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (“Are the Kotel Clashes Worth It?” Dec. 1).

Geller mischaracterized the event by alleging students were subjected to “physical violence” and that the protesters “risked bodily harm.” Yes, it was physical, and there was pushing, shoving, grabbing and an attempted theft (of a Torah scroll), but no one was hurt, no punches were thrown, and not once did I feel in any serious danger.

That’s in part because police arrived to protect us after a confrontation with ultra-Orthodox civilians. Thus the conflict was not, as alleged, between “our group and the police.” Geller is confusing the “police” with security guards employed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

I do not recall the guards confronting students. Physical contact was limited to individuals holding Torah scrolls, and those were Reform movement leaders in Israel and the United States. (This is confirmed by video I recorded during this event.) While the planning of the protest may have been “unbeknownst to [Geller],” the rest of the board was advised  in advance and that morning of the risks, and that it was entirely optional.

Matthew Louchheim via email

When Faced With Anti-Semitism, Take Action

Kylie Ora Lobell wrote a hair-raising description of an Uber ride with an anti-Semitic driver (“That Time My Uber Driver Was Anti-Semitic,” Dec. 8). She and her husband didn’t object to his hate-filled diatribe or reveal that they were Jewish. Lobell concluded: “Some part of me wishes I were fearless, that I would have spoken up from that backseat.” But she said she was “shocked” and scared that the driver would harm them.

My first encounter with anti-Semitism was shocking, too: I was one of only three Jewish children in an elementary school on the outskirts of Seattle in the ’50s. One afternoon as I was walking home with my best friend, Bonnie, she suddenly shoved me down to the ground and yelled, “My grandmother said you killed Christ!” When later I told my father, he explained the whole, “It was the Romans, not the Jews who killed Christ” thing, and said if anyone ever said something anti-Semitic around me, I should point out that I was Jewish and a good person, and that people shouldn’t say hateful and false things about Jews — or anyone.

If I had been in that Uber with Lobell, I would have said just that from the back seat — softly, not with any anger in my voice. Then I would have opened my Uber app and given that driver a “no-stars” rating, and checked the “the driver was unprofessional” box and explained why.

Sharon Boorstin via email

Reporter Too Quick to Judge Spiritual Seekers

Danielle Berrin’s column (“Spiritual, Not Religious,” Dec. 1) is rife with judgment — judgment about people and judgment about practice.

More than 20 years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet Rabbi Jonathan Omer-man, and to study with him. Of British descent, Rabbi Omer-man was brought to Los Angeles by Hillel to work with Jews who had joined cults — which was a serious issue at the time.

A brilliant scholar, mystic, teacher and pastoral guide, Rabbi Omer-man gained a following of hundreds of Jews. Many had been in cults, or practiced Hinduism or Buddhism or, like me, were drawn to his particular spiritual teaching. Bottom line: He illuminated Jewish theology, text and practice to help so many rediscover and enhance their Judaism and Jewish practice.

One of the core principles that I observed in his leadership was his nonjudgment. He gave everyone the space to explore and evolve as Jews, and as human beings searching for God.

Unfortunately, judgment is woven into our psyches, pretty much from birth. Judgment is born of fear, with the singular purpose of creating separation. The last thing we Jews need right now is more separation.

Evelyn Baran via email

Portrait of the Holy Land

I am a 15-year-old freshman at YULA Boys High School. I totally agree with “Israel Loved the Sinai That Is Now a Killing Field” (Dec. 1) because this is the same way I feel. When tourists visit the Holy Land, they don’t want to see a killing field. The author writes: “For some time, and especially now, the view from the Israeli side has been somber and painful.”  This hurts me to know that all the Jews — especially the people who live in Israel — have to live in a time surrounded by such darkness.

Adam Kirschenbaum via email

Why a Couple Made Aliyah

It’s been four months since Lida and I made aliyah to Jerusalem from Los Angeles. People ask either, “How is your aliyah going?” or “Why did you move to Israel?” I now have a new answer.

While riding the crowded No. 78 Jerusalem bus this morning, a partially sighted woman with a white and red cane exited the bus. She waited to cross the street. The bus driver asked a 12-year-old boy to help her. The boy got off the bus and helped the woman to cross the street. The bus driver waited for the boy to return to the bus.

Hanukkah sameach.

Pesach Nisenbaum and Lida Baker, Jerusalem

Muslim Wants to Dispel Distortions About Rohingya

I have been and am a regular and faithful reader of the Jewish Journal for more than a decade.

In the Dec. 8 issue, a Richard Friedman from Culver City wrote a letter commenting on Stephen D. Smith’s story, and then goes on talking about how Muslims have killed “80 million non-Muslims” in the past millennium, etc. (“Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets.”) He then lumps Nazis and Muslims in the same breath and, to top it off, he then cites a scholar named Andrew Bostom from Brown University as a history scholar and his subsequent writing as the historical truth.

I, Usman Madha, a native of Burma/Myanmar, present resident of 40-plus years in Culver City, a practicing non-Jihadist, pluralistic Muslim, would like to extend Mr. Friedman an open invitation to share (my treat) a kosher-halal meal where we can discuss and dispel the wrong information he has about the Rohingya situation (historical and present) in my old country, in particular, and Muslims, in general.

Furthermore, Mr. Friedman also can read “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness Between Islam and Judaism” by Rabbi Allen Maller. He can order it from Amazon and MoreBooks. If he would like, I will gladly purchase this book for Mr. Friedman as a Hanukkah gift.


Usman Madha, Culver City

Rabbi Finds His Calling as Hospital Chaplain

Rabbi Avi Navah. Photo by Ayala Or-El

Rabbi Avi Navah will never forget his first day on the job as a chaplain at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, when he had to comfort a woman whose husband was rushed to the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack and died.

“It was very tough” he said. “She was in shock because it was so unexpected. He was in his early 70s. I held her hand and simply sat with her. Sometimes, there is no need to say anything — just to be there and offer comfort.”

It was quite a change from the work he had been doing for most of his career as a businessman who imported furniture from Indonesia and Bali. But at age 50, Navah decided he needed more spirituality in his life.

“It was after we had returned to the States from Israel, where I worked for an American company,” said Navah, who immigrated to the United States from Israel in 1972 and returned there for two years in 2000. “Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is a very good friend of mine, and we used to meet and talk about spirituality and religion. One day, he told me that he was teaching Talmud at the Academy of Jewish Religion and maybe I’d be interested in joining the class. At first, I sat there as a guest but soon after decided to enroll as a full-time rabbinical student.”

Navah meets with Jewish, Christian and Muslim patients alike. The role he plays for Jewish patients, though, is special.

Navah, now 67, had what some would call a spiritual awakening. He met in class people like him — doctors, teachers, people from all walks of life who had a passion for Torah studies. Navah continued running his business while he was studying at rabbinical school for the first two years, but then realized he didn’t care about the business anymore and wanted to devote himself fully to his rabbinical studies.

Navah did his internship at Temple Ner Maarav in Encino, where he served for six months, and then served as the rabbi at Kadima Day School in West Hills. The decision to become a chaplain came after his son, who was in nursing school, took a class in hospice care and learned about the role of a chaplain at the hospital.

“Research had shown the importance of spirituality and faith for the healing process of patients, and many hospitals employ chaplains,” said Navah, who joined a yearlong class in clinical pastoral education through UCLA.

“I was the only rabbi in the program. The rest were pastors and priests,” he said.

Seven years ago, he joined the Tarzana hospital as its only rabbi chaplain. Since his first day, Navah has comforted and supported many families during the most difficult of times in their lives.

“At the beginning, it was hard,” he said. “I carried it back home with me. I had the need to share with others my difficult experiences [working with terminally ill patients], but with time, it became easier.”

As part of his work, Navah meets with Jewish, Christian and Muslim patients alike. The role he plays for Jewish patients, though, is special.

“I have a list of all the Jewish patients in the hospital, so each Friday, I visit them and offer Shabbat candles and kosher challah along with a healing blessing,” he said.

On Rosh Hashanah, Navah takes his shofar and blows it in patients’ rooms, to the delight of nurses and doctors alike. On Sukkot, he visits them with the etrog and lulav.

This Hanukkah, Navah will light the large electric menorah in the lobby of the hospital on each night of the holiday. He also will visit each Jewish patient and offer them a small electric hanukkiah.

The work with patients — of all religions and of different backgrounds — who are facing severe health problems, even death, has taught Navah the power of faith, prayer and compassion, no matter what one’s religion is.

Ancient Heroine Lights the Way for Our Time

Photo from Max Pixel.

For centuries, Jewish women across the world have told the story of Judith during Hanukkah season.

In this cultural moment, it could not be more appropriate. So, let’s join the tradition!

Judith is a young widow, stuck in the state of mourning after her husband unexpectedly has died three years before. She wears her sackcloth and ashes in a city under siege. But when she sees the children beginning to starve as supplies dwindle, and hears the men in power declare that surrender must be God’s will, Judith asks the men to let her try one thing first.

She takes off her sackcloth and ashes, dresses in her finest clothes, and along with her maid, leaves the city under cover of darkness. They walk straight into the enemy camp and pretend they are planning to defect, winning the trust of the army. Over the course of a few nights, Judith works her way into the tent of the enemy general himself, Holofernes. He’s charmed by her, and invites her to a private feast the next night.

Judith returns for the feast in her best dress, with a bag containing a skin of wine and a chunk of salty cheese. She feeds him cheese until he is thirsty, then wine until he is sleepy. As he drifts off, she takes the sword from his bedside and, with her maid, cuts off his head.

Finally, Judith takes the head and impales it on the city gates, and in the morning, the enemy army wakes up, sees their general’s lifeless head, and flees en masse, ending the war.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” — Muriel Rukeyser

What a story. Not surprisingly, it’s a favorite of artists, including a female Old Masters painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, the subject of a seven-month sensational rape trial that rocked the 17th-century world; when she painted the scene, many think she gave Judith her face, and the head of Holofernes’ the face of her rapist.

Judith’s story upends the expectations of young women in the ancient world — or ours for that matter. Her victory is not just personal; it’s a triumph for her city, her culture, her people. You could say it’s a miracle, but you could also just say it’s a really smart new strategy.

And a new strategy is needed. After all, in this story, the established power structures have failed. God is not swooping in to save anyone, and the army is powerless to win. Only these two brave women can save their people.

Over the centuries, Jewish women have claimed Judith’s story as part of their living tradition. She’s often associated with Hanukkah, perhaps because of the near-miraculous military victory, or because both the holiday and Judith’s story are apocryphal, not included in the Hebrew Bible.

North African Jewish women celebrated Judith with a Chag HaBanot (Festival of the Daughters) or Eid al-Banat on the seventh night of Hanukkah; Ashkenazi Jewish women told Judith’s story in Yiddish on the eighth night of the holiday; Sephardic women in Turkey read the story of Judith to their children during the festival, as well.

And what about us? Right now, at this moment in American culture, women are beginning to speak the truths in our lives, challenging the structures of power that would keep us silent. We continue to unravel the violence that patriarchy causes women and men. We begin to hold those in power accountable. Judith leads the way, standing in solidarity with us as we discover our voices.

As poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser wrote in 1968, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Judith invites us to do precisely that: to tell the truth about our lives. Through her courage, she reveals our own. A bravery not necessarily predicted by our past actions, a bravery that might call for some reinvention, a bravery that might shatter what is expected of us and rearrange the world in a new structure.

Whether we use this courage for political action, or to carry out important changes in our personal lives, or to speak long-hidden truths, it is time. Time for us to tell the truth about our lives. And in this season of lights, Judith lights the way for us, as she has for so many before.

Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

Klezmatics Bringing Message of Social Justice to Hanukkah Concert

The Klezmatics will perform Hanukkah songs by Woody Guthrie. Photo by Adrian Buckmaster.

The Klezmatics are rolling into Southern California once again to celebrate Yiddish culture as well as to perform festive Hanukkah songs penned by American folk legend Woody Guthrie. In what has become a seasonal favorite, the iconic New York City-based neo-klezmer troupe will perform songs from its two albums of Guthrie originals and other traditional holiday fare on Dec. 16 at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge.

In their more than 30 years as a band, the Klezmatics have become the standard-bearers for Eastern European Jewish music, while bringing in other influences like Latin, Celtic, Afro-Caribbean and folk music. They are largely credited with helping to revive interest in Yiddish music and culture among a younger audience by drawing on the musical legacy and social activism of turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants.

So, how did Guthrie, the non-Jewish Dust Bowl balladeer from Oklahoma and writer of “This Land Is Your Land,” come to write songs for Hanukkah?

The father of American folk music became involved with the Jewish community at Coney Island soon after he moved to Brooklyn in 1942. His third wife, Marjorie Mazia, was born Marjorie Greenblatt and was a dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company. Marjorie’s mother, Aliza Greenblatt, was a well-known Yiddish poet and an early, committed leader in Zionist and Jewish women’s organizations. Many of her poems also were set to music and recorded by artists such as Theodore Bikel.

“We’ve drawn a lot of material from these great Yiddish socialist traditions.” — Frank London

Guthrie had a unique working relationship with his mother-in-law, who lived across the street and served Friday night Shabbat dinners to the family. They bonded over a shared love of culture and social justice, and she likely inspired him to write a batch of Hanukkah songs in 1949 for parties at the local Jewish community center. The songs are a combination of children’s tunes and more serious ballads about Jewish history and spiritual life.

In “The Many and the Few,” Guthrie recounts the life stories of key characters in Jewish history, including King Cyrus, Alexander the Great and Judah Maccabee. The Maccabee song ends with the lyrics: “Eight candles we’ll burn and a Ninth one too / Every new year that comes and goes / We’ll think of the many in the hands of the few / And thank God we are seeds of the Jews.”

Some of the songs are sentimental, like “Hanukkah’s Flame,” in which Guthrie writes: “Now as I light my first and my last / Of all nine candles to guide you past / Through these winds of blowing snows / To take you to your Hanukkah home.”

Woody Guthrie. Photo from Wikipedia

Others are playful, such as “Hanukkah Dance” (“Tippy tap toe! Happy Hanukkah! / Round you go! My little latke!”) and “Honeyky Hanukkah” (“It’s Honeyky Hanukkah, brushy my hair / Let’s dance a big horah and jump in the air.”)

The songs were never set to music and, after Guthrie’s death in 1967, sat untouched for decades. That is, until Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter and Arlo Guthrie’s sister) discovered a box of her father’s unpublished lyrics and poems. She approached the Klezmatics in 1998, after their concert at Tanglewood with violinist Itzhak Perlman, told them about her father’s collection of Jewish songs, and invited the band to record them.

The songs became the basis for The Klezmatics’ 2006 album “Happy Joyous Hanukkah.” Frank London and his bandmates set the words to melodies, a melding of Yiddish nigunim (traditional Chasidic melodies), folk, bluegrass and gospel arrangements.

Another set of Guthrie’s lyrics, which were anti-fascist and pro-labor, ended up on the Klezmatics’ 2006 Grammy Award-winning world music album, “Wonder Wheel.”

“If you look at ‘Wonder Wheel,’ it’s Jewish-y but in a more oblique way,” London said.  “We do the material from ‘Wonder Wheel’ all year round in our concerts, but the Hanukkah material is for now.”

London, who sings and plays trumpet and keyboards, is one of three original members still on board, along with Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano) and Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl). The ensemble also includes longtime members Matt Darriau and Lisa Gutkin.

The Klezmatics generally sing in Yiddish, though the two Guthrie albums are in English. But London said Guthrie did occasionally drop Yiddish words into his songs.

“A knish. … Calling a girl a meydeleh,” London said. “[Guthrie] didn’t speak or write in Yiddish. But it’s kind of cute that Woody Guthrie, the guy that wrote ‘Grand Coulee Dam,’ is dropping words like blintz.”

The Klezmatics are known as outspoken human rights advocates and have long been influenced by the radical socialist history of Yiddish poetry and music.

“We’ve drawn a lot of material from these great Yiddish socialist traditions,” London said.  “Yiddish culture is filled with respect and love for basic human dignity, and Woody’s music likewise.”

As America once again grapples with rising anti-Semitism, fascism and a restructuring of society to benefit the wealthy, London says Guthrie’s songs will resonate with audience members.

“This is a very difficult time we live in,” he said. “And I believe that one of the good aspects of music and the music the Klezmatics make, whether we’re doing our more political stuff or not, is that having people come together and sing together … will give people the strength to do the work necessary to resist some of the horrors of our contemporary moment.”

The Klezmatics will perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. Tickets for “Happy Joyous Hanukkah” start at $33 and can be purchased by calling (818) 677-3000 or visiting valleyperformingartscenter.org.

Take Your Menorah to Go With a Mint Tin

Photos by Jonathan Fong.

In my quest for creative menorahs, I’ve found felt menorahs, Lego menorahs and mahjong menorahs. But for its compactness and portability, I have to say I love the Altoids tin menorah. Hex nuts glued in a line act as miniature candleholders, and the tin can be closed so you can pack it in your bag.

Altoids aren’t kosher, however, so to make the menorah in this example, I looked far and wide for kosher mints (to be enjoyed later) in a tin container. I eventually found certified kosher Mensch Mints at Dylan’s Candy Bar at The Grove. (Me, going to The Grove, at holiday time — the sacrifices I make for my readers.)

Keep in mind that this menorah uses birthday candles, and these small candles will not burn for the required 30-minute minimum. So if you’re a traditionalist, you may want to use it only for decorative purposes, or as a novelty menorah to supplement your real one.

Finally, remember: This menorah is not a toy. Lit candles should never be left unattended. And place the menorah on a nonflammable surface away from anything that can catch fire.

What you’ll need:
Mint tin
11 hex nuts (size 1/4 inch-20)
Super glue
Birthday candles


1. Clean the inside of the mint tin. At the hardware store, purchase 11 hex nuts — eight for the Hanukkah candles and three for the shamash candle.


2. With super glue, attach eight hex nuts in a straight row to the bottom of the tin. There is just enough room for eight nuts lined up side by side.


3. Stack three nuts together and attach them with super glue, and place that either in front of or in back of the row of eight nuts. This stack will elevate the shamash candle.


4. Place candles in the hex nuts on successive nights according to custom. Look for extra-long birthday candles at the supermarket.

Jonathan Fong is host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube and author of “Parties that Wow.”

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Dec. 8-14: Hanukkah Celebrations, JCC Run & Walk, and More

The "First Night" will be held on Tuesday in Downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.


Sonia Warshawski

Holocaust survivor. Grandma. Diva. Big Sonia. Director Leah Warshawski’s documentary film follows her octogenarian grandmother, Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor who runs the last store in a defunct shopping mall, a tailor shop she’s owned for more than 30 years. When Sonia, one of the last remaining survivors in Kansas City, is given an eviction notice, the specter of retirement forces her to confront her harrowing past, which includes concentration camps and death marches. The film weaves Sonia’s current conflict with stories about her diva-like personality from family and friends. Various times. Laemmle Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.


Five-time Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein performs holiday classics from his album “A Michael Feinstein Christmas.” Feinstein has been called the “Ambassador of the Great American Songbook” for preserving and presenting the meld of old and new vocals. The crooner will belt out holiday classics, including “Sleigh Ride,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” 8 p.m. $38-$98. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-8800. valleyperformingartscenter.org.


Award-winning songwriter, storyteller and artist Daniel Cainer performs a one-man Shabbat concert. The London-based Cainer shows off of a knack for clever lyrics and sweet melodies as he sings about his childhood encounters with anti-Semitism, explores the tapestry that makes up family and how Judaism has changed over the years, and examines the enigma that is Israel. 9 p.m. dessert, 9:30 p.m. show. $20. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (213) 915-0084. picounionproject.org.


Enjoy games, crafts, music, food and more at this family-friendly event, which annually welcomes more than 500 local Eastsiders, including families with children, to the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC). Entertainment will include performances by the Hollow Trees, Sing With Sylvie, Stoli Magic, Ms. Hellen’s Silver Lake Ballet School, Love Bug & Me Music and students from the SIJCC’s Jewish Learning Center. Activities will include spinning top and wind chime craft booths, a “toddler zone,” reptile fun with the Critter Squad, animal balloon making, face painting and a doughnut-eating contest. The SIJCC also will hold a bake sale fundraiser, featuring food ranging from latkes and empanadas to brownies and cupcakes. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Children 2 and older, $15; adults, free. Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, 1110 Bates, Ave., Los Angeles. (Street parking only. Ride-sharing service, bicycling or public transportation highly recommended.) (323) 663-2255. sijcc.net.


Seth Siegel, entrepreneur, water activist and New York Times best-selling author, will discuss whether the technology utilized in Israel is the key to helping solve global water needs. Siegel wrote the award-winning, international best-seller “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World.” Free. Reservations required. 11:30 a.m. The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246. beverlyhillsjc.org.


Do good — and feel good doing it! More than 600 runners, walkers and volunteers of all ages are expected at the Westside Jewish Community Center’s second annual 5-kilometer run and walk. The certified, timed route and pet-friendly, stroller-friendly course is on the northwest lane of San Vicente Boulevard, between Olympic Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. A shortened kids’ fun run serves the community’s youngest members. There also will be a health and wellness expo with food, drinks, a kids’ fun zone and finish-line celebrations. Funds raised will benefit wellness programs at the Westside JCC, which serves seniors, special needs individuals, children and teens. Participants receive a bagel breakfast, gift bag, T-shirt and finisher’s medal. 6:30 a.m. (registration opens), 8 a.m. (5K run/walk), 9:30 a.m. (kids’ fun run). $35 (ages 18 and older), $25 (ages 5-17), $15 (fun run for kids), $20 (fan). Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 556-5238. wizathon.com/wjcc5k.


Docents Stephen Sass and Jeremy Sunderland will take guests, on foot and by mass transit, on a 2 1/2-mile tour from Union Station to sites of Jewish historic interest. Stops include Heritage Square Museum and the newly rebuilt Colonial Drug, operated for six decades by Jewish pharmacist George A. Simmons and family. Guests also will discover the role played by the Jewish community in the growth and development of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles. Sass is president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California; Sunderland is on the board of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California and the Breed Street Shul Project. Sponsored by the Whizin Center for Continuing Education. $58. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Waiting list is available. Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.


Klezmer Juice

Guests of all ages can enjoy live music, dance, art and food at the Skirball Center. Latin-Jewish bands Klezmer Juice and Pan Felipe perform; dance ensembles Versa-Style and Mambo Inc. teach attendees salsa, cumbia, mambo and hip-hop moves; visual artist Sandy Rodriguez leads attendees in creating a visual art installation; Maite Gomez-Rejon, founder of Art Bites, teaches about Mexican chocolate and decorating chocolate gelt; and storytellers Mario Ibarra and Julia Garcia-Combs recount the age-old story of Hanukkah in English and Spanish. The museum’s current exhibitions, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico” and “Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs and Mark-Making in L.A.” will be open. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. $12 (general), $9 (seniors, full-time students and children older than 12), $7 (children 2-12). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


Enjoy the festive Hanukkah and holiday season sounds of the Beverly Hills Madrigals, the Beverly Hills Unified School District middle school choir and the fourth- and fifth-grade honors choir. Complimentary holiday refreshments provided by students from the Beverly Hills High Culinary Arts program. Presented by Friends of Beverly Gardens and the Beverly Hills Community Services Department. Free. 1-2:30 p.m. Beverly Gardens Park (near the lily pond), 9439 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. beverlyhills.org/boldholidays.


Novelist and short story writer Nathan Englander discusses his new book, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth,” a tragicomic take of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with David Ulin, former editor of the Los Angeles Times books section. Join Wilshire Boulevard Temple for a conversation about Judaism, anti-Semitism, Israel and literature. A book sale, signing and a dessert reception follow. 7-10:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401. wbtla.org.


Journalist Jonathan Dobrer explores the work of Martin Buber, one of the most important and influential modern Jewish philosophers who redefined Jewish thinking and bridged Chasidic spirituality with the secularism of Freud. Dobrer, an author of serious and humorous essays on contemporary culture, explores the question of what it means to consider Buber a dissident. 7:30 p.m. $20. American Jewish University, David Alan Shapiro Memorial Synagogue Center, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. aju.edu.


On the first night of Hanukkah, young adult movement NuRoots kicks off its third annual citywide celebration of miracles. That evening’s event, “First Night,” is one party in two locations, with people on the Westside gathering at Bergamot Station and people on the Eastside at Conduit DTLA for a creative dining experience featuring Hanukkah-inspired craft cocktails, swag, music and more. Additionally, more than 30 events will take place through Dec. 22 as part of this Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles initiative, including “Latkes and Vodka,” “Get Lit Fashion Show,” “Ugly Sweater Party” and the flappers-themed party “The Great Gatsberg.” Organizations including East Side Jews, Moishe House, Bend the Arc and the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles partner on various events. Through Dec. 22. 7:30 p.m., $30. Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Conduit DTLA, 1635 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8118. infinitelight.la.


Join local synagogues and community groups as their members celebrate Hanukkah. Lighting the menorah begins shortly after sundown each evening. Participating synagogues include Mishkon Tephilo, Santa Monica Synagogue, Stephen Wise Temple, Kehillat Israel, Nashuva, Beth Shir Shalom and Chabad of Santa Monica. 4-8 p.m. Free. 1351 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. (310) 393-8355. santamonica.com/things-to-do/events.


Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a study of government decisions related to the Vietnam War, to the media when he was an analyst for the Rand Corp., discusses his new book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” a nonfiction account of the nuclear arms race. The event takes place in a run-up to the January release of Steven Spielberg’s new film, “The Post,” in which Ellsberg is a key figure. 8 p.m. $20 (general admission), $30 (reserved seat), $45 (reserve seat plus book). William Turner Gallery, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. livetalksla.org.


Honk if you love Hanukkah! On the third night of Hanukkah, Chabad-Lubavitch’s Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, a seminary for Chabad high school students, celebrates the festival of lights by driving through the city in a caravan of celebration. Order an electric menorah to mount on top of your car and join the fun. Beep beep! 6:30 p.m. (lineup), 7 p.m. (departure). Start: Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, 7215 Waring Ave., Los Angeles. Finish: Third Street and South Harper Avenue, Beverly Hills. To order a menorah for your car or for more information, call (410) 209-0545 or email yoecshluchim@gmail.com.

Last-Minute Hanukkah Gifts

You can’t bear the thought of going to the mall at this time of year — just finding a parking spot is a competitive sport. But Hanukkah is here. And your shopping list? Let’s just say it is a work in progress.

Don’t fret. We’ve got you covered with great finds from local retailers that should satisfy your entire crew, including the family pet. Happy Hanukkah!

Musical lovers will enjoy immersing themselves in “DEAR EVAN HANSEN: THROUGH THE WINDOW” ($50), the official behind-the-scenes book about the Tony Award-winning Broadway show starring former Harvard-Westlake student Ben Platt. Get it now, before the production comes to town next fall at the Ahmanson Theatre. Children’s Book World, 10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 559-2665. childrensbookworld.com.

Inspired by the success of the live game nights they host at the Hollywood Improv, Barry McLaughlin and Jason Lautenschleger created GAME NIGHT IN A CAN. Each can contains 30 games for players, ages 8 and older. And there’s no fancy equipment required — just pen, paper and a sense of humor. A tree is planted for every can sold. $24.99 at Miracle Mile Toys, 5464 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 389-1733. gamenightinacan.com

Nothing says Hanukkah to a dog like a little brisket mixed in with the kibble — and maybe his very own menorah. The plush HAPPY HANNUKAH MENORAH DOG TOY ($7.99) is one of several holiday-themed gifts for dogs and cats available at Petco. Tossing it to your pooch also will help you work off some of those guilty gelt calories. Selection varies. Multiple locations. petco.com

Just when you thought you would never buy another fidget spinner, here comes the irresistible DREIDEL SPINNER ($6) in Hanukkah blue. It’s a very 2017 twist on the classic four-sided dreidel, complete with a nun, gimel, hey and shin, as well as the logo for the Museum of Tolerance, where you can grab one in the gift shop. 9786 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2505. museumoftolerance.com

The colorful YOEE BABY toy started with the simple idea of tickling a tot with a feather. Colorado-based mom Jillian Lakritz, who is Jewish, and designer Bill Donavan took that idea and turned it into a BPA-free first toy for baby available in five designs: puppy, kitty, fox, lion and monkey. $25 at Huzzah!, 2010 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. (310) 452-2900. huzzahtoys.com

The Light We Create

Photo from Pixnio.

I recently stopped in at one of my favorite shops in Manhattan, a small boutique on upper Madison Avenue. I try to avoid the place because I love the clothes too much. This time, though, I was happy to see Galit, an Israeli designer who works there when he’s not designing.

After we hugged and exchanged pleasantries, I asked him how he was doing. “Oh, you know, whatever.” What do you mean? I asked. What’s the matter? “Nothing. Nothing’s the matter. We get up, we go to work, we come home. Repeat.”

I know enough about depression to recognize it, especially at this time of year when it gets dark at an unseemly hour. But I also know enough about creative people to know that they need to create, that it is essential to their emotional health.

What have you been designing recently? I asked casually. “Nothing. I mean, why design? People like ugly trends,” he said, pulling out from the rack an ugly trend that can be spotted all over the city.

I urged him to continue designing anyway, but what I really wanted to say was this: The deeper meaning of creativity can be even more gratifying.

It is something I have fully understood only in recent years. Creating beauty — through words, paint, cloth — is a great honor, and often, as Michelangelo put it, a great burden. But creating light for those around us, through acts of goodness and kindness, is an even deeper beauty, and it creates an even deeper happiness.

For some, this comes quite easily. My mother, for instance, had what I can describe only as an eternal flame burning within her. Brimming with optimism and sweetness, she seemed to float through life, always being the bigger person no matter what situation she found herself in.

As a child, she was my entire world; as a rebellious teen, I found her perennial sunshine annoying. It was only in my 20s that I began to realize that her happiness came from giving, from creating light for others — it was a circle of positivity, of beauty.

She inherited this trait from her father, my much-adored grandfather, who brought light into people’s lives through humor. No matter where we went with him, cashiers, waitresses, shopboys always made a point of telling us how much they loved Aba. In his later years, we would park him on a bench so we could take a morning walk along the beach. Every time, we would come back to find the bench filled with people laughing.

It was only after I had my son, spending every precious (exhausting) minute with him as a baby and young child, that I fully understood the larger canvas of creativity.

It was only after I had my son, spending every precious (exhausting) minute with him as a baby and young child, that I fully understood the larger canvas of creativity. And it wasn’t just about him. Freed from the hectic pace of office life, I began to look for ways to help — other children, the elderly, people struggling with groceries. Perhaps the most gratifying moment of all was watching my son create light for others — watching his face fill with the deep joy that this special moment brings.

Of course, we don’t often have the luxury of slowing down time. And because of this, we need to make sure that we nourish our souls so that we can then nourish the souls of others. As I write this, “Ma’oz Tzur” plays softly in the background; it is for me one of the most spiritually cleansing songs of Judaism. Whether it’s music, art, majestic architecture, loving friends and family — we each need to recognize what we need to help us create circles of beauty, moments of light.

And so every year, as I teach my son the story of Hanukkah — the bravery of the Maccabees, the miracle of the oil — I increasingly emphasize a more personal meaning: Just as lighting Hanukkah candles creates a beautiful moment, we can do the same in our everyday lives — through just a smile, a kind word, a sweet gesture. Often it takes just a drop of beauty to light up someone’s world.

Chag sameach.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

STRONGER TOGETHER: At a time of deep community divisions, Hanukkah holds lessons on the power of unity

On our many trips to Israel, our family had never spent much time in Tel Aviv because most of our friends and relatives live in the Jerusalem area. But a few years ago, when we were planning a visit to see our son, then serving in the Israel Defense Forces, we scheduled a couple of days in the great city on the sea.

I booked a reasonably priced hotel room somewhere near the beach and hoped for the best. To this day, my family teases me for choosing what turned out to be a ghastly choice of accommodations. But my predominant memory of our brief sojourn there is actually quite delightful.

The evening we checked in happened to be the fourth night of Hanukkah. When I walked into the lobby — overnight bag in one hand, Hanukkah menorah in the other — the young man behind the desk politely informed me that hotel policy forbade lighting flames in the rooms. After a brief back-and-forth, he agreed to let us to light our hanukkiah right there in the lobby. Realizing that this was my only option, I accepted the offer. We brought our luggage to the room, then returned to the lobby.

That’s when the unforgettable happened.

The hotel clerk already had laid out some aluminum foil for us, and was standing by, awaiting our return. I set down the hanukkiah and began to sing the blessings, and suddenly was surprised to hear another voice merge with mine: the clerk’s. Suddenly, the small group of people in the tiny lobby of this sketchy Tel Aviv hotel became an unlikely choir of randomly gathered Jews, together praising God for the miracles “in those days at this time.” Some of us had tears in our eyes.

There’s something about Hanukkah. Maybe it’s the arresting appeal of the few and the just overcoming the odds and achieving victory over the mighty many. Maybe it’s the delightful simplicity of the holiday’s main ritual. Perhaps it’s just the time of year. But Hanukkah generates a sense of Jewish unity, of Jewish solidarity and community, as no other occasion on the calendar does.

In wistful moments, we wish things could be this way more often, that the religious, ideological and political fault lines that divide us could become less deep and jagged, that our disputes could be the “arguments for the sake of heaven” that historically gave our people vitality, not poisonous discord. If only Hanukkah were a few hundred days longer.

If we listen closely to Hanukkah, though — to its story and its laws — we discover that it offers indispensable wisdom about how to hold together a community of differences, and about how a community that doesn’t agree on every issue still can learn to live and sing together.

It’s not widely understood why Judah the Maccabee and company specifically chose the 25th of Kislev as the day to rededicate the ancient Temple. The Syrian-Greeks had been successfully driven from Jerusalem months earlier, during the summer of 163 C.E. Yet Judah waited to rededicate the Temple, refraining from bringing his victory to its climax.

The group of people in the tiny lobby
of this sketchy Tel Aviv hotel became an unlikely choir of randomly gathered Jews.

The theory is that he delayed out of a desire to preserve the nation’s unity. The Chasidim of that era were traditionalist Jews who had joined the Maccabees’ resistance, ultimately deciding that the Maccabees’ cause justified fighting even on Shabbat. They also believed fervently that the human efforts to recapture Jerusalem would be capped by the fulfillment of messianic prophecies that God would make Himself known, and the End of Days would commence. So they asked Judah to wait for God to restore the Temple to its prior purity, confident that this would happen during the holidays in the month of Tishrei.

Judah himself believed that the Maccabees’ victory was supported by God, but ultimately engineered by humans. Nonetheless, in deference to the request of the Chasidim, he held off, hoping that the Temple’s rededication would bring together all the Jews in celebration. But when Sukkot ended, on the 22nd of Tishrei, no divine act had occurred.

The Chasidim again asked Judah to wait. Because of the upheavals wrought by Antiochus’ decrees, the Jewish calendar had not been intercalated for several years, so it could be as much as two months out of sync. Again, Judah honored their request, waiting until the 22nd of Kislev. When Divine intervention still hadn’t come, he declared that in three days — exactly three years after the Temple’s desecration — the menorah would be lit and the Temple re-consecrated to God.

It’s possible that if Judah simply had lit the menorah months earlier, over the objections of the Chasidim, Hanukkah never would have come to be. It might have become mired in Jewish sectarian controversy, and we would have lost the story and all that it has come to represent. Judah’s wisdom of waiting was the wisdom of recognizing that Jews interpret the world — and God’s role in it — differently. Judah understood that the greater our ability to hear and honor many voices, the greater the likelihood that we would be able to establish a calendar and to practice sacred rituals that unite us all.

Another piece of advice about how to hold together a community of differences comes from a legal discussion that plays out in the pages of the Mishnah. In many ways, it is the necessary complement to the lesson we drew from Judah Maccabee.

The Mishnah tells of a shopkeeper who, in accordance with halachah (Jewish law), lights his Hanukkah light just outside the door of his shop, which is also his home. When a camel laden with flax passes through the narrow street, the candle sets the flax aflame, and property is destroyed in the resulting fire. The Mishnah asks: Who is liable for the property damage? The flame lighter or the camel driver?

The Mishnah’s majority opinion (known as the Sages) applies the general rule that governs such matters: Anyone who puts a flame in a public thoroughfare is responsible for damages that may result. One Sage disagrees — Rabbi Yehuda. He argues that the shopkeeper should be held blameless because the laws of Hanukkah authorized him to place the flame in the potentially hazardous place.

The Mishnah doesn’t elaborate further on the reasoning behind the two opinions. But other rulings in the Mishnah might offer some insight. The Sages could point to the Mishnah that says that a homeowner is allowed to dispose of water that has accumulated in the home’s courtyard by pouring it into the public domain, and yet if anyone in the public domain should slip on that water, the homeowner is liable. Our deeds sometimes produce unintended consequences for others. When they do, even if our actions are legally permitted, we bear responsibility for those results. The same principle applies to the person who lights the Hanukkah light in a narrow street.

Rabbi Yehuda might object, strenuously distinguishing between emptying water from a courtyard (a discretionary act) and kindling the Hanukkah light (a commanded one). He would find support in a talmudic discussion about another topic: a person who runs through a crowded marketplace. The Talmud says that if the running person carelessly collides with a person who is walking, the runner is liable for damages — unless it happens to be a Friday. Why? Rabbi Yehuda would assert it’s because, on a Friday afternoon, the person is running through the marketplace for the sake of a mitzvah: preparing for Shabbat. And Jewish law cannot simultaneously mandate that you perform an action and also hold you liable for harm that might result. Wouldn’t the same apply to the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah light just outside one’s home?

In the end, though, the law follows the opinion of the Sages. Everyone who enters the marketplace on a Friday afternoon knows that people will be rushing, and implicitly accepts that risk. But when it comes to Hanukkah, the law requires only that the Hanukkah light be lit for half an hour. That’s a short enough time that a person who lights in a narrow street should stay nearby and keep close watch. There is no blanket exemption for a person doing a mitzvah.

Here is Hanukkah’s second lesson in preserving and encouraging communal unity. We need to reject the idea that being engaged in the performance of a mitzvah renders a Jew less responsible to those around him or her. To be sure, performing ritual mitzvot requires great attention to detail and we want to fulfill them in accordance with the law. It’s also true that within families and communities, people’s varying interpretations and religious practices can lead to tension, conflict and hurt feelings. The result is that moments that ought to be celebratory and filled with love instead become sources of resentment and division.

The Sages are teaching that when you’re performing a mitzvah, you need to be more — not less — conscious of those around you, and more — not less — sensitive to other people’s needs and welfare. That is not to say that every difference that arises has a neat and simple solution. We all know from personal experience that Passover seders and Shabbat dinners, weddings and even funerals can generate deeply rooted philosophical disagreements among the people who are trying to mark these events together. The important point is this: When we are engaged in performing a ritual mitzvah, we are also engaged in the interpersonal mitzvot of understanding the impact of our actions upon others, and taking responsibility to be sure that our Jewish decisions don’t bring injury to those around us.

If we listen closely to Hanukkah, we discover indispensable wisdom about how to hold together a community of differences.

A final insight arises from the situation in which a person is away from home on Hanukkah. According to Jewish law, a traveler may light the hanukkiah wherever he is sleeping, but the person isn’t obligated to light if his family back home is doing so. Still, even if the traveler isn’t lighting, if she should happen to see a lit hanukkiah, then she should recite the second of the two Hanukkah blessings, praising God, “who has wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time.”

What’s remarkable is that the traveler doesn’t need to know the identity of the lighter, and the lighter need not be conscious of the presence of the traveler. The two can share the light of the Hanukkah candles simply through the assumption that all of us are perpetually eager to help and support one another. Whatever our Jewish disagreements may be, we embrace thtis fundamental tenet of Jewish peoplehood. If there’s a way that we can support one another’s Jewish lives and journeys, then it should be our honor to do so.

“All of Israel are responsible to one another” is not an empty maxim, but a motto that should guide our lives. Each night of Hanukkah can be a moment of rededication to this principle if we remain conscious that we are lighting not only for ourselves and for our families, but for all of our fellow members of the tribe, whoever they are, wherever they reside and however they live and love their Judaism. Indeed, there may be no better place to wind up on the fourth night of Hanukkah than in the lobby of your accidental Tel Aviv hotel.

There’s something about Hanukkah. It generates a vibe of Jewish unity, of Jewish solidarity and community, as no other occasion on the calendar does. If we will it, the vibe of Hanukkah can become the vibe of Jewish life.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is rabbi of B’nai David–Judea Congregation.

The Dazzling Idea of Hanukkah

“What is Judaism?” asks Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “A religion? A faith? A way of life? A set of beliefs? A collection of commands? A culture? A civilization?”

It is all of these, he responds, but something more — a “constellation of ideas.”

Judaism values the power to think. The rabbi describes our tradition as “a dazzlingly original way of thinking about life.”

In our Twitter-crazy world of radical polarization, are we losing this power to think? It often feels like it. We seem to always be in combat mode. We want to catch our opponents in a mistake, crush them with our talking points. Instead of valuing ideas, we value clever arguments. Above all, we want to be right.

Great ideas, though, are not about being right. They’re meant to enlighten, not bludgeon. They seek to open minds, not change them. They inspire thought, not angry passion.

Great ideas are not about being right. They’re meant to enlighten, not bludgeon.

Among his favorite ideas, Sacks quotes the American Declaration of Independence and its key sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

While claiming that “this is arguably the most important sentence in the history of modern politics,” Sacks notes the irony that “these truths are very far indeed from being self-evident. They would have sounded absurd to Plato and Aristotle, both of whom believed that not all men are created equal and therefore they do not have equal rights.”

The transformational idea of human equality, Sacks explains, can be self-evident only “to someone brought up in a culture that had deeply internalized the Hebrew Bible and the revolutionary idea set out in its first chapter, that we are each, regardless of color, culture, class or creed, in the image and likeness of God. This was one of Judaism’s world-changing ideas.”

Yes, ideas can change the world, but they can also change us.

One of my favorite ideas in Judaism is how we extract deep wisdom from our holidays. Digging for meaning is integral to the observance of rituals. We don’t just fast, pray or sit around a festive table. We’re supposed to go deep, find life lessons, ask big questions: How can these rituals help us grow? How can they bring us closer? How can they add meaning to our lives?

In our cover story this week, Rabbi Yosef Kanesfsky goes deep to find meaning in the quirky holiday of Hanukkah. If there’s one Jewish holiday that can use such an excavation, it’s surely the festival that has been so trivialized by its modern playfulness — by the dreidels and gelt and jelly doughnuts and latkes and Adam Sandler songs and those nightly gifts for the kids.

Beyond the fun stuff — which we should never undervalue — there’s spiritual gold to mine, and Kanefsky goes digging for the gems. Some of those gems speak directly to issues our community is facing.

“If we listen closely to Hanukkah,” he writes, “to its story and its laws, we’ll discover several indispensable pieces of advice that it offers — advice about how to hold together a community of differences, and about how such a community can learn to live and sing together, despite not always agreeing about every issue that arises.”

In his search, Kanefsky explores why Hanukkah falls so late after the great victory it commemorates. Why did Judah the Maccabee and company specifically choose the 25th of Kislev as the day to rededicate the Temple, even though the Syrian-Greeks had been driven out of Jerusalem months earlier, during the summer of 163 C.E.?

If there’s one Jewish holiday that can use such an excavation, it’s surely the festival that has been so trivialized by its modern playfulness.

“Judah’s wisdom of waiting,” Kanefsky writes, “was the wisdom of recognizing that Jews interpret the world and God’s role in it differently, with resultant differences in how to commemorate and observe significant events. And he understood that the greater our ability to hear and honor many voices, the greater is the likelihood that we will be able to establish a calendar and to practice sacred rituals that unite us all.”

That’s just to give you a taste of the spiritual gems that lurk beneath the dreidels and latkes. They’re part of that “constellation of ideas” Rabbi Sacks speaks about when conveying the compelling nature of the Jewish faith.

“Too few people think about faith in these terms,” Sacks writes. “We know the Torah contains commands, 613 of them. We know that Judaism has beliefs. Maimonides formulated them as the 13 principles of Jewish faith. But these are not all that Judaism is, nor are they what is most distinctive about it.”

What is distinctive is a “dazzlingly original way of thinking about life.”

In this issue, we offer you a dazzlingly original way of looking at Hanukkah. But don’t worry, we also have some great food and gift ideas.

Happy Hanukkah.

Week of December 8, 2017

Jewish Holidays: Tools That Will Make the Holidays a Little Easier

The holidays are approaching. This can mean different things for families, such as spending time with each other, shopping, or observing Jewish traditions.

Still, no matter how much one prepares, the holidays can be a little stressful. The following are interesting tools Jewish families have at their disposal to make things a little easier during the holidays.

Calendar Days

One of the most useful tools available today is the Jewish Days app. This application can be downloaded on most smart devices and helps people track special Jewish holidays.

It is okay to admit that some of these days are hard to keep track of, and the app tracks these days for you so you are never caught off guard. The app also allows you to add additional notes should there be something worth noting this year.

Proper Storytelling Tool

Getting the days right is just one thing to worry about. Others worry about telling the Haggadah Passover story. The story is normally condensed, but telling it in front of family and friends can still be intimidating.

This is why the Haggadah for Passover application can be useful. It outlines the story to ensure that it is told correctly, and it also tells the user when to drink from the cup of wine.

It makes the moment easier and makes you feel more confident, which is ultimately what everyone wants. All you have to do is type in the name of the app on your app store.

Gifting Help

You have a lot to worry about, from entertaining guests to updating family with all the information they might be interested in. On top of this, you still have to purchase the right gifts.

Another tool worth adding to your list is BestAdvisor, which allows you to browse through hundreds of gifts. This might not seem too useful at first, but what makes this tool unique is that it aggregates reviews from real people so that you get exactly what you were looking for.

You can also check on the present you are considering seeing how others have rated it before deciding on it.

The Cleanup

Preparing the house for the holidays can be a little overwhelming, but it can be a family affair if you want it to.

Getting rid of all Chametz can be challenging, but there are a number of tools out there that you can use to make this a little easier. For example, there is the No Chametz tool, which is an easy app to install and use.

The tool helps you find out what is Chametz, which can be confusing in this day and age. You should also receive a link that shares information. You will be able to sell things while still observing traditions.

Kosher Eating App

You got rid of all the Chametz, but that does not mean your work is done. Now, you have to make sure your food is acceptable for the holidays. It used to be quite difficult to ensure all food was Kosher, but that is becoming easier.

One tool that is making things easier for families across the country is the cRc Kosher application. The tool lists a number of foods that are considered Kosher. Another effective tool to consider is the OU Kosher application that helps you shop at the grocery store since it tells you if a product is Kosher or not.

Technology is making things easier for people, including Jewish families. Granted, these are just some of the tools out there, so do not be afraid to search your app store to look for other tools worth exploring.

Branching Out for Hanukkah

Photos by Jonathan Fong.

How much do we love Hanukkah? Let us count the ways with this festive Hanukkah countdown branch. Eight little wrapped boxes hang from the branch, and each night of Hanukkah one of the gifts gets to be opened. It’s true what they say — good things come in small packages.

What you’ll need:
8 small boxes with gifts inside
Wrapping paper
Branch, about 18 inches long
Glue stick


1. Gather eight small gift boxes. I bought these at The Container Store, but you can also look in your closets and repurpose any packaging you may find.


2. Place a gift in each box, and wrap the boxes.


3. Tie a ribbon vertically around each gift box. The ribbon is more than decorative — it will hold the string that is tied to the branch.


4. Find a branch that is about 18 inches long. You can cut one from your yard or purchase one from a crafts store. You also can use a dowel, long ruler or even a hanger. Tie a piece of string to each end for hanging.


5. Tie a piece of string around the ribbon on each box. Then hang the gift boxes on the branch with the string, spacing them evenly.


6. Write a number on each box, from one to eight. You can write directly on the package, or write the numbers on paper that you then glue to the box.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Just Desserts for Hanukkah — Even Latkes

I remember celebrating HanuKkah when growing up and being with my extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. The highlights were lighting the Hanukkah menorah, eating lots of latkes, exchanging gifts and anticipating all the great desserts.

Potato latkes are the most popular of the Hanukkah foods. They are traditionally fried in olive oil to a delicious crispness and served with applesauce, sour cream, sugar and preserves.

This year, we are preparing recipes that include new, delicious Dessert Potato Latkes, a combination of apples and potatoes, as well as an Italian Olive Oil Cake, a recipe from chef/butcher Dario Cecchini (our adopted Italian son) that is served at his restaurant, Solo Ciccia, in Tuscany.

I also love to serve Sufganiyot, deep-fried doughnuts, usually eaten in Israel as a snack or at the conclusion of the Hanukkah dinner. The dough can be prepared in advance and fried in olive oil just before serving.

For our dessert buffet, and as an extra treat, we ask all the bakers in the family to bring their favorite, homemade Hanukkah cookies to share during our celebration.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy
2 large Red Delicious apples, peeled,
seeded and diced
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled
and shredded
2 eggs
4 to 5 tablespoons matzo meal
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
Powdered sugar for garnish

In a nonstick skillet, melt butter and add apples, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon. Over medium-high heat, sauté until apples are glazed, about 4 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the apple mixture, potatoes, eggs, matzo meal and salt. Mix well.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil. With a tablespoon, spoon the potato-apple mixture into the hot oil and flatten the latkes with the back of the spoon. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes a side, turning only once, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes about 24 latkes.

Olive oil for baking pan
1/4 cup ground almonds for baking pan
5 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 oranges, finely chopped (pulp and peel)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup raisins, plumped in Vin Santo or
a sweet wine
1/2 cup (toasted) pine nuts for garnish
Sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush a 10- or 12-inch springform pan with olive oil and dust with ground almonds.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar. Add orange peel and pulp and blend well. Slowly add the olive oil alternately with the flour and baking powder, and mix until smooth. Fold in the raisins.

Let rest for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. The oil is light, but tends to separate from the batter; mix well.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, level it and dust it with sugar, a little oil and the pine nuts. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 1 large, round cake.

SUFGANIYOT (Doughnuts)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk or nondairy creamer
Olive oil for frying
Powdered sugar for garnish

In a mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, sugar, eggs and egg yolk. Beat until fluffy. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Stir into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk.

Toss dough onto floured board and knead in additional flour if dough is sticky. Divide dough in half or quarters for easier handling. Pat and roll out 1/2-inch thick. Cut with doughnut cutter (round) dipped in flour.

In a heavy skillet, heat 1 to 2 inches of oil to 360 F. Drop Sufganiyot into hot oil and fry 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or dip in sugar.

Makes about 24 Sufganiyot.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Hanukkah Books for Kids Are Full of Wit, Whimsy

Many new Hanukkah-themed illustrated children’s books are full of wit and surprises this year. Some books take on the holiday with a bit of a twist, while others comfortably rely on traditional stories, newly told. All the recommended choices here celebrate the holiday with humor — from a fractured fairy tale and a reimagining of the beloved Chelm stories, to modern-day stories of multicultural families and, surprisingly, even the vaccine controversy.

“Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale” by Gloria Koster. Illustrated by Sue Eastland. Albert Whitman & Co.

Spunky Little Red Ruthie wears a puffy, red-hooded parka on her way to Bubbe Basha’s house on the other side of the forest. It’s snowing as she kisses her mother goodbye and leaves her comfortable, modern home with her basket filled with sour cream and applesauce. When a frightening wolf appears on the path and threatens, “Little girl … I am going to eat you up!” Ruthie stays strong and brave. Like the Maccabees of old, she “would stand up to her enemy too.” Ruthie meets up with the wolf again at Bubbe’s house and cleverly tricks him into delaying his evil plan by telling him the story of Hanukkah and frying up lots of latkes. The hungry wolf overindulges and gets too full for another bite of anything else as he is escorted out the door. The humorous illustrations enhance the well-told tale. A useful latke recipe is included.

“Way Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm” by Linda Glaser. Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic. Kar-Ben.

Chelm stories are supposed to be funny, and this one will inspire giggling in any child, particularly if the reader hams up the character voices. We learn that Faigel makes the best latkes in all of Chelm, but unfortunately for everyone else, she makes only enough for herself and Shmuel, her hapless husband. One year, she inexplicably forgets the recipe and her husband must go to the rabbi (“the wisest man in Chelm”) to ask how many potatoes need to be used. The rabbi tells him to “use them all” without realizing that Shmuel and Faigel’s larder is full. The cycle is repeated with the other ingredients (eggs, onions) and silliness ensues. The comic-style illustrations capture the kitchen mayhem, idealized shtetl life and the over-the-top storyline with amusing flair. Of course, the whole town gets to partake in the deliciousness by the story’s end.

“The Missing Letters: A Dreidel Story” by Renee Londner. Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk. Kar-Ben.

Children will be delighted to find out that dreidels come alive at night at the dreidel factory and talk to one another. Actually, they like to argue about the fairness of the dreidel game rules. The nuns are jealous of the gimels because … who wants to get a nun, anyway? But the shins have the most legitimate complaint, since people have to add to the pot when the dreidel falls on their letter. The heys, shins and nuns band together to figure out a way to make the gimels disappear before Hanukkah begins. They come up with elaborate ways to hide the sleeping gimels in a fun and busy double-paged, purple spread that kids will enjoy deciphering. In the morning, when it is time for the dreidel makers to add on the letters, they can’t find the gimels! When the dreidel maker explains the historical importance of the dreidel, the mischievous letters feel remorseful and do the right thing to make the dreidels whole again. It is a fun and silly story with delightfully appealing cartoonish illustrations and lots of purple — everywhere.

“Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” by Pamela Ehrenberg. Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The family members of the boy who is this story’s narrator are preparing for Hanukkah, but something about them seems different. They stop at the Little India Market on the way home from Hebrew school, bringing along his “amma-amma” (grandma), who is clothed in traditional Indian dress. They purchase dal and rice, but our unnamed narrator’s active little sister is climbing around the store, upsetting the coconut milk display. To distract her, he makes up new words to an old song: “I had a little dosa, I made it out of dal.” We learn that his father grew up Jewish and his mother is from India, and they have a family tradition of making dosas (a type of pancake fried in coconut oil) at Hanukkah. When they are locked out of their home by mistake at a large family celebration, little Sadie saves the day by using her climbing skills. Multicultural children’s books for Jewish families are an important addition to the literature as they reflect the lives of real families where children can see themselves represented and accepted as part of their community.

“Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor: A Story for Hanukkah” by Ann D. Koffsky. Illustrated by Talitha Shipman. Apples & Honey Press.

Kids need books to help them through scary experiences, and getting a shot is clearly one of those times. This book connects the bravery of Judah Maccabee with the bravery of a little boy, also named Judah, as he visits the doctor for a shot. The text emphasizes how much pride he has in being a good brother to his baby sister and how much he wants to protect her, particularly by using the Maccabee shield he gets as a Hanukkah gift. When his dad explains that getting his shot actually will act as a shield to protect his sister in a different way, he sticks out his arm for the doctor and the deed is done. He is proud of his “on-the-inside” bravery and realizes that heroism can manifest itself in a variety of ways. While it is an unusual combination of two subjects, the book is an important validation of science in response to vaccine misinformation. It stands as quite a Jewish educational feat, considering that all the incensed Amazon anti-vaccine reviewers calling it propaganda from “Big Pharma” also learned a lovely lesson on the origins of the Hanukkah holiday.

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University.

Gluten-Free Latkes That Are Nothing Short of Miraculous

Photo from Wikipedia

Gluten-free everything seems to be all the rage. My friends in New York City tell me gluten is so reviled these days that you can practically hold up a bank while wielding only a bagel.

My experience in the large cafeteria that I run in the U.S. Embassy in Uganda mirrors this paradigm shift in our food pyramid. Grains and wheat seem to wreak havoc on a large part of the population’s digestive tracts, and so, as a result, I’ve noticed more requests for gluten-free meals and cakes than ever before.

You would think that’s not such great news for a pastry chef, but quite the contrary. Learning how to cook with alternate flours has sent me down an exciting path of discovery regarding new ingredients and healthier approaches to cooking traditional favorites.

One of the first recipes I adapted to this trend was for latkes after many of my non-gluten eating customers began lamenting the fact that they couldn’t enjoy their favorite treat on the Hanukkah menu. Even though potatoes fried in oil are not what anyone would deem a health food, making latkes without flour actually makes them crispier, lighter and so much tastier. So good, in fact, that when Latke Day rolls around in our embassy, I can look forward to making hundreds to satisfy the masses — Jewish and non-Jewish — that gather excitedly in the cafeteria early in the morning.

In terms of what to serve with latkes, I’ve adopted the traditional Ashkenazi accompaniments in the form of applesauce and sour cream. This despite growing up in a Sephardic household that has disdain for mixing sweet and salty on the same plate. But follow your own preferences: You would be completely justified serving your potato pancakes with slices of smoked salmon, a dollop of crème fraiche and chopped dill, or Russian-style, as a bed for caviar or salmon roe and a squeeze of lemon.

Take it from someone who’s slaved on the industrial latke production line: Follow my instructions, and I’ll bet you never go back to the old days of adding flour to the mix. But, please, whatever you do, don’t think about the calories. They’re worth it — and then some.

4 1/2 pounds of russet, Idaho or Yukon
Gold potatoes, unpeeled
1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and
cut in half
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon of freshly grated black pepper
(optional or to taste)
3 to 5 cups of canola or peanut oil
(do not use olive oil)

Wash and scrub potatoes with a vegetable brush or scrubber and remove all sand and dirt. Using the large holes on a cheese grater or the grater attachment of a food processor, grate the potatoes with the peel on, directly over a large bowl of ice water. Skipping the peeling step will save lots of time and energy.

Grate the onion into the same bowl of ice water and then swirl this mixture around with your hands; let it sit for 5 minutes. Notice the water getting cloudy — that’s the starch being pulled from the potato. You are going to use this to make the pancakes hold together, so don’t throw it away.

Line another dry bowl with a few dry kitchen towels and begin grabbing fistfuls of the potatoes and onions, squeezing as much moisture as you can out of them. Wring the water out over the bowl of ice water to catch the starch, placing the dry potatoes in the towel-lined bowl. Repeat until all the potatoes in the original bowl are dry.

Let the ice water settle for 15 minutes while you press and squeeze the potatoes and onions one last time with another dry kitchen towel. After 15 minutes, the ice water will clear and a thick white paste will form at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pour off the water, leaving about 3 tablespoons of potato starch. With a spatula, collect the starch and add to the dry potatoes, along with the eggs, salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly.

Start frying immediately, so your potatoes don’t oxidize and turn black. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan on medium heat just until it shimmers but before it reaches its smoking point. Take a 1/4-cup scoop and make a test latke to check for salt. If the seasonings are to your liking, continue scooping 1/4 cupfuls of the mixture into the hot oil, flattening the pancakes with your spatula after putting them in the pan. It’s important to keep the latkes on the thinner side, so the insides get a chance to cook before the outsides develop too much color and burn. Don’t overcrowd the pan so that the latkes can properly crisp.

Leave to cook about 4 minutes per side, flipping only once, or until they are golden brown and have crispy edges on both sides. Adjust the heat accordingly. Replenish the oil in between batches, making sure to let the new oil heat up before adding more mixture to the pan.

If you have a lot of latkes to make, set up a wire rack to keep them crisp longer. Otherwise, you can keep them in an oven heated to 200 F on a paper towel-lined baking tray while you continue frying. Latkes are best served pan to the plate, but if you aren’t willing to sacrifice yourself to the task, the oven may be your best option.

Makes about 40 latkes.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

These incredible photos show members of an Indian-Jewish ‘lost tribe’ moving to Israel

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, India, on their way to the airport, Feb. 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

One hundred and two members of the Jewish community in India, who trace their heritage to one of Israel’s lost tribes, are moving to Israel this week.

The immigrants, who hail from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram — home to the second largest concentration of the country’s Bnei Menashe community, as they are called — will arrive in Israel on Tuesday and Thursday. The move is being facilitated by Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that seeks to connect “lost” and “hidden” Jews to the Jewish state.

The group plans to live in the city of Nazareth Illit, where other members of their community have already settled. Some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have immigrated to Israel in recent years, with another 7,000 remaining in India.

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, India, Feb. 12. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

Their move represents the first time in three years that members of the Bnei Menashe community from Mizoram have moved to Israel, according to a statement by Shavei Israel.

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, en route to Israel, Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

“After 27 centuries of exile, this lost tribe of Israel is truly coming home,” said Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund. “But we will not rest until all the remaining Bnei Menashe still in India are able to make aliyah as well.”

Freund, a conservative writer and former aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said his organization was hoping to bring more than 700 Jews from India to Israel this year.

Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gathering in Churachandpur, in the Indian state of Manipur to celebrate Hanukkah, Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.


Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gather in Churachandpur, in the state of Manipur, to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.


Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gather in Churachandpur, in the state of Manipur, to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

Burger King Israel introduces doughnut burger for Chanukah

Burger King restaurants in Israel have introduced a doughnut burger for the Chanukah season.

The SufganiKing is a Whopper with savory doughnuts in place of buns. Its name is a play on the Hebrew word for doughnuts, sufganiyot, which are ubiquitous on every Israeli street corner in the weeks leading up to Chanukah.

The burger “proves that miracles still happen,” Burger King Israel said in a Facebook post, a reference to the miracles at the heart of the holiday story.

The SufganiKing will be sold for about $4. It will be available through Jan. 1, the last day of Chanukah, according to reports.

Gifts to de-light

These are serious times. We just finished a brutal election cycle here in the United States, and things are as tense and uncertain as ever in the Middle East. What better excuse than Chanukah, then, to relax a little? For those who are interested in passing along a little laugh with some holiday spirit, here are a few fun gift ideas.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Dec. 8-14, 2012


Dana Berger and Dan Toren

Singer-songwriter Berger is likened to an Israeli Joni Mitchell. Toren is an acclaimed songwriter behind some of Israel’s biggest pop hits. The two appear together for an acoustic performance at The Mint. Sat. 9:30 p.m. $45 (presale), $50 (door). The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (408) 318-7143. broshproductions.com.


Kugl Kukh-Off

Calling all kugel aficionados! Whether it’s sweet or savory, the kugel is the ultimate in Jewish-American culinary creativity when it comes to the holiday or family gathering. Today, bring your best kugel (or your favorite tasting fork) to Yiddishkayt’s third quadrennial Kugl Kukh-Off. Part of the Silverlake Independent JCC’s annual Festival of Lights, which features live entertainment and fun for the entire family. Kugel drop-off and registration starts at 11 a.m. and tasting begins at noon. Sun. noon-3 p.m. Kugl Kukh-Off: $2 (all the kugel you can eat and judge). Festival of Lights: free (adults), $15 (children). Silverlake Independent JCC, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 389-8880. yiddishkayt.org.


L.A. Clippers Jewish Heritage Day

Celebrate Chanukah with the Clippers as they square off against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. Pregame warm-ups include a menorah lighting and a Q-and-A with rabbis. The Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble performs at halftime. Your Chanukah gift from the Clippers: a free T-shirt. Sun. 10:30 a.m. (pre-game), 12:30 p.m. (game time). $20-$62. Staples Center, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 742-7503. lajewishchamber.com.


A Holiday Celebration of Jewish Stories

Veteran actors Robert Lesser, Richard Fancy, Orson Bean and others bring to life stories by Saul Bellow, Sholem Aleichem, Grace Paley and Bernard Malamud, tracing the modern history of the Jews through fiction. The program includes Bellow’s “A Wen,” Aleichem’s “She Must Marry a Doctor,” Paley’s “The Loudest Voice” and Malamud’s “The Jewbird.” Directed and compiled by Matt Gottlieb. Sun. 2 p.m.; Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. $20. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-8392. pacificresidenttheatre.com.


Wabash Saxons

Made up of former residents of Boyle Heights and Theodore Roosevelt High School alumni, this social club meets today for its 60th semi-annual luncheon. Former L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti appears as guest speaker. Mon. Noon. Free (lunch not included). Taix French Restaurant, 1911 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP to (310) 459-3620.


Ronna & Beverly 

Ronna Glickman (Jessica Chaffin) and Beverly Ginsburg (Jamie Denbo) are America’s favorite 50-something Jewish mothers. Between them they have seven marriages, three children, some step-kids they never talk about and a best-selling book, “You’ll Do a Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles.” Tue. 8 p.m. $10. Upright Citizens Brigade, 5919 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 908-8702. losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.


Zubin Mehta 50th Anniversary Concert

Celebrating 50 years since he was named music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, world-renowned maestro Mehta conducts the L.A. Phil in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, Hindemith’s Symphony: Mathis der Maler and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director for life, Mehta has demonstrated solidarity with the Jewish state throughout his celebrated career. Through Dec. 16. Thu. 8 p.m. $54.50-$187. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.


Harry Shearer and Judith Owen

Actor-satirist Shearer (KCRW’s “Le Show,” “The Simpsons”) and his singer-songwriter wife, Owen, host “An Evening of Holiday Music and Mirth,” which began as an annual gathering for family and friends but soon grew too large to host at the couple’s home. Mixing traditional and nontraditional holiday music, the public performances have drawn such celebrity guests as Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Weird Al Yankovic and Shearer collaborator Christopher Guest. Who knows who will turn up this year? Fri. 8 p.m. $50. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 855-0350. largo-la.com.

Shining a new light on the Jewish response to Christmas

From Kung Pao kosher comedy to a swinging Mardi Gras version of the “Dreidel” song, two new Chanukah season releases explore the intriguing, delightful and sometimes perplexing ways in which American Jews have responded to Christmas.

In a book and an audio CD compilation, the holiday season known as the “December dilemma” is seen and heard in a new light. An added bonus: the covers of both are enticing and entertaining.

In the book “A Kosher Christmas” (Rutgers University Press, $22.95) subtitled “'Tis the Season to be Jewish,” Joshua Eli Plaut offers a richly detailed, page-turning read that draws on historical documents and ethnographic research sprinkled with often humorous images and photos.

In his introduction Plaut, a rabbi and scholar, admits to a lifelong fascination with Christmas. The son of a rabbi, he recalls as a young child growing up on Long Island in the 1960s that his mother dutifully took him to sit on Santa's lap every December.

“She was never worried about any influence on me as a child because my family was secure in its Jewish identity,” he writes.

Plaut paints a historical portrait of the shifts in American Jewish attitudes toward Christmas — the only American holiday founded on religion, he notes.

Jews have employed “a multitude of strategies to face the particular challenges of Christmas and to overcome feelings of exclusion and isolation,” he writes, adding that Jews actually have played a crucial role in popularizing Christmas by composing many of the country's most beloved holiday songs.

Plaut treats readers to a chapter on the popular Jewish custom of eating Chinese food on Christmas, a tradition that surprisingly dates back more than a century to Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York. One  photo shows a sign in a Chinese restaurant window that thanks the Jewish people for their patronage during Christmas.

In the 1990s, comedian Lisa Geduldig hosted the first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy evening of Jewish stand-up comedy in a San Francisco Chinese restaurant on Christmas. Two decades later the event is still going strong and being replicated in cities across America.

On a more serious note, Plaut reveals a long history of Jewish volunteerism on Christmas, serving the needy and working shifts for non-Jewish co-workers, allowing them to spend the day with family and friends.

Plaut also covers the challenges faced by intermarried families at Chanukah and Christmas. He addresses as well the subject of public displays of religious symbols, with Jews on both sides of the issue.

Jonathan Sarna, the American Jewish historian who wrote the foreword, cautions that the book should not be read merely as a story of assimilation. In a phone conversation with JTA, the prominent Brandeis University professor argues that if that were the case, the book would be about how Jews observe Christmas.

Rather, Plaut chronicles how Jews demonstrate their Jewish identity through alternative ways of acting on Christmas that show them to be Jewish and American. Most significant, Sarna asserts, “A Kosher Christmas” is important because it portrays how two religions are transformed by the knowledge of the other.

The CD, “'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah” ($15.99) is a lively and inspiring music collection gathered by the Idelsohn Society, a nonprofit volunteer organization that aims to celebrate a Jewish musical heritage that may be lost to history.

The two-CD set includes 17 tracks for Chanukah and Christmas — some familiar and others that are lesser known. Performers on the Chanukah disc include Woody Guthrie, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Flory Jagoda, Mickey Katz, the Klezmatics and Debbie Friedman. Among the voices that croon and swing on the Christmas disc are The Ramones, Theo Bikel, Dinah Shore, Sammy Davis Jr. and Benny Goodman.

A 31-page booklet of liner notes is a fascinating read of short essays, notes on the songs and colorful reproductions of old Chanukah recordings.

The project started as an effort to present a historical survey of Chanukah music, according to David Katznelson, a veteran record producer who is one of the four principals of the Idelsohn Society. Other members of the core group include Roger Bennett, Courtney Holt and Josh Kun.

As their search deepened, they found noteworthy Chanukah recordings, Katznelson recalls, some by well-known performers, others by little-known singers and educators. But the group was most struck by the abundance of Christmas music by Jewish composers and performers.

“The biggest Jewish names in music have at least one Christmas recording in their catalog,” they write in the liner notes.

The group shifted the lens of their project to tell the full story “of how American Jews used music to negotiate their place in American national culture,” according to the liner notes.

“This was an amazing way to look at Jewish identity in the 20th century, through a combination of the history of Chanukah recordings side by side with Jews performing Christmas songs,” Katznelson affirms.

Some of the earliest Chanukah recordings appear in the 1920s and 1930s. By then, what had been a minor Jewish holiday through the later years of the 19th century had been transformed into a major celebration that was promoted by Jewish religious leaders and embraced by American Jewry.

The emergence of Chanukah recordings parallels that transformation, Katznelson suggests. In the postwar 1950s, in addition to traditional songs, livelier recordings targeted children.

On the Chanukah recording, Katznelson points to “Yevonim” (The Greeks) by Rosenblatt as the showstopper. Rosenblatt, a Ukraine native who immigrated to New York in 1912 at the age of 30, became known in the U.S. as the greatest cantor of his time.

A Yiddish song about the Chanukah oil that burned for eight days, “Yevonim” opens with a chorus of women followed by Rosenblatt's huge, haunting rich tenor full of color and warmth.

Many will be surprised by Guthrie's upbeat version of “Hanukkah Dance,” part of his 1940s collection of Jewish songs made for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records.

“He can take anything and make it American,” Katznelson says of the late folk legend, whose centennial birthday this year is being marked by performances of his music across the country.

Sure to be a party favorite is the version of “Dreidel” performed live by Jeremiah Lockwood, Ethan Miller and Luther Dickinson. The song was recorded live at a pop-up Chanukah record store concert hosted last year in San Francisco by the Idelsohn Society.

At the end of the song, the trio takes off into the New Orleans classic “Iko Iko,” sung to the tune of “Dreidel.” The tune no doubt will get listeners off the couch, singing and dancing.

On the Christmas CD, Katznelson is most drawn to Bikel's little-known 1967 recording of “Sweetest Dreams Be Thine.” Bikel, the beloved Jewish folk singer and actor, performs the Christmas song moving between Hebrew and English.

“It's the quintessential track of the whole compilation,” Katznelson says. “It's just Chanukah and Christmas, side by side, a perfect mishmosh.”

Katznelson says the society hopes the music conveys a deeper sense of Jewish history while raising questions that provoke conversation about the meaning of the holiday music.

Some may hear familiar songs in a new perspective, he says.

“This is music that is usually in the background,” Katznelson says. “We're bringing it to the foreground.” 

A Brentwood Country Club Chanukah [RECIPES]

Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. The Chicago native started working in his parents’ Jewish bakery when he was 10 years old, making bagels, muffins, cookies, challah and sandwiches.

Chanukah was always a big celebration at his grandparents’ home. Coming from a big family, there was always a kids’ table, and because there were so many cousins, Swartzman sat there until he was 17 years old. But while his cousins were busy playing dreidel, he was in the kitchen, helping his grandmother fry latkes.

This year will be his first preparing Chanukah dinner for the Brentwood Country Club.

His experience goes far beyond what he learned from his bubbe. Swartzman went from prep cook to line cook at a Marriott hotel, but decided he needed more training and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. There he received an associate degree in culinary arts and an additional certification in baking and pastry arts. 

Returning home to Chicago, Swartzman landed a job as sous chef at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Ill. His first executive chef job was at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he met his future wife, Sheila Wu, the pastry chef.

Upon moving to California, Swartzman continued his career at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach. Then this young, ambitious and accomplished chef with more than 15 years of food preparation, catering, banquets, à la carte and fine dining experience was offered the position of executive chef at the Brentwood Country Club.

More than 350 guests are expected on Dec. 9. for Swartzman’s first Chanukah event at the Brentwood. A special holiday menu will be served buffet style, with a special buffet table for the kids. 

When asked what Chanukah celebrations were like when he was growing up in Chicago, Swartzman explained that the holiday always centered around food, especially the traditional dishes. His grandmother prepared foods fried in olive oil: potato latkes served with applesauce; zucchini latkes; kreplach; sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and beef brisket with tzimmes. But the family’s favorite was kishke, a dish he is still trying to perfect.

Everyone at the Brentwood loves his chopped liver. The secret ingredient is lots of chicken shmaltz, and he suggests using a meat grinder rather than a food processor for a coarser texture.

His family’s influence continues to live on in other ways. Swartzman’s mom is a pastry chef at Lake Forest Place, a retirement community in Lake Forest, Ill., and he still uses her recipes for mandelbread, coconut macaroons and rugelach.






1 pound fresh chicken livers

1 medium onion, sliced

1/2 cup shmaltz

5 hard-boiled eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Rye bread 

1/4 cup chopped

        white onions, for garnish

1 or 2 hard-boiled

       eggs, sieved, for garnish

Sauté livers in 1/4 cup shmaltz until cooked through. Caramelize the sliced onions in the remaining 1/4 cup shmaltz until golden brown. While livers and caramelized onions are still warm, place in food processer or meat grinder, add hard-boiled eggs, salt and peppers; pulse until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix. Chill. Serve with rye bread, chopped onions and sieved eggs.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.



1 whole beef brisket 

      (deckle on)

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups red wine

3 carrots, diced

3 onions, diced

8 ribs celery, diced

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can diced 

      tomatoes, undrained

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Chicken stock


Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Season the whole untrimmed brisket liberally with salt and pepper. Then, over high heat, sear the brisket in olive oil in a roasting pan until deep golden brown. Deglaze pan with red wine, then add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, undrained tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and enough chicken stock to come halfway up the sides of the brisket. 

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 3 hours. Turn brisket over, cover and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the brisket. 

Check for doneness with a cooking fork — it should slide easily in and out of the brisket. If it feels like the brisket is holding onto the fork, it’s not done yet. Once done, remove brisket from braising liquid and let rest for 45 minutes. 

Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid and skim off the excess fat. This will be the gravy. After the brisket has rested, trim it of excess fat, then slice the brisket against the grain. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings. 



1 cup cooked black beluga lentils

1 or 2 bay leaves

2 cups cooked white rice

1 medium onion, diced

1/4 cup shmaltz

Fresh chopped thyme

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 3 cups water. Add bay leaves. Simmer slowly until the lentils are just done, al dente, about 20 minutes. 

Caramelize the onion in the shmaltz, cooking until deep golden-brown. Add chopped thyme; cooked lentils and cooked rice. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made ahead of time and reheated in an ovenproof dish.

Makes 6 servings.



2 potatoes, peeled, shredded, 

       rinsed and drained

1/2 medium onion, shredded

2 eggs

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper, to taste

Shmaltz or oil for frying

Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce 

      (recipe follows)

Combine shredded potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, salt, pepper and flour; mix well. Heat shmaltz or oil in skillet. Drop potato mixture by large spoonsful into schmaltz; fry until golden brown on both sides; drain on paper towels. Can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven on a cookie sheet. Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce.

Makes 18 to 20 latkes.



6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, 

      cored and diced

1 cup sugar

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

1 vanilla bean, split

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a wide-based pot. Simmer over low heat until apples are falling apart and liquid is reduced, about 1 hour. Remove vanilla bean, transfer apple mixture to food processor, and blend until smooth. Refrigerate.

Makes 2 to 3 cups.



2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, 

      room temperature

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

Vegetable oil

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Place flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.

In deep saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 dough rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rounds to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Repeat with remaining dough rounds, frying in oil and rolling in sugar. 

Fit a pastry bag with a No. 4 tip and fill bag with jam. When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, make a small hole in the side of each doughnut with a wooden skewer or toothpick, fit the pastry tip into hole, and pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and jam. 

Makes 14 to 16 doughnuts.