Tis the season to be Jewish


The Florida evening outdoors were filled with glittering lights, as a lone man took in the scene from his office window.

So begins one of my favorite stories about Jerry Levine putting in a late night at work, and wondering what his place is…what the Jew’s place is…in a country that is predominantly Christian, with tall pine trees and red and green decorations to show for it.

He wished G-d…someone…would send him a sign to let him know where he belonged.

Let’s face it, Jerry thought, Judaism is quaint…even fun at times…but it’s not a glamorous religion.

In fact, if one in dire straits cut potatoes in half and scooped out the centers and used them as candle-holders, it would be rendered a kosher menorah.

Contrast that to the glittery scenes of the Season.

It’s true that one will see holiday décor everywhere…but that’s when we need to look at our own identity the most, and bask in what is ours.

Following are three components of the menorah to create our own meaningful, beautiful backdrop to this Festival of Lights.

1- The Oil

As Chanukah commemorates the Jews’ triumph over darkness, remembering the miracle of the Maccabees finding one pure cruise of oil to light the Temple menorah- oil that was only enough to keep the flames burning for one day that ultimately lasted for eight days- we do the same, by lighting a menorah, preferably with pure olive oil, for eight days.

The oil itself represents who we are as a people- it simultaneously permeates all it comes in contact with, permanently saturating, and at once will immediately separate and rise above when mixed with other liquids. One can say that the Jewish nation, with its sacred obligation to influence their surroundings with light and morality, have always historically impacted each and every land and culture they’ve intermingled with, from ancient Mesopotamia to the media’s fascination with Israel today. At the same time, while our contributions to the world are irreversible, and while Jews have gone to great lengths to express appreciation for others’ love and friendship and kindness, one can say that our place in society is also a separate one. We are still the moral conscience of the world- but while many embrace this fact, others abhor it. As individuals, we, too, have a responsibility to bring comfort and goodness and kindness to any environment or people we come in contact with. At the same time, we must never feel pressured to abandon the Torah values which make us who we are, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts.

We stay within, and rise above.

2- The Order

A menorah contains eight candle-holders. If one is lighting on Day Two, the empty holders are still there. The ultimate way to maximize growth and potential is to fully act on one moment at a time, while looking ahead to more growth and potential- as we celebrate each accomplishment, we can look to the future and know that there is more.

Judaism teaches us that we never arrive at perfection; that bettering ourselves is the work of a lifetime. My teacher and mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe embodied this mindset. When a college student visited him in the 60’s and told him frankly that he admired him greatly and would love to be his Chassid but couldn’t wrap his head around the Chassidic garb, the Rebbe responded, “If all you do is wake up each morning and ask yourself, ‘How can I make today better than yesterday? How can I bring even more goodness to this world?’ I will be proud to call you my chassid.”

There’s always more light to ignite.

So how is it done on Chanukah?

-We make the blessing (on the first night one is lighting the menorah they also make the Shehechiyanu blessing)

-We add one additional candle each night, lighting the wicks from left to right, using the shamesh, a separate candle designated for lighting the menorah

-Even if we attend a public menorah lighting, every Jewish home should have its own menorah lighting.

3- The Flames

We watch the candles for 30 minutes after they are lit to complete this mitzvah, as the flames, in the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe‘s words, “tell us the story of Chanukah, of the Jewish people,” perhaps together with some crispy hot latkes and sour cream.

And finally, let’s think about how tomorrow evening when we light yet one more candle, we will have yet one more accomplishment- in how we related to the people around us, in how we related to G-d, in how we related to our soul. Judaism is big into taking stock of our lives.

Like our friend Jerry at the window.

But the story doesn’t end there, dear readers.

In middle of Jerry Levine’s musings, his world went dark; there was a power outage in his business district.

Realizing that it would take some time to rectify, he locked up his office and cautiously made his way through the darkness to the parking lot.

When he walked outside he was hit by a scene he would not soon forget: All the street lights were down, the decorations off, the holiday tree barely visible against the ink-black sky.

But there was one halo of light still going strong, defying electricity and all the other forces going against it, that told him he had already come home- a menorah with three flames proudly publicizing the third night of Chanukah, telling the story of millions of flames and millions of souls…still burning bright. We don’t have trees with tinsel. But our menorah- be it of potatoes in a concentration camp or of the finest silver in the White House- reminds the world, and reminds ourselves, that we are a magnificent, miraculous, everlasting flame.

Menorah vandalized in New York City park


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The theft was not being investigated as a hate crime.

 

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

How do we kindle the lights within ourselves?


There is nothing cuter than my 5-year-old daughter coming home from kindergarten with an overly decorated menorah in hand, singing, “Ner li Ner li, ner li dakik,” the Israeli version of “This Little Light of Mine.” The song speaks about the little candle, so thin and all hers to light.

Personalizing the holiday for kids is just good pedagogy. Through song, games and creative arts, early childhood educators get these little Maccabees to embody the holiday and feel they have the power to create and even embody the light of Chanukah.

And then they grow up.

They learn more details about the Chanukah story. They study the Maccabees and the civil war between the Jews. They analyze the military battles that the Hasmoneans conducted to achieve victory over the Assyrian Greeks. And they also learn about the ultimate corruption and failure of the Hasmonean dynasty itself. As they grow, they move further away from the simple message of Chanukah that they had claimed as children — to bring light to dark places.

The contrast between the narrative about light that children learn in elementary school and the parallel one about the story of the Maccabean revolt that they learn about as they get older is not just a developmental one — it’s a profound statement about how we view the world. Stories about war that can provide a sense of unity and purpose are ultimately draining, whereas ones about light and miracles are constantly renewing.

Experiencing an ongoing war is grueling. Living in Jerusalem right now, I know that feeling intimately. Waves of terrorism, fear, uncertainty and distrust rise and (eventually) fall. And citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, are left wondering what the future will hold, without any certainty that the once-touted promise to live with “peace and security” will return. It’s hard to dream big or to believe in miracles at a time of ongoing war. You live for the day, and then the day after. That is the mentality of war.

A story of light and oil that lasted for eight days is one of vision and hope. The rabbis of the Talmud picked up on the distinction. They spent so many more pages expounding upon the miracle of the oil, recounting the details of when and how to light the Chanukah menorah, and only a few lines about the military victory achieved by the Maccabees.

Focusing on the light was tactical. The rabbis didn’t want the legacy of Chanukah to be about a victory won by human hands in which God was absent. They wanted to elevate the victory of Chanukah to the heavenly realm. This is a celebration of miracles and God’s hand in history, not the brute force of the determined few, the rabbis would have said.

The rabbinic approach is most telling in the haftarah they selected for the Shabbat of Chanukah, which include the words from Zechariah, “Not by might, and not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord.”

And now, living in Israel, I understand the importance and wisdom of the rabbinic emphasis. Focusing on the miracle of the oil helps us put our faith in something bigger than ourselves. It gives us hope to look beyond the political machinations of the day to what the future could look like. It helps us break free of the never-ending cycle of violence and cynicism and can enable us to look forward to the possibilities that the “light-driven” narrative can offer to our children and beyond.

The rabbis wanted to ensure that a political victory, however needed at the time, wasn’t the end of the story. They wanted to ensure that we didn’t worship our own political might and are guided by a greater power.

The Chanukah of the rabbis relies on the personal and embodied light that my 5-year-old sings about. There is a beautiful idea from the Book of Proverbs that we each contain within ourselves a light, “The life breath (the soul) of a human is the lamp of God. With it, God searches all the hidden chambers” (Proverbs 20:27). Our internal light is God’s light within us, searching out every part of us, revealing in the hidden places our abilities to manifest that light outward.

This Chanukah, how can we return to the pure idea of our own personal lights, or “ner li,” as my daughter would croon? Not only the one I hold in my hand to light the Chanukah menorah, but the one that I have within me to shine light into dark, seemingly unmovable or unchangeable places around us? 

Dasee Berkowitz is a Jewish educational consultant and writer living in Jerusalem. She is a frequent contributor to JTA, the Forward and kveller.com.

On Chanukah, just let the lights go out


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered: Was there some other message?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to make a birch branch menorah


While the lighting of the Chanukah candles has been a tradition for centuries, menorahs themselves are constantly being reinvented. Do an online search for “menorahs” and you’ll find literally hundreds of styles, from traditional to novelty. (One that’s getting a lot of attention this year is the Menorasaurus Rex, which is a menorah shaped like a dinosaur.) This DIY menorah made from a birch branch and copper is both rustic and modern, and its unconventional charm will be sure to brighten your Chanukah celebration.

What you’ll need:

  • Birch branch, around 16 inches long
  • 2 smaller birch branches, 4 inches long
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Pen
  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch copper tubing
  • Tubing cutter
  • Multi-surface glue
  • 5/16-inch washers

 

1. Attach feet to the wood branch

” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Chanukah gift guide 2015


Marmol Radziner Architects, one of the city’s leading architecture firms in both new construction and historic restorations, also creates furniture, home accessories and jewelry. Marmol Radziner’s Menorah ($140) channels a streamlined, modern sensibility into this ritual object made in L.A. out of walnut wood and brass. marmolradzinerjewelry.com

Bring some elegant warmth into your home for the holiday with Menorah Matches from Hudson Grace. The blue-tipped matches are 4 inches, and come in a 4 1/2-inch square, screen-printed box made in England ($12). hudsongracesf.com

Ben Medansky, part of L.A.’s ceramics renaissance, makes distinctive utilitarian objects in his downtown L.A. workshop. His Blue Band Cup ($48) is the perfect texture and size for cradling a hot beverage during the winter months. benmedansky.com

Liza Shtromberg’s Western Wall Jewelry celebrates Jewish life and Israel, and many are emblazoned with Hebrew symbols and phrases. Since 2000, Shtromberg has maintained a retail shop on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz; her Beverly Hills boutique is open by appointment only. jewishjewelrylizashtromberg.com

Jaffa Dolls embody an ideal do-good-while-shopping effort. The eco-friendly, machine-washable creations are handmade by Jewish and Arab artisans as part of the Arous el-Bahar (Bride of the Sea) Association for Women in Jaffa. These colorful, compact dolls ($34) — each emblazoned with a heart — promise endless cuddles and hope. jaffadolls.com

From abstract motifs to company logos, architect Gregory Roth of Burbank-based Modern Bite baking company applies show-stopping designs to kosher-certified shortbread cookies. Come Chanukah, the Modern Bite Festival of Lights Cookie Gift Box ($30) is a sure bet for anyone who enjoys a beautiful and sweet treat. modernbite.com

Your foodie friends will be thrilled to receive kosher La Fenêtre Wines. Under his Santa Maria-based label, winemaker Joshua Klapper offers three kosher options: pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, as well as a kosher blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot that evokes a classic Bordeaux ($40 per bottle, plus shipping). lafenetrewines.com

Israeli-born chef Tal Ronnen has been attracting kosher-style eaters at Crossroads restaurant on Melrose Avenue not because of any strict adherence to kashrut, but as a result of his wildly inventive haute vegan dishes. Now his recipes, techniques and plant-food-centric insights are available in a cookbook, “Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes From the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine” (Artisan, $35). crossroadskitchen.com

White House seeks menorahs with stories for this year’s Chanukah party


The White House is looking for menorahs with unique stories for its Hanukkah celebration this year.

Matt Nosanchuk, the White House liaison to the Jewish community, on Nov. 11 posted an entry on the White House website soliciting ideas for menorahs, noting it was the first time that the White House was issuing such an appeal.

“We’re looking for a special and unique menorah that tells a story to be part of our candle lighting ceremony,” Nosanchuk wrote. “A story about family, about community, about the long Jewish cultural tradition in the United States, Israel, or around the world.”

The deadline is Nov. 20, and the White House will not cover transport or insurance, and contributing the menorah does not guarantee an invitation to the party. Menorahs not used at the celebration may nonetheless feature on the White House website.

President George W. Bush launched the first formal government Hanukkah celebrations, although President Bill Clinton’s White House ran Hanukkah parties for Jewish staff and some invitees.

In recent years, the Obama administrations have used menorahs from a synagogue damaged by Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, and made by students at a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem targeted by vandals, in 2014.

The White House has not yet announced the date of this year’s White House receptions; in recent years the White House has hosted two on the same day to accommodate more guests.

Hanukkah starts this year on Dec. 6.

My menorah and my Christmas tree


For me as a youngster, Christmas was always something others did.  But I married a non Jew and in our early years together, experienced a great deal of conflict over his desire for a Christmas tree.  For several years, each December, we engaged in the same heated discussion that went something like this: 

“We’re not getting a Christmas tree,” I insisted. “It represents all we are not.  It is at its heart a celebration of something Christian and I am not a Christian. To participate in Christmas, for me, would be an insult to my Eastern European ancestors who died in the Holocaust.  It’s just not our holiday. And every year when Christmas rolls around the fact that we are ‘other’ is rubbed in my face.  I am a Jew in a non-Jewish world.”

“But for me Christmas has nothing to do with religion,” he replied. “It’s secular.  I don’t go to church.  It has nothing to do with Christianity for me. It’s about family and being together, showing appreciation for each other, exchanging gifts, bringing light to each other during the darkest, longest days of the year.” 

I couldn’t accept that. “Nope, not for me.  Sorry.  I cannot insult my parents or my ancestors.  I will never have a Christmas tree or a ‘Chanukah Bush’ in my home, ever!” 

But to be honest, I was conflicted. The girl in me who went to Yeshiva through 8th grade, and Jewish summer camp every summer, never drove on the Sabbath, and didn’t eat shrimp until she was in her 20’s, was saying, “Watch out! Danger! No tree! No Easter eggs either while you’re at it! We are Jews!”

On the other hand, do I decide that, although my home is of mixed cultural and religious background, my husband must deny his own heritage and be forbidden to bring his family traditions into our home?  Should I prohibit my twin daughters from participating in anything even remotely related to my husband’s non-Jewish family customs, due to abject fear of assimilation?  Would my children catch these traditions like cooties with the power to poison their Jewish identity?  At the very least, won’t they be extremely confused?

In the end, we decided to break the “no tree” rule, and no lightning came down to strike me.

Our annual arguments came to an end when the kids were small, and after we joined the Sholem Community and participated in their annual “December Dilemma” discussion on this topic. (Sholem is a 60-year-old secular Jewish cultural, and social institution with a Sunday school that teaches Jewish history, culture, and ethics.) For the first time I heard other Jews who, like me, were married to non-Jews, and struggling with this question:  To tree or not to tree? It was here that I was reminded not only of the differences between the two winter holidays, but of their similarities.  Both festivals have their roots in the changing of the seasons and in ancient and universal desires to dispel the darkening days and to return to light, warmth, and springtime. Through the course of their evolution, these seasonal holidays have been reinvented and imbued with religious meanings. But we can all find beauty and purpose in the use of light and fires, of evergreen trees and feasting.  These rituals speak to a common need to end the darkness and to hope the the sun will come back.

Yes, I recognize the role of tradition, and I share the desire to honor the history of my ancestors. But I also understand there are all kinds of historical complexities around the holidays, and I see no reason why our intercultural family can’t share a celebration of community, light, joy, generosity and good cheer. I love my husband and even though I do not share his cultural or religious history, having a tree in my home does not diminish me any more than having a menorah dishonors him.

Frankly, our Christmas tree is not that important to me. I don’t even care about the lights hanging from our awning. I hate obligatory gift giving.  But my husband loves it, and so do our kids. I love the way it brings us all together.  And that is the critical point here: these are our kids. Not my kids. That means we bring our family together, celebrating all that we are. No one is asked to give up “…a piece of their cultural and family story, at a time that they associate with really warm and wonderful memories,” as a recent Jewish Journal article (“The convert and the Christmas tree,” December 11) suggested, citing two rabbinical authorities.

The article, without citing any evidence, repeated the old trope about how having a Christmas tree “can be confusing to children” in a household in which one partner is a non-Jew. In my own experience, and in the experience of other multi-cultural families I know, that’s just not true. In fact, I believe that it would send a horribly confusing message to my children if I were to teach them that ultimately a family must choose to adopt the traditions and rituals of only one parent, one culture in a multicultural partnership.  What would that teach them about how to live in a world that is more globally connected than ever before and in which the rates of inter-marriage are multiplying? 

Although I strongly disagree with those who say that Jews should never have a Christmas tree in their homes, I do agree with Rabbi Susan Goldberg, quoted in the article as saying that “questions of assimilation and distinctiveness are really useful conversations to have.” Ideally, those discussions, at this or any time of year, should focus on what traditions mean for us not be for the purpose of deciding whose family traditions to erase.

That said, these more open approaches to traditions that involve investigating, celebrating, and cherishing the diverse cultural and ethnic histories around us are likely to work better in more secular households than ones in which religious views or dogma predominate.  I acknowledge that.  And it’s worked for us.  Our kids have been raised with a powerful Jewish identity in a secular and deeply spiritual home. Their Jewish identity has been nurtured by the Sholem Community and is based on the history, values and shared culture of the Jewish people, rather than religious doctrine and dogma.

As for our daughters, who will turn 18 next month, they are not at all confused.  They understand that identity is complicated and not tied in a neat ribbon.  This week, as we celebrate Hanuka together, they will light our two menorahs and decorate our Christmas tree.  At Sholem, they have received a solid secular Jewish education where they have learned about the Jewish part of their identity and discovered that the presence of a tree does not undermine their heritage.  Actually, in many ways they are far less “confused” about their Jewish identity than I was or may ever be, Christmas tree, lights, gifts, cheer and all.

Marilyn McLaughlin is a Movement Therapist, Fall Prevention Specialist and Adjunct Professor of Dance at Loyola Marymount University. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Sholem Community, www.sholem.org

Will Deutsch: Drawing on Jewish culture


What’s considered “Jewish art” often includes a Marc Chagall print. Maybe some abstract metal sculptures resembling a menorah or Star of David. Or a painting of Orthodox Jewish men dancing with a Torah or playing klezmer music.

This is the art that Will Deutsch grew up around, and while it may capture the religious iconography of Judaism, it doesn’t exactly feel current. It also wasn’t nearly as exciting as the comic books he loved as a child.

The artwork of Deutsch, 29, an Orange County native, is the subject this week of “Notes From the Tribe,” a show at the Gabba Gallery in Los Angeles that includes 108 of his drawings about contemporary Jewish life, including a couple meeting on JDate, a Hebrew National hot dog vendor, and a Valley girl with large Bloomingdale’s shopping bags and a red string around her wrist. There’s also a 6-foot-tall sculpture of a pastrami sandwich, an example of his whimsical humor.

The Orange County Deutsch grew up in was bereft of Jewish life in the 1980s. “It probably has more strip malls than Jewish people,” he joked. When his family decided to join a synagogue, they went to Chabad of Laguna, and made minyan in the rabbi’s garage. High Holy Days services were held by a Modern Orthodox congregation in a rented space above a bowling alley.

Drawing was an early obsession for Deutsch. “My parents pushed me to be an artist the way parents push children to be doctors,” he said. “I have been drawing and reading comic books since I can remember. It’s what I’ve been doing since I could pick up a pencil.”

His mother, Susan Deutsch, is a Conservative Jewish cantor and spiritual leader of Congregation K’hilat Horim in Mission Viejo. “When he was in second grade, he used to draw at recess,” she said. “His teacher called to tell me that he has to play with other kids. The next day, the teacher called me to say, ‘That’s not what I meant.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘He lined them up and is teaching them how to draw.’ ”

Deutsch created his own comic book characters. His father, who passed away four years ago, brought him to Comic-Con in San Diego. Deutsch showed his drawings to the professional cartoonists, who told him he had a future as an artist.

Deutsch’s imagery draws from a rich tradition of immigrant Jewish woodcut artists, also a major influence on Will Eisner’s “A Contract with God,” widely recognized as the first graphic novel. Most of the founding comic book artists and writers were Jewish, and Deutsch can cite the pantheon like a music critic listing the great composers: Maxwell Gaines, a pioneer of the comic book form; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman; Bob Kane, creator of Batman; Al Jaffee of Mad Magazine; and Stan Lee, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

Deutsch’s drawings reflect the lack of agreement of what it means to be Jewish. The Jews in his drawings are wrapping tefillin, but they’re also doing the electric slide at a bar mitzvah and getting Hebrew tattoos on their arms. “My work is meant to function as a lens, not a pulpit,” Deutsch said. “It’s how I see things, not how they are or how they should be.”

While Deutsch describes himself as a “hardcore secularist,” he makes nods to religious life. He’s drawn a bar mitzvah boy being hoisted on a chair, a young woman entering a mikveh, a man blowing a shofar and an older woman making challah. Like a sofer, or Torah scribe, Deutsch makes his drawings on parchment using a quill. “As people of the book, I think that it’s important to have a visual representation of what it means, a snapshot, of our culture at this time,” he said.

The process of creating these images has also been a way for Deutsch to explore his own Jewish identity. He’s learned that he doesn’t have to do “Jewish things” to feel Jewish. “Even if I were eating ham while getting married in a Catholic church, I would still feel like a Jew doing it,” he said.

His artwork is meant to celebrate Judaism and stops short of offering any criticisms. “I think there’s absolutely a place for being incendiary, and I think there’s absolutely a place for being contentious,” Deutsch said. “What would our culture be without argument? I see my place in it as providing the what, and the viewer’s place as providing the why.”

For example, one drawing depicts a mechitzah, the partition separating genders in an Orthodox synagogue. “Some people could see that as sexist or backwards. I choose to represent that as a way that this culture practices and identifies,” Deutsch said. “I don’t see it as my place to lay judgment. I see it as my place to try and represent it as best I can, from the way that I see it.”

That inclusive approach has helped win him fans from the Jewish cultural establishment. He was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ artist-in-residence, and JCC Without Walls and the Foundation for Jewish Culture both have championed his work. He’s also one of nine L.A.-based recipients of the prestigious Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists.

“People often dissect and take apart the work, finding different kinds of meaning,” Six Points Fellowship director Josh Feldman said. “You also get a kind of reverence that often doesn’t appear immediately in the work and takes a little while to sink in.”

Will Deutsch’s pop-up gallery show is on view through Oct. 19 at the Gabba Gallery, 3126 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>thegabbagallery.com.

At White House, Chanukah’s light comes from Sandy-ravaged shul’s menorah


It has become something of a White House Chanukah tradition.

For the second time, the Obama White House used a menorah from a hurricane-hit region to mark the holiday.

This Chanukah, Rabbi David Bauman brought to the White House one of two 90-year-old menorahs that survived when Hurricane Sandy ravaged Temple Israel in Long Beach, N.Y. The menorah used in 2010 at the White House was from a New Orleans synagogue hit by Hurricane Katrina.

“This 90-year-old menorah survived, and I am willing to bet it will survive another 90 years, and another 90 years after that,” Obama said before the lighting of the candles Thursday night at the White House Chanukah party. “So tonight, it shines as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy’s destruction — a reminder of resilience and hope and the fact that we will be there for them as they recover.”

Jarrod Bernstein, the White House's 32-year-old director of Jewish outreach, was behind the choice of candelabra. He told JTA that Jewish organizational efforts to help rebuild communities — Jewish and non-Jewish — hit by Sandy fit perfectly with President Obama’s emphasis on getting relief to the Northeast in the storm's wake.

“Having a menorah with meaning allows us to embody the best spirit of Jewish experience, in the middle of what is a national challenge,” Bernstein said. “There is a Jewish dimension to this — the American Jewish community is ‘working to make this a more perfect union' as the president often calls it.”

Bernstein described his “aha” moment during a drive to visit family in New York, where he served for years as a community outreach official for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He had been agonizing about what would serve as the most potent symbol joining the holiday with Obama administration policy.

His wife, Hildy Kuryk — who also happens to be the Democratic National Committee's finance director — suggested a menorah from one of the many New York-area synagogues hit by Sandy.

“The story of what’s going on there — the rededication and re-sanctification of these communities, there's definitely a correlation” with Chanukah, Bernstein said.

Bernstein contacted the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a group he was familiar with from his Bloomberg days and which he admired for working with both Jewish and non-Jewish communities. That led him, in turn, to Temple Israel, established in 1920.

The seven-foot brass menorah is one of a pair dating from at least the building’s 1923 construction, said Rabbi David Bauman, interviewed as he ferried the menorah to Washington for the party. They were spared because they were on an upper floor.

Bauman said he at first didn’t believe the White House was on the line. When he understood it was for real, he said, it was like a ray of light.

He recalled Psalm 30, associated with the dedication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Bauman said he hoped the Chanukah party would garner attention not only for the synagogue, but for his neighbors.

“The region and my synagogue’s devastation with Hurricane Sandy, has been incredibly dark,” he said. “Coming to the White House is not only an honor for us but for the entire region.”

Bauman, 41 and a reserve chaplain in the U.S. Marines, leads a nondenominational shul that he describes as “Conservadox” with both separate and mixed seating. There is also a beit midrash; much of the damage was to holy books and Torah scrolls.

The damage, he said, totaled $5 million, and insurance covered just a fraction of that. Moreover, his institution — like other houses of worship — are not necessarily entitled to the federal recovery money because of religion-state separation.

“Hopefully, this will be a way for us to get the story out and raise some money to rebuild,” he said.

N.J. shul claims new menorah-lighting Guinness record


A New Jersey synagogue said that it set a new Guinness World Record by lighting 834 menorahs on 90 tables in an airport hangar.

The event planned by the Jewish Center of Princeton, N.J., took place on Tuesday night, the fourth night of Chanukah, at the Princeton Airport. It was organized by the Conservative synagogue's director of programming, Neil Wise, according to The Daily Princetonian student newspaper.

The previous record was set last year by the Merrick Jewish Centre in New York, with 782 lit menorahs.

Participants in Tuesday's event made videotape testimonies of their names, hometowns and registration numbers for official documentation for the Guinness committee, according to the newspaper.

Princeton University students and alumni, as well as members of the general community, participated in the record-setting attempt.

Mayor Villaraigosa joins Chabad at Menorah lighting


On Dec. 7, the dancing rabbis of Chabad and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came together at Los Angeles City Hall to celebrate the Festival of Lights. 

West Coast Chabad’s 27th annual Chanukah ceremony at City Hall drew community leaders and city officials, including Villaraigosa, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, as well as Chabad rabbis from across the Los Angeles area.

“We are honored that Mayor Villaraigosa and city officials joined to bring the message and spirit of Chanukah to Los Angeles by illuminating the menorah for the City of Angels,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California.

Held on the Spring Street forecourt of City Hall, the upbeat event took place one day before the actual start of Chanukah, which began at sundown on Dec. 8. During the celebration, Cunin, Villaraigosa and Perry lit the first candle of the historic 150-year-old Katowitz Menorah, which once belonged to Poland’s Great Katowitz Synagogue, burned down by the Nazis in the 1930s. 

Chabad of California, which runs a network of nonsectarian and educational services under Jewish auspices, organized the event.

Let it shine with these unique menorahs


Artists and designers in the United States and Israel are broadening and updating the ways in which we pay tribute to Judah Maccabee through the emblematic menorah, commemorating the miraculous endurance of the fabled lighting oil and the resilience that keeps Judaism’s fire lit, so to speak.

“People who buy menorahs for themselves or for others buy them for longevity over generations, [not to] replace them from one year to the next,” said renowned designer Brad Ascalon, whose menorahs and home accessories can be purchased through Southern California branches of Design Within Reach.

“My goal was simple. When the menorah is in use, it should be about the candles and the flames. The object in and of itself should recede to the background, allowing the candles to take over in significance. As for the other 357 days of the year, the menorah can remain on display and be appreciated as an elegant, modern sculptural object removed from its intended function but abundant in symbolism and story.”

Other Southern California-based artists have a similar mind-set — balancing fashion and function with their renderings of the traditional candelabra. Some designs are delicate, fused from colorful glass or curving strands of metal that seem to defy gravity. Others are sturdy and industrial by nature, melding the pragmatic with the profound. 

“Over the past several years, design has become increasingly more accessible,” said Pam Balton, vice president of special projects at Skirball Cultural Center, referring to the eclectic collection of menorahs available at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball. “Architects are creating Judaica, and mainstream designers are including Chanukah lamps in their lines. A Chanukah lamp, a symbol of a miracle and light, is oftentimes a decorative sculptural element in a home to be enjoyed year round.”

Santa Barbara-based Laurie Gross uses references from the past as a starting point for her pieces, rendered in a variety of mediums, including textiles and glass. In 1980, Gross came across a turn–of-the-century Russian chanukiyah depicting a mother eagle feeding her young. She was intrigued by this artifact’s striking symbolic elements, including the bird’s wing supporting the baby birds and their open mouths serving as candle holders.

“I first began to explore the imagery of the wing, which seems to represent God’s all-encompassing and shielding presence, and [this motif] would find a place in some of my textile works,” Gross recalled. “However, the opportunity to reinvent the turn-of-the-century artifact in a contemporary context surfaced when I was invited to participate in the Chanukah menorah show at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco in 1995. My goal with this piece rendered in art glass, titled ‘Of Lights, Knots and Nourishment,’ was to bring together concept, imagery and function.”

Gross’ sweeping menorah is fashioned from two pieces of starfire glass that are etched, gold-leafed and contoured. The design on the back piece that holds the shamash candle reflects the expansive and enveloping wings. The front piece holding the eight candles evokes the gesture of receiving and the openness of the young. “Knots” of the tzitzit have a lyrical sense of movement that can be interpreted as the passage of time or the omnipresence of God. 

Josh Korwin and Alyssa Zukas, in contrast, take a literal nuts-and-bolts approach to menorah design with a guy-friendly, recycle-minded design aptly called “The Man-Orah,” manufactured by a company called Not Schlock and available at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball (shop.skirball.org) and Moderntribe.com. The Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife team describe the unexpected ritual object, forged from galvanized steel pipes and other plumbing parts,  as “a proactive response to the overall lack of tasteful, hip, un-schlocky Judaica available to the general public.”

Jay-Z’s Brooklyn menorah


Jay-Z lit up the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn not only with his performance but a menorah. The rapper, a part owner of the arena and its main tenants, the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, put in a special request for his debut performance, wanting to light a candle for each of the eight nights he performed there (even with Chanukah nearly two months away).

Who provided the menorah?

That would be Brooklynite Amit Wehle, whose brother-in-law is the concert producer. Before the first show, Jay-Z stopped by Wehle’s apartment to thank him and offer two VIP tickets to his performance the next night. Also noteworthy at the new arena: two homecoming concerts by Barbra Streisand, a native of the borough's Flatbush section.

Santa Monica nativity ban hits menorahs, too


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menorah of 25,000 dominoes constructed in Jerusalem


A Chanukah menorah made of 25,000 dominoes was constructed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The menorah then fell Sunday in front of a large audience after 5-year-old Dan Ben-Simchon was chosen by raffle to push over the first piece, Ynet reported.

Menorah builders Nissim Lopez and Yogev Levy are hoping that the successful collapsing of the menorah will land them in the Guinness Book of World Records.

700 menorahs lit simultaneously


Some 700 people lit Chanukah menorahs simultaneously.

The guests at the Merrick Jewish Centre lit the menorahs on the second night of Chanukah in order to break the world record for the most menorahs lit at the same time.

If deemed successful, it would beat the previous world record set in 2009, when 358 people lit menorahs simultaneously at a nightclub in Moscow.

Second Temple artifacts uncovered in Jerusalem


Artifacts from the Second Temple period were found in Jerusalem.

A sword in a scabbard that belonged to a Roman soldier and an engraving of the Temple’s menorah on a stone object were discovered in recent days during excavation work in the 2,000-year-old drainage channel discovered between the City of David and the Jerusalem Archeological Garden near the Western Wall.

The findings were announced on the eve of Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. 

The channel served as a hiding place for residents of Jerusalem from the Romans during the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

The excavations are being conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and are underwritten by the City of David Foundation.

The 2,000-year-old iron sword was discovered still in its leather scabbard, along with parts of the belt that carried the sword.

The engraving of the menorah shows that its base was tripod shaped. Researchers believe that someone who saw the menorah was impressed by its beauty and etched his impressions on the stone, afterwards tossing it away.

The Colbert Report’s Government Shutdown Menorah [VIDEO]


Monday, April 4, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

 

Boca Raton under fire for menorah display


A Catholic civil rights organization is accusing Boca Raton, Fla., of discrimination for buying and displaying menorahs in public buildings without including a nativity scene.

“The City of Boca Raton is effectively discriminating against Christians by allowing one religious symbol, namely the menorah, to be displayed in public buildings, while censoring nativity scenes,” Catholic League President Bill Donahue said in a statement issued Tuesday.

According to the statement, the U.S. Supreme Court and district courts recognize the menorah as a Jewish religious symbol.

“Moreover, the menorah symbolizes a miracle that is recognized in Judaism as the religious symbol of Hanukkah,” the statement said.

The displays in Boca Raton’s public buildings are “City-owned decorations and are comprised of a Christmas tree, a menorah, and a ‘Seasons Greetings’ sign, and may include garlands, winter decorations (such as snowflakes and snowmen), and/or lights,” Boca Raton Assistant City Manager Michael Woika said in a statement e-mailed to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

“If you’re going to have, in public buildings, a Jewish religious symbol and Christians are told to settle for their secular symbol, that’s a form of discrimination and that’s an affront to the sensibilities of Christians in Boca Raton,” Donahue told the Sun-Sentinel.

The Catholic League has offered to send the city a creche to display in a public building.

MUSIC VIDEO: ‘All I want for Christmas is Jews’


Relax—it’s comedy

Approximate lyrics:

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS… JEWS
I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is…
Jews

I wont ask for much this Christmas
I dont even wish for snow
Just want a Jew who runs show business
Speilberg, Stiller Ari Gold
I will make a list and send it
Of my choices for St. Nick
Seinfeld, Zach Braff and Jon Stewart
Are the boys with a big schtick.
Cause I just want them here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
Ill take Zac Efron too
all I want for Christmas is Jews.

Menorah lights are shining
So brightly everywhere
And the big box office
Makes Jews millionaires
They may have killed our savior
Thats not the best behavior
Thats ok he rose again three days later
and now Im an active J-dater

Oh I dont want a lot for Christmas
Gentile boys are such a bore
Goldman, Weissman, Cohen, Levy
These are names that I adore
Oh I just want a chosen one
Hebrew boys are so much fun
Make my wish come true
Baby all I want for Christmas is
Jews

 



Comedy trio HotBox is behind the video:

HotBoxComedy
Style: Stand-Up
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Last Sign In: 2 hours ago
Videos Watched: 586
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HOT BOX is a comedy variety show starring stand-up comedians Julia Lillis, Claudia Maittlen-Harris and Melissa McQueen. The show is kind of like that Rosie O’Donnell variety show… only funny. And fewer fat chicks. We’ve got sketches, stand-up, videos, singing (off key), dancing (out of sync)…

Basically, there is so much awesome stuff in a Hot Box show that we better watch out or we might get hijacked by Somali pirates.

You may have seen/heard HOT BOX at/on…
– MTV
– 2008 Edinburgh Fringe
– 2008 Los Angeles Comedy Festival
– 2006 New York Underground Comedy Festival
– National Lampoon Radio
– Maxim Radio
– drinking at a bar near you

 

The many miracles of the family menorah


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


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

That’s a Big Ball of Wax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Promise Menorah

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

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

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

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

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

The Uncle’s Menorah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Blessing by Any Other Name

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings From Bullets

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: Rabbi David Wolpe — Lessons of the Chanukah Candles


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

 

Imaginative menorahs give new twist to ancient tradition


Moses made the first menorah. God commanded him to hammer out an ornate, free-standing, seven-branched candelabrum, replete with cups, knobs and flowers, from a solid piece of gold.

Back then, in the desert tabernacle, and later in the First and Second Temple, the menorah fulfilled a largely inspirational and symbolic function. It was lit with the purest oil in an outside area, and it was meant to illuminate the world with the light of God and the Torah.

But the menorah has changed over time. Yes, you can still buy old-fashioned ornate metal candelabras with the knobs and flowers, but you can also get modern and original art and themed menorahs. And menorahs no longer have seven branches — they now have eight, because they are used to commemorate the miracle that occurred at the first Chanukah, when a single vial of pure oil burned for eight days in the ransacked Second Temple.

Thus we light an ever-increasing number of lights for eight days, and we even call the menorah something different — the technically correct name for the eight-branch candleholder is chanukiah.

So what does a chanukiah need in order to be kosher? Not much. The lights must be aligned with the shamash, the candle used to light the others, somewhat above. And each candleholder must hold an amount of oil or large enough candle to burn for about half an hour. Beyond that, anything goes.

You don’t even need to have an eight-branch candelabra for all eight nights — you simply need enough lights for that particular night. In a pinch, you can fill a few whiskey shot glasses with oil or line some candles up on a piece of foil and voil? — a menorah.

Although a menorah can be ridiculously simple, (as any mother of a preschooler at a Jewish school will know, a menorah means bottle caps glued to a block of wood) over the years, it has become something of an iconic, instantly recognizable Jewish symbol, and it has inspired countless Judaica artists, craftsmen and metalsmiths to fashion their own unique menorahs. They do this under the rubric of hiddur mitzvah — making the mitzvah beautiful.

Marcia Reines Josephy, principal of Josephy Rembrandt Exhibitions and a former assistant curator of the Jewish Museum of New York, has a collection of more than 20 menorahs at her house, including an 18th-century metal piece that her father brought to this country from Poland, as well as ones made by her children and grandchildren.

Menorahs are a bit like Las Vegas hotels — think of any theme, and you can build one around it. If you have a friend who likes ’60s chic, for example, then you can buy her a groovy flower-power bus menorah. If your child likes a particular sports team or has a penchant for dinosaurs, there are menorahs that will match his interests.

Looking for wedding present? How about a newlywed-themed menorah? Or maybe, for those who like kitsch, a fiddler on the roof ceramic diorama menorah or a New York skyscraper menorah.

“For kids, the trends are very colorful metal menorahs,” said David Cooperman of Shalom House in Woodland Hills, which stocks more than 250 different menorahs. “And we are also seeing a trend for more lifelike, rather than childish or cutesy menorahs.”

And, like Josephy, many people can’t stop at just one menorah.

“We had a customer in here yesterday who lights more than 50 menorahs on the last night,” Cooperman said.

So why has the menorah endured and thrived over so many years?

“It is the menorah that is the oldest Jewish symbol,” Josephy said.

“The seven-branched menorah from the Temple or the Tabernacle in the wilderness, that is the beginning of Jewish creativity. [Back then] you had wonderful artists, and wise-hearted men and women, and the menorah was a central part of that creativity. That is one reason that it has remained as such an important symbol, and it is also visually strong and big.”

Children’s Menorahs

Noah’s ark menorahs are perennially popular children’s pieces. This one is available at thejewishmuseum.com.

The Jewish Museum also carries a number of very cute hand-painted metal animal menorahs in the shape of a whale, moose, goose, dinosaur or fish.

Gift Menorahs

Themed menorahs make great gifts. This cloche (close) friends menorah is made of metal and is hand painted. Available at the Museum of Tolerance gift store.

For a newlywed, what better way to say you’re in love then with this Piper Strong Newlywed menorah from A Mano Galleries

Modern

A growing trend in modern menorahs is for streamlined, collapsible pieces, like this anodized aluminum belt menorah from the Jewish Museum.

Gary Rosenthal is an artist who fuses glass and metal in his very popular Judaica. This menorah, top right, is a replica of one that he presented to the White House 25 years ago. Available at Treasures of Judaica, the gift store of the University of Judaism.

Traditional

This traditional style of menorah is the closest to the original design that was present in the Tabernacle and in the First and Second Temple. It features a small jug for pouring oil. Available from Hazorfim.com.

Can public menorah lighting ceremonies pull in unaffiliated Jews?


On the third night of Chanukah, at 6 p.m., a parade of 40 cars topped with electric menorahs, some four feet high with flickering lights, will wind its way about six miles under police escort from southwest Houston to The Galleria shopping center, where several thousand people will gather for a celebration and the lighting of a giant seven-foot menorah carved out of ice.

“Jews are thrilled to see a menorah. It brings them Jewish pride,” said Rabbi Moishe Traxler, Chabad of Houston’s director of outreach, who co-designed the $1,000 deluxe, metallic-painted car menorahs, based on a 12th century design by the Rambam. Traxler oversees the lighting of the ice menorah’s oversize candles.

Public lightings of Chanukah menorahs in the United States have grown exponentially since 1974, when Rabbi Abraham Shemtov of Philadelphia’s Chabad-Lubavitch Center lit a small menorah at the foot of the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall.

The following December, a 22-foot-high mahogany menorah, known as the “Mama Menorah,” was lit in San Francisco’s Union Square, its idea conceived by Northern California Chabad founder Rabbi Chaim Drizin, among others, and its design and construction funded by rock music promoter Bill Graham.

To many Jews, these public celebrations — many with oversize and unconventional menorahs carved of ice or built of LEGOs — create a fierce sense of Jewish pride. And given that Chanukah is the ultimate anti-assimilationist holiday, many Jews and non-Jews alike believe the exhibits establish the menorah as a universal symbol of religious freedom.

To others, however, the public menorah displays raise controversial legal issues regarding separation of church and state, as well as issues regarding the religious significance of the menorah and the true interpretation of the Talmudic commandment to publicize the holiday miracle.

Chabad now sponsors thousands of public menorah lightings worldwide (www.hanukkah.org/events), according to Chabad-Lubavitch spokesperson Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, but not all lightings fall under their auspices.

At The Promenade in Westlake Village, on the fourth night of Chanukah, about 25 third-graders, from Conservative synagogue Temple Beth Haverim in nearby Agoura Hills, dressed as dreidels, candles and cruses of oil, will sing “I am a Latke” and other Chanukah songs preceding the lighting of a nine-foot menorah.

Since the mall opened 10 years ago, Beth Haverim has sponsored this “Chanukah pageant,” which, according to Rabbi Gershon Weissman, carries out the Talmudic commandment pirsumei nisa, which in Aramaic means “to publicize the miracle,” as well as makes the Jewish community feel supported.

“People come up to me afterward and say, ‘Thank you, rabbi, thank you for putting this up in the mall,'” Weissman said.

That was exactly the purpose in the 1980s when the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, began actively campaigning for his Chabad emissaries stationed worldwide to sponsor public menorah lightings.

As Schneerson wrote in 1982, the public display “has been an inspiration to many, many Jews and evoked in them a spirit of identity with their Jewish people …. To many others, it has brought a sense of pride in their Yiddishkeit.”

Controversy — and multiple lawsuits — erupted, however, most initiated by the Jewish community itself, which believed that public displays violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which separates the institutions of church and state. But in 1989 the Supreme Court, ruling on a 18-foot menorah that Chabad-Lubavitch had erected in a government building in Pittsburgh, decided in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU that the publicly displayed menorah did not endorse a particular religion but rather, placed next to a Christmas tree, was a secular symbol that was “part of the same winter holiday season.”

The Union of Reform Judaism, however, continues to maintain a policy of separation of church and state, opposing all government-sponsored, government-funded religious displays on public property, according to rabbi and attorney Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

The Talmud “says, ‘Put the chanukiah in your own window.’ It doesn’t say to put it in someone else’s window,” she said. Additionally, Feldman said, placing a chanukiah next to a Christmas tree gives the erroneous message that the two are somehow related.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in a resolution on separation of church and state in the United States passed in 1997 and still in effect, maintains the same policy, according to Richard Lederman, United Synagogue director of social action and public policy.

Over time, however, many non-Orthodox clergy have tempered their positions.

Years ago, Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said he would have given “an absolute and definitive no” to the concept of public menorah displays. Since then, though he remains offended by calling the menorah a secular symbol, he said he has witnessed how beautiful many of these ceremonies can be.

“There’s value in public lightings to remind all of us that [Chanukah] is a religious holiday — and is not about shopping,” he said.

Many synagogues, as well as Jewish federations, hold menorah lightings on their own property.
For the past 40 years, Reform synagogue Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, Ariz., has lit a 12-foot oil menorah that sits permanently on the synagogue’s front lawn, facing a main thoroughfare.

“The basic mitzvah of the holiday is publicizing the miracle,” said Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon. He added that by holding the lighting on private property overlooking a busy street, the synagogue is fulfilling that commandment without in any way violating principles of church and state.

Cohon believes that the public display has had a positive effect on the community, even “rekindling the Jewish spark” in a few people who have later become temple members.

For many rabbis, that’s precisely the point, no matter the size of the community.

On Dec. 17, at Universal Studios’ City Walk, up to 10,000 people, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are expected to attend the fifth annual Chanukah celebration and lighting of an approximately 18-foot menorah sponsored by Chabad of the Valley, representing 19 Chabad centers in the Los Angeles area.

Make a festive meal fit for your Maccabees


Chanukah has always been a festive holiday — a time when our family exchanges gifts, lights candles and enjoys traditional foods fried in oil. Since the holiday is mostly focused around children, this menu is designed with them in mind.

It’s important during Chanukah to teach children and grandchildren about Jewish traditions and to recall the miracle of the oil, when a one-day supply lasted for eight days, enough time until fresh oil could be made from the olive trees to keep the flame lit in the Holy Temple.

To make everyone feel special during the festivities, we ask each child to bring his or her own chanukiah, or Chanukah menorah. We place them all on the dining room table, so later they can recite the blessing and light the candles together.

Usually everyone gathers in the kitchen to watch the ritual frying of the latkes. They offer their opinion on the size and technique, and they think if the latkes are watched closely, they’ll be done faster. We normally use three large frying pans and triple the size of my award-winning latke recipe, but no matter how many we make there is never enough.

The latkes are served with several delicious toppings — applesauce, chopped olive spread, sour cream and sugar. For a special adult treat, try topping the latkes with salmon caviar. We feast on the latkes while talking in the living room, surrounded by colorful piles of Chanukah gifts, as we wait for the latecomers to arrive.

Serve pasta for the main course, with a choice of two sauces. Be creative with pasta shapes since there are many to choose from. Our favorites are bowties, spaghetti and penne. Some prefer just butter and Parmesan cheese as a topping, while others like the traditional tomato sauce. Everyone will enjoy my recipe using cherry tomatoes that are roasted in the oven with the drained pasta tossed right in with the tomatoes. For the more adventurous, add chunks of sautéed seafood made with several types of fish, which you can add to the roasted tomatoes.

Let the children open presents before dessert — it allows them to release some of that pent up energy. Then get them back to the table for a do-it-yourself ice cream sundaes, with chocolate or caramel sauce, and fruit preserves. Serve it with homemade brown sugar jelly cookies.

Happy Chanukah!

Judy’s Award-Winning Potato Latkes

4 baking potatoes, peeled
1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil, for frying

Grate the potatoes, using a food processor or fine shredder. Immediately transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and add the onion, lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda, and salt and pepper. Mix well.
Heat 1/8 inch of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot oil with a large spoon and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 4-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, three to five minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about two minutes. (Turn once only.) Drain well on paper towels and serve immediately, plain or with topping.

Makes 12 latkes.

Applesauce

1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup raspberry jelly
1/3 cup sugar
6 large tart Pippin or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
Juice and zest of 2 lemons

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the cranberry juice, jelly and sugar. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the jelly and sugar have dissolved. Bring the syrup to a boil and simmer for two to three minutes.

Put the apple slices in a large bowl and toss them with the lemon juice and zest. Add them to the jelly mixture and toss to coat evenly. Simmer until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally. Let them cool.

Transfer the glazed apples with their sauce to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about three cups.

Chopped Olive Spread

1 cup pitted black olives
1 cup pitted green olives
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Coarsely chop the olives and place in a bowl. Add the olive oil and parsley, and toss well.
Makes about two cups.

Spaghetti With Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

1?4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 cups whole cherry tomatoes
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spaghetti
Olive oil and Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat the oven to 250 F.

In a large roasting pot, add olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes, shaking the pan every 10 to 15 minutes, to avoid sticking. After 30 minutes, sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary and sugar to taste. After another 20 minutes, sprinkle with Parmesan and shake gently.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and boil until tender. Using tongs or a large fork, transfer the boiled pasta directly into the tomato mixture in the roasting pot, allowing some of the cooking liquid as well. Toss gently, but thoroughly. To serve, pour olive oil in a thin stream on top of the pasta and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes six to eight servings.

Brown Sugar Jelly Cookies

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Assorted preserves: strawberry, red raspberry, apricot

U.S. Jewish Population Rising; California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact


U.S. Jewish Population Rising?

The new American Jewish Yearbook reports that there are 6.4 million Jews in the United States. That’s significantly more than the 5.2 million figure provided by the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study.

The yearly survey, published by the American Jewish Committee, is based on a tally of individual Jewish communities across the country. According to the survey, 2.2 percent of the American population is Jewish. New York has the largest Jewish population of any state with 1,618,000, followed by California with 1,194,000, Florida with 653,000 and New Jersey with 480,000, the AJCommittee said in a release.

California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact

The state of California and the state of Israel have jointly established a commission to encourage their citizens to visit each other, proving again that the Golden State is big enough to conduct its own foreign policy. At a recent ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Isaac Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, signed an agreement launching the California-Israel Tourism Commission. Both credited Los Angeles-based media mogul Haim Saban for the initiative to establish the commission.

During the ceremony, Schwarzenegger recalled that he has visited Israel three times, first as a body builder, then to open his Planet Hollywood restaurant in Tel Aviv and last year for the groundbreaking of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

No breakdown was available on the number of Californians visiting Israel, or Israelis visiting California, however, the latest figures from Israeli tourism officials showed that between January-September of this year, 1.5 million tourists came to Israel, of whom 400,000 were Americans. In 2005, Israel had 2 million visitors, among them 533,000 Americans.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Iran Hosts Holocaust Deniers Conference

The Iranian government held a conference of Holocaust deniers and skeptics this week, a discussion of whether 6 million Jews actually were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

A report in The New York Times quoted the opening speech by Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies, which organized the event, saying that the conference would allow discussion “away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”

Speakers at the event include David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust, the Times reported.

— Staff Report

Seattle Rabbi Regrets Xmas Tree Removal

A Chabad rabbi in Seattle expressed regret that his request to add a menorah to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport’s display of Christmas trees resulted in the trees’ removal.

“I am devastated, shocked and appalled at the decision that the Port of Seattle came to,” Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest said in Monday’s Seattle Times.

Last week, Bogomilsky’s attorney Harvey Grad threatened the port with a lawsuit after not receiving a response to a request, first made in October, to install an 8-foot menorah, which Bogomilsky offered to supply.

Port Commissioner Pat Davis told the Times that the commission had not heard about the request until Dec. 7, the day before Grad was to head to court.

An airport spokesperson said it was decided to take down the trees because the airport, preparing for its busiest season, did not have time to accommodate all the religions that would have wanted a display.

The removal resulted in a firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at Bogomilsky, who said he never wanted to see the trees removed.

Thousands March for Hezbollah

Hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hezbollah marched in downtown Beirut Sunday to demand that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora either cede some government power to the terrorist group and its allies or resign, The Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah has been pressing for increased power since its war with Israel over the summer. Lebanese troops Sunday sealed off Siniora’s compound, as well as the roads nearby. Siniora and most of his ministers have stayed in the complex since Dec. 1, when Hezbollah launched massive protests aimed at toppling Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Senate Approves Red ‘Crystal’

The U.S. Senate certified the Red “Crystal,” paving the way for Magen David Adom’s acceptance into the International Red Cross’ bodies. The Red Cross approved the symbol which resembles a playing card diamond earlier this year, ending a decades-long shutout of non-Muslim and non-Christian groups such as Israel’s first responder, which rejected using the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols as inappropriate. The Red Cross had also rejected the Star of David symbol used by MDA.

The Senate’s certification last Friday, the last day of Congress, protects the symbol’s copyright and follows similar legislation passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Hostages Said Wounded

Two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah since July were seriously wounded during their capture, security sources said. Israeli security sources last week quoted a declassified military report that said bloodstains and other evidence gathered at the site of the July 12 border raid in which Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seized showed the hostages were seriously wounded.

To survive, the sources said, the two army reservists would have required immediate medical attention, something that may not have been available in the custody of the Lebanese terrorist group.

Hezbollah has refused to provide information on the captives’ condition, saying it would only release them as part of a swap for Arabs held in Israeli jails. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out a swap on Hezbollah’s terms unless the terrorist group provides information on the soldiers’ health. The captives’ families criticized the release of forensic details from the raid.

“I think this may be an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to lower pressure to get the kidnapped soldiers freed,” Regev’s brother, Benny, told Israel Radio.

Show Decodes Early Years of 2 Religions


Whether it’s good luck or good planning, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in the Cleveland area has hit the exhibition jackpot with its current show, “Cradle of Christianity,” which runs through Oct. 22. Because while the film version of “The Da Vinci Code” is generating buzz over a purported tale of Jesus, here’s an exhibition with tantalizing real objects that provide an actual glimpse from the years of early Christianity.

The exhibit’s revelations are more subtle than, say, an uncovering of a liaison between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but there is evidence of fascinating links between the older and newer religions: Judaism and Christianity.

That is especially evident in items used in liturgical contexts — two Byzantine oil lamps — one with a menorah and the other with a cross. The fact that both lamps are otherwise virtually identical is a useful reminder that, even in our own time, it’s often the decorative motifs rather than the object’s basic form that identifies the group using it — as, for example, in the case of drinking vessels or candlesticks.

Such a case is even more forcefully made with two almost identical chancel screens. The chancel is the area of the church (or early synagogue) where the bimah was placed. The bimah was (and is) a platform on which the clergy stand. And the chancel screen delineates its separation from the rest of the church, to keep it “inaccessible to the multitude” (as Eusebius of Caesarea wrote).

Each of the two Byzantine stone chancel screen panels on display has a central wreath sitting on a kind of scrolled form that ends in a heart-shaped arrow. But on one there’s a menorah in the center of the wreath, while on the other, the wreath is flanked by a pair of crosses. The similarity between the two suggests that the carvers of these reliefs could have been either Jewish or Christian.

This interplay between traditions should not be surprising; it’s probably a permanent feature of cultural intersection. Many of our most treasured Jewish ritual objects were made by non-Jews.

Yet there’s something magical about coming into direct contact with these works. A first century ossuary (bone box) bears the inscription “Jesus/Jesus son of Joseph, Judas son of Jesus.”

Maybe it would feed your appetite for Dan Brown’s inventions, but more important, it’s eloquent testimony to the fact that Jews were commonly using these names at the time. In other words, the Jesus/Judas reference is likely meaningless, in so far as the Jesus and Judas that people want most to know about.

That’s not the case with another artifact, the stone inscription, 26-36 C.E., found in Caesarea and originally part of a building constructed there by Pontius Pilate to honor the Emperor Tiberius. The Latin writing on stone bears Pilate’s name and title, the only such archaeological find.

Traditional Western Christian iconography developed early on; there’s a Byzantine pottery pilgrim’s flask with a worn but recognizable, depiction of the Annunciation and a small ceramic blessing token from the sixth or seventh century, showing the adoration of the Magi.

As for Jewish symbols, the menorah is the most important Jewish signifier in this exhibition, not the Magen David, whose common usage is much more recent.

The time of early Christianity also was a rich era for Jewish history. And this exhibit, put together by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, offers a rare opportunity to perceive this coexistence, contrast and clash through objects from that epoch. The Israel Museum’s co-curator of this exhibition, David Mevorah, said that it was this convergence of familiarities that made the exhibition such a hit in Jerusalem.

It ought to be exciting for Jews and Christians to see their earlier visual traditions in this kind of exhibition face-off. It’s enough to make one put down the fictional potboiler and discover the revelations to be found in museums.

Tom L. Freudenheim is a retired museum director who writes about art and cultural issues.

The Path for Growth


Almost 10 years ago to the day, I was interviewing at Adat Ari El for the position of assistant rabbi. The parsha on which I had to speak was Terumah. I wondered if there was any chance I would get the job.

Let me explain.

Some Torah portions lend themselves very easily to sermons. Yitro, which contains the giving of the Ten Commandments has lots of material about which to talk. Others are more challenging, like Tazria-Metzorah, which has extensive discussions about skin diseases, inflammations and rashes.

Terumah focuses on the details of the Mishkan, the portable tabernacle the Israelites were to carry with them through their wilderness sojourn. So we read about the height, width and length of the various items in the Mishkan, like the ark, the menorah, the altars and with what and how these things were to be decorated and covered — a dream for an interior decorator but a nightmare for a fifth-year rabbinical student looking for a job.

However, details communicate to us. They convey messages about our priorities, values and beliefs. Similarly, the details surrounding the Mishkan — whether something was covered in gold or bronze, where it was located and how was it made — contain their own lessons and meanings.

We see an instance of this in the rabbinic commentary on the wood used to build the Mishkan. In this week’s parsha, we read: “You shall make the planks for the Mishkan of acacia wood, upright” (Exodus 26:15).

The rabbis ask the following question: Why does the Torah insist on acacia wood? What is so special about it over and against other wood? Their answer is at once succinct and profound: Because it is not wood from a fruit-bearing tree.

What does this mean? Just as the Mishkan cannot be built by destroying that which gives food and sustenance and provides for the future, so, too, we cannot build our religion on beliefs, practices and attitudes that are destructive to those around us at the same time. God is the source and creator of all life, and it is God that permeates and infuses the entire world around us. Therefore, it is illogical to build a house dedicated to God that destroys that which God has made at the same time.

And what is true for God’s house is also true for us as individuals, for what are we if not portable tabernacles for God’s presence?

When we are little, we learn that what goes up must come down. It is the most basic rule of gravity and the first one we learn as children. But as we grow older, we learn a new twist on this basic law: I can build myself up by putting others down.

However, if we truly want to live life to the fullest and embrace it to the greatest extent possible, we need to find the inner resolve and sense of self-worth to feel good about who we are in a manner that does not put down others.

Hence, be it as religious tradition or an individual, the Torah teaches through a seemingly minor detail a crucial lesson: If we wish to find holiness comparable to the Mishkan and draw closer to God, it can only be done when we create in a way that does not also destroy at the same time. Our own growth can only be sanctified when it does not come at the expense of others.

Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard is a rabbi at Adat Ari El in Valley Village. He can be reached at rabbijjb@adatariel.org.

Wandering Jew – New Year’s in Vienna


About six years ago at the University of Texas, I was asked to be the guest speaker for Shabbat 1,000, an event where 1,000 Jewish students are served full-course traditional Shabbat meals for free. There are no prayer services.

They must have an interesting orientation program for this unique venue, because everyone shows up on time for the Shabbat meal. Everyone is told beforehand that the only thing they need to do is to be quiet for the 15-minute sermon by the rabbi, and since a microphone is not used because of Shabbat, and the local campus rabbi couldn’t project a speech loud enough to be heard in the huge, high-ceilinged dining room, they needed someone with a built-in “PA” system. I’m used to projecting in precisely this type of venue, so they “rented” me to give that 15-minute sermon.

While in Austin, I met a young, good-looking, single, charismatic Aussie working in Jewish “outreach.” We hung out for the weekend and became fast friends. I came home and told my wife that the Aussie was destined for greatness in outreach.

Six years later, this young man, now married with two kids, had founded the European Center for Jewish Students. He had planned a New Year’s Eve weekend in Austria at the prestigious Vienna Hilton Hotel, and almost 300 students had R.S.V.P.’d. They came from 13 countries, hungry for fellowship with Jews their own age.

My Aussie friend, Yossi Waks, remembered bar-hopping with me in Austin, looking to kidnap Jewish students. He had been working in Europe for two years and realized that for the event to be a success, he needed a wild and crazy guy/rabbi.

My wife, Olivia, and I went to Vienna to excite and inspire, and we came away deeply moved by the students. Between Thursday night and Sunday morning we got to meet dozens of individuals and heard their personal stories.

The age range was from 18 to 26. There was the smashing blonde from Warsaw who worked for Polish television. Two years ago, her mother became seriously ill and told her, at age 22, that she was Jewish and then gave her a necklace with a Jewish Star that had belonged to her bubbe (the blonde’s great-grandma). Since then, she has been passionately driven to find out about her Judaism and had begun to get involved in the religion in a serious way.

Then there was the student from Geneva whose mom had married a Jew, then began to take on some traditions and slowly started dragging her hubby to temple. The student developed an interest when she was 15 and converted formally at age 18, went on birthright at 20 and was now 22 and hungry for any tidbit about Torah and practice.

The two vivacious roommates from Rome and Milan were clueless and had come to party for New Year’s, but Olivia zeroed in on them, and Sunday morning at the grand farewell they were almost crying to have to part from their new “rabbi.”

There was also a large contingent originally from Russia who had come to Europe as children with their parents. They all spoke German, but at their own table they easily moved to Russian. On Friday night after all the programs, I went to the lobby after midnight and saw about 100 of our group still shmoozing. Many of the students were smoking and talking on their cellphones — still wearing their kippahs! It was a unique sight.

I walked out of the Friday night Shabbat meal for a few minutes into the lobby. I saw a family sitting together — an older man with his wife and their two adult children. As I passed by with my kippah on, the man gave me the most beautiful smile. It certainly seemed like he wanted to say hello, although in Europe it’s just not PC to approach strangers and begin a conversation. Since I’m not from Europe and don’t abide by their rules, I approached them and his smile grew even broader. He was ecstatic that I came over; he spoke Yiddish, so I got the whole story.

He was originally from Vienna. When he was 16 and the Nazis took over the city, both he and his father were arrested for the crime of being Juden and sent to Dachau. The war had not officially started yet — it was pre-“Final Solution” — and since he was only 16, he was sent back home. His father actually also came back home after four months. They then fled to Brazil.

Now he was in his 70s, and it was the first time that he had returned to Vienna to visit. He was a guest in the Hilton (by “accident”) and was in the lobby watching the parade of beautiful Jewish college kids traipsing around in their Shabbat best.

Of course we shlepped him and his family back into the ballroom and made them eat the amazing Shabbat banquet meal with all of us inside. He then told me, crying, that this was his first Shabbat meal since he left Vienna 60 years ago. It was a very emotional scene.

Saturday night was New Year’s Eve, and the five-star Hilton Grand Ballroom was outfitted for a formal ball. Yossi had brought in a seven-piece Israeli band from Amsterdam.

At the crucial moment of 11:45 p.m., when the folks were jockeying for position for the traditional kiss, the band suddenly stopped. I had the unforgettable honor of going up on stage and speaking for a maximum two minutes and then publicly lighting the Chanukah menorah.

Only 10 percent there knew the “Maoz Tzur,” but everybody was very up for the New Year’s Eve/Chanukah experience.

I had always thought that European Jewry was dead (and almost forgotten). However it looks like there’s enough for me to do there that I (verbally) signed a lifetime contract for the New Year’s Eve gig in Europe.

For an outreach rabbi, it’s a gold mine of ripe and ready, interested and enthusiastic 20-somethings, a demographic we don’t see in this country.

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz is in the midst of celebrating his 60th birthday.> He is director of the Chai Center.

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