An internet guide to finding Israeli products


You could say it all started in 1967, when one of Howard Bernstein’s daughters got married.

“I insisted we serve Israeli wine,” the Chicago businessman and founder of the Buy Israel Goods (BIG) Web site said. He had visited Israel both as a tourist and in his position as an investment banker to the food industry and was searching for ways to help the Jewish state.

“It doesn’t cost any more to buy Israeli products, and they are superior products in most cases,” he said.

But it was several decades—not until 2002, in fact—before Bernstein would launch BIG (buyisraelgoods.org), which he now runs in conjunction with America-Israel Chambers of Commerce, StandWithUs and several other organizations.

His motivation was simple to explain, more difficult to accomplish: Help the Israeli economy by motivating consumers to buy a broad range of Israeli products for their everyday needs.

Today BIG, which Bernstein funds, and maintains with the help of a few interns, lists available Israeli products in about 25 categories in 17 cities in the United States and Canada. Both local merchants and online sellers are identified. The coverage area includes more than 75 percent of the Jewish population of the country, he says.

So let’s say you live in Seattle and are looking for an Israeli-made birthday present for your toddler. Click on your city, click on “Toys and Games” under Product Categories, and voila, you discover there’s a Toys ‘R’ Us store in town that sells Israeli brands, plus a listing of five online retailers. Couldn’t be simpler.

That’s exactly what Bernstein was going for.

“I noted the singular focus in doing business with Israel was high-tech products,” he said. “That’s as it should be, because it’s Israel’s strongest suit. But I also noticed that nobody was paying attention to the considerable amount of companies in the consumer products business.”

He decided he would be the one to pay attention, coming up with the idea of a Web site that would direct people to Israeli consumer products. He started out in a few market areas, watched the Web site grow and hired some college students who, he freely admits, knew much more about Web site development than he did.

“I gave them a single rule that they must never violate,” he said. “I will sacrifice any element of color or design to have a site that, if a visitor sees a page they want to print, all they have to do is press print and they get a perfectly legible copy. I had to drag the (Web site designers) back to the straight and narrow.”

Now Bernstein has Jewish organizational sponsors in a number of cities whose members help gather information for the site. He’s recently added a blog feature, with news about Israeli products, and a library feature that archives articles on the subject.

Big news on the site might be that “AIPAC served Israeli wine to 10,000 people at its last national meeting in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Wine, in fact, is Bernstein’s favorite product and one he works hard to promote. “If I hear of someone having a banquet, I send a letter: Here’s why you should serve Israeli wine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. A lot of people think they won’t like Israeli wine, but when they drink it, they like it,” he said.

He gives credit to local America-Israel Chambers of Commerce in BIG’s market areas for providing listings of local merchants selling Israeli products. “Without their input, there would be no BIG,” he said.

Bernstein said he often hears from merchants pleased with the number of sales they’ve made through BIG.

That’s also the view of Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, a 10-year-old pro-Israel education and advocacy nonprofit based in Los Angeles.

The organization works in partnership with Bernstein after launching a campaign that also promoted buying Israeli goods. That promotion was designed to specifically combat the efforts of groups calling for a boycott of Israeli products, Rothstein said, and was launched on Nov. 30, 2010, and March 30, 2011 — days anti-Israel groups had designated as boycott days.

“We have a very large international membership, and our campaign became global,” reaching supporters as far away as Australia, Rothstein said. “Shelves of Israeli products were emptied” on the boycott days, she said.

Rothstein said StandWithUs “pushed the campaign (to buy Israeli products) out into the world. It became a living, active thing.”

Another goal, she said, was to counter the negativity of the pro-boycott groups. “We created an upbeat, happy campaign,” she said. “We asked people to send in their photos, videos, and it created excitement in Jewish and Christian schools, synagogues, churches. Federations picked it up. It became a whole campaign that was very effective.” Christian pro-Israel groups helped power the effort as well, she said.

Bernstein said that in each month when a boycott was called for, BIG’s page views increased from about 5,000 to almost 50,000. “StandWithUs’ efforts have proved to be very effective,” he said.

StandWithUs, meanwhile, will continue to sponsor and work with BIG as Bernstein seeks to expand the Web site’s reach into new markets, including international ones.

And here’s what Bernstein wants everyone who uses his service to remember: “While I hope and think that BIG assists Israel, the Israelis do more for us than we do for them, just by being there.”

Santa Monica Tries to Tread Lightly


How many trees does it take to absorb the emissions from your car’s commute? How much land does it take to feed and raise the beef you eat for dinner? How much space on earth does your trash take up?

The city of Santa Monica has taken up the task of answering those questions in “Santa Monica’s Ecological Footprint, 1990-2000,” released in March. The report measures the amount of land used to produce everyday products and services like electricity, transportation, garbage disposal and housing. That land use is called the ecological footprint, and it can be measured individually or citywide.

“If we are taking more from nature than can be provided indefinitely, we are on an unsustainable track,” the report notes.

“[The footprint] seemed to us it would make an educational tool to help people understand how to visualize their impacts on the face of the earth,” Brian Johnson, manager of the environmental division of the city of Santa Monica told The Journal.

Jewish environmental activists are extremely pleased.

“The city of Los Angeles and cities across the country could learn a valuable lesson from the city of Santa Monica,” said Lee Wallach of the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life. “They truly do make a real effort.”

The report found that between 1990 and 2000, Santa Monica managed to decrease its footprint by 5.7 percent, or about 65,000 acres. That decrease notwithstanding, Santa Monica, a city of 8.3 square miles, still has an ecological footprint of 2,747 square miles, an area approximately the size of Los Angeles County.

“Now that we have [the footprint], we must ask what lessons are learned and how can we implement them in a manner that’s good for residents, business and the economy,” Wallach said.

According to Johnson, the gains came from the city’s efforts to be more environmentally conscious between 1990 and 2000. He noted one area where government has taken the lead and business may want to follow: All public city facilities in Santa Monica are now based on 100 percent renewable energy, which is in large part where the 65,000 acres in savings came from.

“I think the experience the city had during [the California energy crisis] further confirms the decision the city had made in looking for opportunities for alternative energy generation,” Johnson said.

Those resource savings from alternative energy sources (in Santa Monica’s case, the city purchased geothermal energy) are particularly important: Energy and recycling are actually the only two categories of its footprint that the city managed to significantly shrink.

Nevertheless, Santa Monica has shown that it can make progress toward “sustainability,” which is that enlightened scenario where humanity does not consume any more than the earth can replace.

To compare, Santa Monica’s new per capita footprint is 20.9 acres. The U.S. average is 24 acres per person. A sustainable level would be a far more modest 4.5 acres per person.

To reach that goal, Wallach emphasized the importance of community working with politicians and businesspeople to create an environmental vision that is not overly idealistic.

“It takes a combination of political and communal will,” he said. “It can’t happen with only one and not the other.”

Doing that, Wallach said, is part of the Jewish duty to future generations, to leave the world in better shape than we inherited it. Santa Monica’s footprint is a tool designed to help measure progress in that endeavor.

Santa Monica is a relatively small place, and its report indicates that it has a significant, albeit shrinking, footprint. One cannot help but imagine what the ecological footprint for the city of Los Angeles would look like.

“There have been presentations and discussion at the Westside Council of Governments about sustainability and Los Angeles has been a part of that dialogue,” Johnson said. “As of yet we don’t have any direct relationships with their programs or planning, but we’re certainly hoping that the 800-pound gorilla comes along with us,” Johnson said of the second-largest city in the United States sitting next door.

To measure your “footprint,” take the quiz at

Weaving a Kerry Web Site


There is no shortage of opinions in the media about what Jews should do in November. The perceived dilemma: How to reconcile traditional Jewish support of American social programs, the expansion of civil rights and environmental protection with President Bush’s popular pro-Israel stance.

One man has already made up his mind — and built a Web site around it.

“I will not support a president who is not pro-Israel, at least the idea of the State of Israel, [but] I certainly don’t make that my only issue,” said Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik, creator of www.jewsforkerry.org, which offers news items, discussion forums and campaign-related products.

“There is a lot more to being the president of the United States than just being a friend to Israel,” Brynjegard-Bialik pointed out.

Indeed, other political issues do come to mind, such as Bush’s nostalgia for the days when minorities (in this case homosexuals) could be legally denied civil rights (in this case by constitutional amendment). Or perhaps Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education strategy, which is routinely blasted by teachers, administrators and policy researchers.

“I like a moral president,” Brynjegard-Bialik said, “[But] I don’t like to have a president who tells me what my morals should be. And I’m concerned about Bush’s ties to faith-based organizations, particularly those on the fringes of the right.”

But is Bush really a religious or moral proselytizer? One may ponder that question most aptly in Texas every June 10, when, according to a proclamation by thenGov. Bush in 2000, they celebrate “Jesus Day.”

“My site is for two groups,” Brynjegard-Bialik said, “First is the Kerry supporters, those who want Bush out of the White House. The other half are those Jews who have decided, ‘Well, the Republicans are friends to Israel, I should stick with them.’ They will discover that they can keep that pro-Israel support in the White House and put in a Democratic president that will better support their needs.”

New Budget Likely to Hurt UC, Cal State

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hitting his first serious political snags these days. While the budget remains in stalemate over the relations between state and local government, education policy might have already been compromised in a fait accompli.

Some highlights: In fiscal year 2004-2005, the University of California faces about $350 million in cuts. That means a 10 percent increase in the undergraduate fee at UC ($4,984 to $5,482 per year) and a 40 percent increase in the graduate fee ($5,219 to $7,307). Out-of-state students will pay 20 percent more, as well.

The Cal State University system faces the exact same percentages in undergraduate and graduate fee increases (now reaching $2,251 and $3,158, respectively).

“I was very concerned, and I literally wrote 37 letters to members of the Legislature that I knew, basically expressing my concern that these cuts were the worst that the UC has faced since Ronald Reagan’s famous 10 percent cut,” said Howard Welinsky, longtime political advocate for California public education.

“Then, when the May [budget] revise took place, [state] revenues went up $3 billion, but rather than using it to keep the door open for qualified UC or CSU students, he chose not to use the money,” said Welinsky, speaking of extra funds from the $15 billion bond that the governor famously advocated.

“You don’t want to borrow money for normal operating expenditures,” Welinsky said. “The place to borrow money is for things that are lasting. Higher education is that kind of investment.”

When the budget is finalized, Californians get a chance to see whether legislators took Welinsky’s letters to heart.

California Institutes Paid Family Leave

California has a habit of blazing the political trail. In that fine tradition, the state became the first in the nation on July 1 to institute paid family leave benefits for its workers.

Approximately 13 million employees in California can now take up to six weeks off work per year to take care of sick relatives or a newborn and still receive 55 percent of their salary (up to a maximum of $728 per week) from the state while they’re away.

“There’s always two sides of the coin — the large employer and small employer perspective, and the employee perspective,” said Claudia Finkel, COO of Jewish Vocational Services, an organization that provides job training and career counseling to 14,000 people a year.

“What this really does is level the playing field for those employees at the lower end of the salary range,” Finkel said. “If you’re earning $150,000 per year … you can decide you need to take [time off to] care of your mother. But for somebody earning $7 to $8 dollars an hour, they don’t have the financial means to do that.”

The family leave money comes from a new fee .8 percent added to the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program, which provides money for workers recovering from injuries.

Some business groups had lobbied against the benefits, worrying that it would handicap small companies with no time for key employees to take extended time off. Some also questioned the future solvency of the SDI program if more workers take advantage of the benefits than anticipated.

But Finkel doubted the riskiness of the measure: “It’s going to cost money for somebody to do this, this isn’t something people are going to take lightly. If someone is making $8 per hour or $10 per hour, then they’re only going to be making [55 percent] of that salary, give me a break! I really cannot perceive that this is going to be an onslaught.”

What’s more, the family leave program does not, in itself, ensure that an employee will not lose his/her job for taking the leave of absence. That depends on existing laws and the details of the employment.

About 3,000 people have signed up for the program. Forms can be obtained through your employer.

For more information, visit

OU Takes Pain Out of Pesach Shopping


“When I was younger, I remember going into a store with my
mother and grandmother, and whatever was kosher for Passover, they would grab,”
Rabbi Alan Kalinsky said. “The attitude was, you had to buy it in quantity
because if you came back a week later, it would no longer be there. But this is
no longer the case.”

Kalinsky, the director of the West Coast region of the
Orthodox Union (OU), was speaking at a Ralphs on the corner of Pico Boulevard
and Beverwil Drive, which, like many supermarkets in California, has a large
range of kosher-for-Passover products, with enough in storage so that it does
not disappear off the shelves with the first wave of Passover shoppers. It is
Monday night, and about 50 people have gathered for the OU kosher-for-Passover
supermarket tour, led by Kalinsky. The tour is essentially a guide for shopping
for Passover: what products are OK to use without kosher-for-Passover
supervision, which products need supervision and why and what are some of the
ways that people can save money while doing their kosher-for-Passover shopping.
The OU has done eight of these tours all over Los Angeles, in supermarkets from
Canoga Park to Westwood, and they attract both the sheitl (wig)-wearing very
religious types who have been observing Passover all their lives — but want a
refresher course in the products available — to Passover novices who need basic
knowledge about what makes something kosher for Passover.

For something to be kosher for Passover, it needs to be free
of chametz (leavened ingredients — meaning any of the five grains [wheat,
spelt, barley, oats and rye] that have come into contact with water for more
than 18 minutes). Ashkenazi Jews have an added restriction of not being able to
eat kitniyot — legumes such as rice, corn, soybeans, string beans, peas,
lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds — because they can
appear like chametz (for example, rice flour (kitniyot) and wheat flour
(chametz) can look the same). The prohibition against eating chametz on
Passover is far more stringent than the prohibition of eating nonkosher.

“If on Pesach someone defiantly eats chametz, the sin is 10
times worse,” Kalinsky said. “That is why people at Passover times are much
more strict.”

While there are many obvious sources of chametz (like bread),
Kalinsky pointed out on the tour that there are many products that appear to be
chametz-free, but actually are not.

“In order to remove the caffeine from coffee beans [to make
decaffeinated coffee] they need to boil the beans in alcohol, which is made
from fermented grain — i.e., chametz,” he said. “Even if the bottle says
naturally decaffeinated, it is still boiled in alcohol.” Likewise, frozen
vegetables are a problem on Passover because many of them are blanched in units
that also blanch pasta products, which are often not only not kosher for
Passover, but not kosher at all. Packaged salad dressings, too, unless they are
kosher for Passover, are forbidden because they may have vinegar (another grain
derivative) as well as corn sweeteners in them, which is also the reason why
unless marked as such, soda is not kosher for Passover.

“You see on the soda bottle it says ‘sugar or corn syrup’ in
the ingredients,” Kalinsky said. “Sugar is so expensive compared to corn syrup,
and it so much more of an inconvenience for them to use sugar [which is dry
compared to liquid corn syrup] that it is really hard to get soda made for
Passover.”

But while the tour pointed out many things that could not be
eaten on Passover, there were also a surprising number of products that were
fit for use even without a Passover hechsher (kosher supervision), such as
bagged lettuce, ordinary unflavored coffee or tea, honey, pure cane sugar,
Hershey’s cocoa, milk that is bought before Passover (milk that is bought on
Passover needs to be kosher for Passover, because otherwise it comes from cows
that are fed grain on Pesach, which renders their milk unfit for Passover use),
canned pineapple in its own juice and, this year, peeled baby carrots. Kalinsky
also pointed out the many kosher-for-Passover “It’s Delish” products (such as
spices and nuts), which are produced locally and are often cheaper than their
nonkosher counterparts, and he encouraged everyone to lobby their supermarket
managers for the kosher products that they wanted to see on the shelves.

“I came on this tour because there is always new information
that I am not aware of,” said Susan Weintraub of Santa Monica, who has been
observing Passover all her life. “You tend to be very, very strict, and then
you find out that you could have used it, so it is really a blessing to find
out what is appropriate.”

For more information on what is kosher for Passover, call
the OU at (310) 229-9000, or visit www.ou.org/chagim/pesach/pesachguide/5763
.

A Holiday Hits the Big Time


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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