Boathouse Row Transformed Into a Mammoth Menorah

This year, a Hanukkah greeting appeared on one of the boathouses for the first time. Photo credit: NBC10.com

This year, a Hanukkah greeting appeared on one of the boathouses for the first time.
Photo credit: NBC10.com

One of the most magical sights in Philadelphia is Boathouse Row at night, when the riverbank rowing houses are illuminated with a beckoning glow, reflecting on the still waters of the Schuylkill River. For Jews celebrating Hanukkah this season, this visual delight has taken on a new significance: for the first time, the boathouses have been converted into what Mayor Kenney’s office describes in a press release as “one of the largest representations of the menorah in the nation.” [Read more…]

Being Jewish During Christmas: 10 Easy Steps

Photo by Joe Goldberg https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/

Photo by Joe Goldberg

Being Jewish in the diaspora is especially difficult during Christmas. Christmas is such a shiny and beautiful celebration, that it is hard for Hanukkah not to be eclipsed by it. I decided to rise to the challenge. Here is how I did it.

1) Acknowledge the beauty of Christmas

Honesty is key. The Christmas decorations and lights are lovely. There is no harm in saying so. My family enjoyed admiring them all around us. At no time were christmas decorations allowed in our home, and my kids were never permitted to help their friends decorate a Christmas tree.

2) Control the radio and television

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the broadcast media inundates everyone with Christmas music and movies. We made a point of listening to Hanukkah and Israeli music, and to watch movies about Hanukkah. We created our own Hanukkah bubble, which was surrounded by Christmas.

3) Instill pride with the retelling of the story of the Maccabees

Tell your kids the story of the bravery of the Maccabees. Use whatever resources you have at your disposal to bring it to life. Most kids are fascinated to discover that the weapon of mass destruction during their time was the war elephant.

4) Make Hanukkah crafts

We made our own beeswax candles and hanukiot. It was so much more meaningful for the children to light a menorah they had made themselves.

5) Participate in community celebrations

Your family may join an ice menorah sculpting and lighting happening, or go to the Latkepalooza to taste non-traditional latkes. Communal menorah lightings and celebrations are a wonderful way to feel part of your People during Hanukkah.

Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

6) Create your own Hanukkah fun

We celebrated Hanukkah by making our own gelt, preparing latkes and sufganiot, and hosting at least one Hanukkah party. It is fun to serve Israeli foods during a Hanukkah party, as well as Sephardic treats and specialties from other Jewish communities. Of course, no Hanukkah party is complete without the dreidel game.

7) Light an olive oil menorah

Lighting an olive oil menorah transports you back in time to the Temple in Jerusalem. Your family can relive the rededication of the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees, and the lighting of the pure oil.

8) Give great presents!

If you examine the reasons young children are envious of Christmas, one of the main ones is that gifts are involved. This one is easy to solve. I told my kids that while children who celebrate Christmas get gifts during only one day, kids who celebrate Hanukkah get gifts during eight nights. Then, I went out and bought eight great gifts for each of them. They had something to look forward to every day. When Christmas and Hanukkah were over, all the kids at school compared what they had received. My children were satisfied with their gifts.

9) Bond with other Jews

There is a special bond that forms in December between Jews. There are enough of us in the Philadelphia area that together we share a special Christmas tradition. Have dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown, and then go to a movie. Check the Jewish community listings for special activities and events scheduled on December 24 and 25. Single people in our community should go to the matzah ball where they can mingle with other eligible single Jews. Even when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap, non-Christmas feels like our own special holiday.

10) Be genuinely happy for your Christian friends.

I always wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas, and I mean it. I love hearing about their different traditions and recipes. I have modeled this behavior for my family.

My kids are now young adults. I asked them what they thought of their Hanukkah experience growing up in the United States. They told me that Christmas is a beautiful holiday, and that they feel so lucky to be Jews celebrating Hanukkah.

Just and Rightful Authority

Every Shabbat, just after the Torah service, most Conservative synagogues recite the Prayer for Our Country, written by Rabbi Louis Ginzberg. Part of this prayer has troubled me since I first encountered it in 1998. I and others were independently led to “invent” an abridged, but more inclusive version of this prayer, by omitting three key words. [Read more…]

“We Will Be Okay”: An Open Letter to Fellow Rabbis and Faith Leaders

Will we be okay? What do I tell my kids?

These are two questions that have been asked since the nation elected Donald Trump as president of the United States. The answer to the first question is yes. And we will tell our children the following: On November 8, our country elected Mr. Trump to be our next president. For many of us, he was not the person we wanted, but our nation has spoken in a way that makes this country extraordinary. We voted and we decided. Our process worked. Despite our deep disagreements, we all have a president-elect.

usflagNow it is time to find a way to move forward. We will pray our new president embraces the ideal that he is the president of all people of the United States and that the United States has unique responsibilities because it holds a unique role in the world. Whether we agree with Mr. Trump’s personal or political views, we hope for his success as the leader of our nation. At the same time, we need to embrace our important place to fight for what we believe to be right, especially given the circumstances that brought us to this place.

We have long relied on government intervention to address issues and solve problems. However, for many in America, that did not work. They felt abandoned, if not betrayed, with promises of protection broken, and a system unresponsive to their needs.

And for many others of us, we have been lulled into complacency and a false sense of security. This election is a harsh wake-up call and rouses us to action, not against the government, but aware of governments’ limitations to help the governed. It is up to us to create the change we seek, now more than ever. Voting is only the first step in a process of engagement. Showing up at local meetings, petitioning Congress and holding the new president — and every part of government — accountable must ensue. Community organizing is vital. Our aspirations and goals are in our hands. We cannot relegate them to another’s care, certainly not now. Our community groups, both religious and civic, can use this moment in our history to reinvigorate and rededicate themselves, advancing important values of dignity, equality and justice.

Yes, we will be all right. The United States of America is strong, and we, her people, are resilient. But the future is in our hands. It is our work as rabbis and other faith leaders to help guide and support the people as teachers, chaplains and champions of social justice and the values we hold dear. There is much to do, and our work has never been more important.

A Balanced Life, Redux

Now that we’ve passed another Day of Judgment, we can ask ourselves what are we going to do with the life that we’ve been granted? Do we live up to our values, our ideals? Since my teens, I’ve been passionate about worldly causes, but it has always been a challenge to maintain the delicate balance between the sacred and the secular. [Read more…]

The National Anthem Meets Colin Kaepernick

KaepernickColin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, created an uproar by remaining seated for the national anthem before a football game.

Many people have jumped to judgment. He is right, he is wrong; he is either validating something we feel, or he is being disrespectful to something we treasure. Right or wrong, his actions were thoughtful and deliberate and deserve consideration rather than a reflexive reaction. Kaepernick used his position and visibility to express his views about the state of affairs in our country.

America is not perfect. We are engaged in the ongoing process of creating “a more perfect Union.” We are building on our principles and ever aspiring to do better for everyone in our country. We have come a long way, but there remains a long way to go.

Jews have long participated in this process and historically struggled with this issue. In our tradition, we have argued for centuries to discern what we should do and when. Arguments to advance our understanding are elevated to “Arguments for the sake of Heaven.” In the same Talmud, we also learn that the law and the application of law exist in our world for us to interpret and implement. Were it otherwise, we would simply be blaspheming.

Kaepernick’s stand (or lack thereof) might be seen as the cynical protest, perhaps biting the hand that feeds him. However, as I have learned, Kaepernick is active in trying to make our country a better place through his work supporting Camp Taylor, a camp for children battling heart disease. From personal tragedy, Colin Kaepernick has tried to make meaning and help others using his position and wealth to promote Camp Taylor.

Social justice and civil rights issues also have clearly touched a nerve in Kaepernick. On his social media pages, he began posting months ago about what he saw and what angered him. The sitting down during the anthem was yet one more step on a path he had already begun to travel, including sitting out the anthem earlier in the preseason, although he was not suited for play during those games. This particular act of protest, however, did garner attention. Through this act of sitting down, he raises awareness and becomes a part of making social change by keeping the active conversation alive.

Whether or not one agrees with his actions, Colin Kaepernick should be respected for what he did. He is “walking the walk.”

May the Angels Carry You

— by Reb Simcha Raphael

I am pleased to announce the release of my most recent book, May the Angels Carry You: Jewish Prayers and Meditations for the Deathbed

This book provides a collection of traditional and contemporary Jewish prayers, meditations and sacred readings designed to offer comfort and solace for those wrestling with dying and the approach of death. May the Angels Carry You is a simple, practical and functional deathbed manual for people on an end-of-life journey, for family members who accompany them, and for professional care-givers in search of practical tools for Jewish patients.

Honoring the legacy of Jewish deathbed practices and inspired by the spiritual insight of Jewish renewal, this small volume — the third in the Albion-Andalus “Jewish Death and Transition Series” — is a valuable and unique deathbed resource for contemporary Jewish life. Among material included in this book are:

  • traditional and innovative Vidui prayers;
  • an essay entitled “What Does It Mean to Pray for Someone Who is Dying?”;
  • Prayer for When Life Support Is Being Removed” and
  • a Foreword by Rabbi Nadya Gross.

In this book of deathbed prayers and meditations, Dr. Simcha Paul Raphael provides us with powerful insights into Jewish tradition. His look at the role and power of prayer as life ebbs provides the reader with a foundation for comfort, compassion and caring that links us with a sense of the sacred. His desire to have us ritually engaged with life’s last passage serves as a practical tool for the mysterious journey at the end of life. May The Angels Carry You guides one’s soul with a sense of dignity and celebration of the gift that is our life.

—Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, Director, Jewish Sacred Aging