Happy Hanukkah



The Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side found a creative way to celebrate the Chanukah festivities. Rabbi Uriel and Shevy Vigler invited the community to ‘Chanukah in Candyland,’ where children assembled a six-foot Menorah made of Jelly Beans. The children beamed with excitement as they saw their Jelly Bean Menorah being lit.


Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com
 

Reframing the Hanukkah Christmas Dilemma

Rabbi Goldie Milgram

In memory of my father Samuel Milgram and his birthday on the third Hanukkah Light

When almost all your congregants raise their hands to the question “Do you have a Christmas tree up this season in your home?” it’s quite unsettling for a rabbi. This happened to me back in 1989 in a rural pulpit. The Hanukkah-Christmas dilemma full-blown. What to do, if anything?

A creative program came to mind during a night of troubled dreams. The president of the congregation, ever a supporter of my tendency towards R&D on behalf of the Jewish future, organized everything perfectly to my specifications. And the congregants came, almost all of them.

More after the jump.
First, we set up the synagogue president’s dining room perfectly ready for Passover.

Then we set up her basement, perfectly ready for Christmas with a whole set up borrowed from a pious Christian neighbor.

Then we set up her den with menorah, dreidl, Hanukkah decorations and foods.

Perhaps you can intuit why this particular set-up, a month before Hanukkah and Christmas which fell close together that year.

Bringing in the Light of Spiritual Intimacy and Understanding

As each couple arrived for the program, they received a questionnaire suggesting they go to the Passover room, if raised primarily Jewish, and the Christmas room, if raised primarily Christian. And there to sit quietly and sing along with the music, look at the tree, the art, the food, allow memories to arise and then answer a series of questions.

To the best of my recollection the questions were:

1. Please list all holiday and religious symbols in this room and  their meaning to the best of your knowledge.

2. Make a list of those with whom you’ve primarily shared this holiday with over the years and how that is for you.

3. What are your favorite foods for this holiday?

4. What are your most and least favorite customs and practices for this holiday and why?

5. Is this a holy day for you and what makes it holy for you?

Now, if you are in the Passover room please go to the Christmas room and vice-versa, turn this page over and answer do the same as you did here, answering the questions as well for that room as duplicated on the other side of this page. When you have been to both rooms, we will meet up in the Hanukkah room for a discussion of our findings, three couples will explain why they either a) have a Christmas tree and a menorah in their home, b) have only a menorah for this season c) have neither. We will conclude with a Hanukkah teaching with Reb Goldie.

What Do These Symbols Tell Us?

It was so moving to watch laughter and tears flow softly as congregants moved from room to room experiencing the differences among the holidays. The sharing was profound and interesting. What does the wine mean on the seder table? Jews would say joy, several Christians reported it symbolizing the blood of their Lord Jesus. Wine in Judaism actually symbolizes the joy of the gift of life, the life-force itself.

The painting of Jesus on the Cross that we were given to put up in the room with tree, presents and carols, Yule log (both aflame in fire place, and a yummy cake), Wassail bowl, etc. Jews reported sadness and some fear at seeing a young Jewish man dying a horrible death as a religious symbol, Christians reported the symbol of what their Lord Jesus did for them that their sins might be forgiven.

We listened to each other, educated each other, forgave each other our misunderstandings, appreciated fears of loss of identity, of family connections and histories, made room for respective persecutions across the ages. The power of Passover, one of our major holy days, became so palpably meaningful it seemed to all present. Dealing with the bitterness of slavery and taskmasters of old, within and present employers on the metaphor level. The importance of a holy day that values the tears of effort and pain shed on the way to eliminating slavery. Breaking the bread of affliction, the matzah over our hearts to led in the Light of healing…and so much more.

Balancing a Festival against a Holy Day – Ahhh, We Get It

Christmas tree envy was indeed described and receded as the program progressed and a striking concept emerged through our studies. The Hanukkiah, the menorah, is mentioned twenty-seven times in the Torah. Precise details of its construction are given when Moses is alone on the mountaintop, listening to G*d and seeing the Architect’s vision (Exodus 25:31-40). The menorah, then, becomes a symbol of this listening and holding of the Light of awareness that began for him at the Burning Bush. The menorah’s original shape is, indeed, that of a tree.

More on Menorah as Inspiring Metaphor

Torah (The Five Books of Moses) is called a Tree of Life and is made of the original light filtered, condensed, formed into creation, and encoded in letters dancing with energy. The menorah symbolizes the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, the awareness it only takes one person of vision to lead the way to face the pharaoh’s of our times and all times, the menorah is our Burning Bush. Its light is God as Torah, filtered through the prism of your soul and actions, focusing us on the mission of the Jewish people, to live mitzvah-centered, rather than self centered lives.

The original menorah had seven branches. The Hanukkah menorah has nine, to commemorate the Maccabees’ eight day festival for rededication of the temple, plus one extra branch for the shamash, a helper candle to ignite the others.

What about the miracle of the cruse of oil lasting eight days? This and many other stories arose long after the event, entering the realm of our tribal sacred myth. The Hanukkah menorah, however, does recall miracles-that there was enough “oil,” then and now, enough of the Jewish soul left after so much assimilation and trauma, to rededicate ourselves to the covenant of living as Jews. Even today a huge menorah engraved with scenes from Jewish history stands outside Israel’s parliament, an enduring symbol of that dedication.

The Seleucid Empire, part of the Greek Empire and its intent for homogeneous practices among its citizens, had enacted edicts prohibiting Jews from living our Torah. We were prohibited at peril of death to observe the sabbath, have a Jewish name, keep separate milk (the gift of life) from meat (life taken away), and worse. Hanukkah also symbolizes the courage it takes to trust and maintain our ways. We are one of the longest continually existing peoples on the planet with much of depth, importance and beauty to transmit across the generations. We exist for a purpose.

On the Roman arch of Titus, commemorating the conquering of Jerusalem, the Romans are shown carrying off the menorah in triumph. Those Romans didn’t know that the most precious part of all had been left behind, carried in the soul-sparks of our people, every one of us a branch of a hidden menorah, carrying the light of Torah.

Through our congregation’s program and studies we became a menorah of community in the room; each soul a candle burning brightly with a vision of God’s light coming into us as inspiration for living mitzvah-centered lives.

Making Each Night of Hanukkah Remarkable

We began to brainstorm how to make each night of Hanukkah a gift of awareness, spiritual growth, family and friend connection, and caring beyond our immediate circle. Jewish families, someone noted at that program, tend to randomly come home with gifts for our children throughout the year. Those presents are one way we show love and recognition of the interests and abilities of our child. On Hanukkah, we realized, the present is how we receive and utilize the light of Torah.

To transform from consumer consciousness to mitzvah consciousness on Hanukkah, over the years with communities, we’ve brainstormed:

On the first candle of Hanukkah some of us venture with into attics, closets and garages to find surplus things – bikes, tv’s, vcrs, computers; and after school and before lighting the menorah, brought these goods to family service professionals who know those in need…

Some of us focused on saving energy and care for the planet by putting in more efficient light bulbs, having energy audits, doubling up on blankets and lower thermostats for another day of Hanukkah…

Some hold an Israel arts evening as the Hanukkah candles glow, each family showing something they’ve acquired to symbolize the miracle of Israel realized in our times in their hearts and homes….Some also hold out a light to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and hold a Hanukkah fundraiser for joint learning centers and summer camps…

The fifth candle might include an invitation to bring a photo of Hanukkah family times past, to tell and video stories of those no longer with us whose lives added light to our own… Some consider our own inner light on Hanukkah, is our spark dim or bright? What do we need to do to heal in order to become better able to serve and savor in this life?

By the sixth candle some of us take our tzedakah boxes (where we regularly drops coins and bills to accumulate for charity) and open them to count what has accrued over the year for distribution. Each person brings information about a good cause and those present become a holy allocations committee, sometimes adding Hanukkah gelt – funds dedicated with care on Hanukkah…

The seventh candle might involve bringing a menorah, candles and home-made latkes over to share at a shelter for abused women and children, homeless persons, or a home for elders…

The last night of Hanukkah, as eight lights blaze in the menorah sometimes we do an Internet search on the meaning and places in Torah and Jewish literature and history of  our Jewish names and make or give a piece of jewelry to honor the freedom we have to hold those names dear…

The eighth night is also a time to dream of peace and good lives for all, to discuss and donate to causes that work for education, well-being, the environment and peace. The root letters of Hanukkah come from the term for education and dedication. All ages who can be present for such discussions increase the light of understanding and let it fuel constructive action.

How the Christmas Tree Question Received Closure

My first pulpit showed me how to cast light on making Hanukkah spiritually meaningful. On the Shabbat of Hanukkah they brought their handmade menorahs from a congregational workshop and in front of the lights dedicated themselves to advancing their learning and practice. Each year I taught a series on one of the ten major aspects of living a mitzvah-centered life – Prayer, God, Torah, Shabbat, Hebrew, Halachah (guidelines), Mitzvot (actions to engage in and refrain from), Life Cycle Rituals, Peoplehood and Hebrew, our sacred language wherein so much wisdom and light abides. These teachings became my first three books.

My first congregation’s farewell service to launch me into a new career chapter as a seminary dean offered closure on the original Christmas tree question. After a quilt with a square of learning from each family was presented as part of the ritual, the president asked, “How many present put up a Christmas tree for the family at your home on the holidays?” As I recall, one new member family and one long-time member family raised their hands. I encouraged them to go to extended families for Christmas with love and joy, bearing and receiving gifts if that is expected. Their own homes had become Jewish homes with a tree of the light of Torah, the menorah at the center of their holiday season.

Blessings this Hanukkah to experience and increase “de”-Light.

See the Reclaiming Judaism Website for books by Rabbi Goldie Milgram.

India’s Bnei Menashe Celebrate Hanukkah


The 7,200 members of the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India ushered in the first night of Hanukkah tonight with joy and ceremony, as they continue to nourish the hope of making aliyah in the near future.

“For most of their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe did not observe Hanukkah nor were they aware of its existence until the modern era. This, due to a very simple reason: their ancestors were exiled from the land of Israel some 560 years before the historical events which Hanukkah commemorates,” Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund said, adding, “But as part of their return to the Jewish people, they have embraced the holiday and made it their own, celebrating it together with Jews everywhere. The Bnei Menashe still in India are anxiously awaiting a decision by Israel’s government to allow them to come home to the Jewish state, and we pray that their dream will soon be fulfilled.”

Photo courtesy of Yochanan Phaltual.
Bnei Menashe

The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “sons of Manasseh”) claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. They live in India’s northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram. Throughout their exile, the Bnei Menashe nonetheless continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. And they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel. In recent years, “Shavei Israel” has brought some 1,700 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion. Another 7,200 still remain in India, waiting for the day when they too will be able to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, the “Hidden Jews” of Poland from the Holocaust era and others.  

Olive Oil: The Essence Of Hanukkah


Ronit Treatman

Have you ever felt underwhelmed by the Hanukkah “miracle of the juglet of oil”?  I have, and if you have too, it is probably because most of us are so disconnected from the land.  We do not appreciate what an amazing accomplishment it was for the Maccabees to press all the olive oil they needed for the Menorah in only eight days. Hanukkah is a celebration of olive oil.  Traditionally the oil is used as a medium for frying other foods.  I think that the more appropriate way to savor the subtleties of olive oil is by making some of the most premium olive oil from Israel the main event.  Served cold, with Israeli spices and warm pita, this oil brings us the fresh flavors of the Israeli olive fruit.   When eating this oil, we can taste the foods that fortified Judah the Maccabee.
History of the Olive Tree


The olive tree is an evergreen from the Mediterranean Basin.  It is in the same family as lilacs, jasmine, and forsythia. This tree is very tough. It resists drought, disease, and even fire.  If the tree above ground burns, its root system can still regenerate it.  Olive trees can live for a very long time.  Two ancient olive trees flourish in the Galilee villages of Arraba and Deir Hanna.  They are over 3,000 years old!  They were alive 1,000 before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  There were forests of wild olive trees in Ancient Israel in the Galilee, Judea and Samaria, the Sharon Plain, and the Negev.  The olive was one of the first fruit trees to be cultivated.  Olive trees were initially planted in orchards in the Levant and Crete about 6,000 years ago. Archaeologists have uncovered the oldest amphorae, weights, mortars, and oil presses in Jericho. They were dated to 6,000 BCE.  To this day Beit Zayit – The House of Olives, Har HaZayitim – The Mount of Olives, and Gethsemane – “Gat Shemen” in Hebrew, which means “oil press”, evoke the production of olive oil in Israel.  

Laws of Orlah

The fruit of the olive tree is harvested in the autumn and winter.  When a new olive tree is planted, the fruit may not be harvested for the production of oil until the fifth year.  This initial fruit is called orlah and this rule originates in Leviticus 19:23-25:

“When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you for three years, not to be eaten. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the L-rd. And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.”

How Olive Oil Was Extracted For The Menorah

According to the Talmud, once the Maccabees successfully rebelled against King Antiochus Epiphanes, they proceeded to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem.  They needed consecrated olive oil to burn in the eternal flame in the Menorah of the Temple.  There was only enough oil which had not been desecrated by the Antiochus’ Syrian/Greek soldiers to last one day.  Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the amount of time needed to press more oil.

In the days of the Temple, the olives were picked by hand or  “beaten down from the trees with poles.” (Isa. 17:6).  Oil was extracted from the olives with a mortar and pestle (Exo. 27:20), with a heavy crushing stone rolled around a stone basin, or by the feet, while wearing wooden shoes (Micah 6:15).  The olive pulp was scooped into wicker baskets, and the lightest and finest oil would run off them.  The resulting olive juice flowed into a stone collecting vat.  After a few days, the oil rose to the top of the other liquids.  It could be scooped out with a clay amphora.  This grade of oil is the “beaten oil” which served as fuel for the Menorah in the Temple. Raw olives are really hard. In modern times, grinders with the strength of a garbage disposal are used to grind the olives.  Most of what comes out when olives are crushed is water.  Olives do not yield much oil.  Five pounds of raw olives yield only one and a half tablespoons of oil!  The golden pitcher which was used to replenish the Menorah contained 3.5 lug , or half a gallon of oil.  The Maccabees needed to press 128 tablespoons of oil to fill it!  This required them to pick and process approximately 426 pounds of olives!  In the ancient conditions the Maccabees lived in, it really was perceived as a miracle that they were able to extract all the necessary oil in only eight days.

Olive Oil For Consumption

The remaining olives in the wicker basket were pressed with a heavy stone.  The oil that was extracted in this way was for consumption.  This is cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.  It is called “cold pressed” because the olives are pressed immediately after being picked, and are not heated.  The juice of the olives is crushed, separated, and decanted.  The oil that results at this stage is sometimes called cloudy olive oil, because it has not been filtered.  This type of olive oil is becoming very trendy because it is less processed and more “organic”. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality of olive oil, comprising less than 10% of oil produced. The best olive oils are low in acidity.  The acidity level of extra virgin olive oil is no higher than 0.8%.  Extra virgin olive oil is supposed to have flawless taste.  Virgin olive oil is produced without any chemical treatment, has less than 2% acidity, and a good flavor.  Pure olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined oil.  Olive oil is also a blend of refined and virgin oil, with less than 1.5% acidity.  Olive pomace oil is extracted from the olive pulp using solvents.  It can get much hotter before it smokes than virgin olive oil, so some people prefer it for cooking.   Refined olive oil is virgin olive oil with a high acidity level.  It is processed with chemical and physical filters to remove the acidity and is considered the poorest quality.  Lampanate oil is not for eating.  It is used in oil lamps.


How To Buy Olive Oil

Purchasing fine olive oil is like purchasing wine.  The flavor of the olive oil is impacted by the terroir (where it is grown), the type of olive used, how ripe the olives are when harvested, and how the olives are picked and pressed.  Freshness is very important.  Oil which was just produced in a region where olives are grown will taste better than an older oil.  Once a bottle of olive oil is opened, it should smell like olives. Olive oil will taste good for a year, although it will become less fragrant with the passage of time.  After a year, it should be used for cooking, and not served straight out of the bottle.  Oxygen, heat, and light cause oxidation in olive oil, making it rancid.  This process begins as soon as a bottle of olive oil is opened.  The best way to store olive oil is tightly sealed, in a cool, dark place.  If stored this way, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil may last for two years.  Several olive varietals grown in Israel are used in the production of oil.  The Syrian, which despite its name is actually native to Israel, is the first to ripen and to be picked.  The Barnea, named for the Kadesh Barnea area where it was originally discovered, is picked early in the season while still green.  The Arbequina and Manzanillo came originally from Spain.  The Picual is a tiny olive, which ripens toward the end of the season, and is the last to be picked.  There is a wide variety in the taste, color, and aroma of these oils.  Like fine wines, premium extra virgin olive oils are blends of different kinds of olives.  These different oils are mixed to achieve a balanced taste, which brings out the best of each type of olive.  

Halutza Olive Oil

One of the best olive oils in Israel is the award winning Halutza Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The olives for this oil are grown in the Negev desert at Kibbutz Revivim.  Fifty years ago, members of the kibbutz discovered an ancient reservoir of brackish water 3,000 feet below ground.   Olive tree orchards were planted, watered exclusively by this reservoir. The hot days, cold nights, clean air, and salty water produce superior olives. Halutza olives are picked by hand.  The pressing mill is on the premises, ensuring that the olives are processed within twenty four hours of being harvested.  It is OU-P, Badatz Mehadrin.

A festive way to celebrate Hanukkah is to whisk this oil into a dipping sauce and serve if with fresh, hot, pita bread.

Israeli Olive Oil Dipping Sauce

Za’atar Spice Blend

  • ¼ cup sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 2 tablespoons marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients well.  

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup Halutza Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Za’atar spice to taste

Mix well.

Serve with fresh, hot pita bread.

Garlicky Olive Oil Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup Halutza Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Finely mince the garlic.  Sautee in the olive oil for a few minutes until the garlic turns golden.  Allow to cool.  Pour the oil and garlic into a bowl.  Add one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and mix well.  Sprinkle salt, red and black pepper, and cheese to taste.

Serve with hot, crusty French or Italian bread.

This Hanukkah, remember the Maccabees by indulging in golden extra virgin olive oil from Israel.  Whether you mix it with spices for a dip, drizzle some of it on your hummus, or mix it into your salad dressing, infuse your Hanukkah meals with olive oil.  Taste the flavors Judah and the Maccabees enjoyed as you appreciate their accomplishments and honor their memories.

On 8 Days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me…

… “Help Save The Earth”

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

This year, the first night of Hanukkah comes unusually “early” in the solar year — Wednesday evening, December 1. As always, it comes when the moon is dark and the Earth is moving toward the winter solstice when (in the Northern Hemisphere) the night is as long as it gets, the sun is as dark as it gets.

In this time of darkness, we kindle a gathering bank of lights. If we are feeling depressed or despairing about our country, our world, our planet — now is the time to kindle new light.

There are three levels of wisdom through which Hanukkah invites us to address the planetary dangers of the global climate crisis – what some of us call “global scorching” because “warming” seems so pleasant, so comforting.

These are the deep teachings of Hanukkah:

More after the jump.

  1. The Talmud’s legend about using one day’s oil to meet eight days’ needs: a reminder that if we have the courage to change our life-styles to conserve energy, it will sustain us.
  2. The vision of Zechariah (whose prophetic passages we read on Shabbat Hanukkah) that the Temple Menorah was itself a living being, uniting the world of “nature” and “humanity” – for it was not only fashioned in the shape of a Tree of Light, as Torah teaches, but was flanked by two olive trees that fed olive oil directly into it.
  3. The memory that a community of “the powerless” can overcome a great empire, giving us courage to face our modern corporate empires of Oil and Coal when they defile our most sacred Temple: Earth itself. And the reminder (again from Zechariah) that we triumph “Not by might and not by power but by My Spirit [b’ruchi – or, “My breath,” “My wind!”], says YHWH, the Infinite Breath of Life.”

We are taught not only to light the menorah, but to publicize the miracle, to turn our individual actions outward for the rest of the world to see and to be inspired by.

So we invite you to join, this Hanukkah, in The Shalom Center’s Green Menorah Covenant for taking action – personal, communal, and political – to heal the earth from the global climate crisis.

And here is how we can encode these teachings of Hanukkah into actions we take to heal the earth, one action for each of the eight days:

After lighting your menorah each evening, dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they’re needed, and with minimal impact on our climate.

No single action will solve the global climate crisis, just as no one of us alone can make enough of a difference. Yet, if we act on as many of the areas below as possible, and act together, a seemingly small group of people can overcome a seemingly intractable crisis. We can, as in days of old, turn this time of darkness into one of light.

  • Day 1: Personal/Household: Call your electric-power utility to switch to wind-powered electricity. (For each home, 100% wind-power reduces CO2 emissions the same as not driving 20,000 miles in one year.)
  • Day 2: Congregation, Hillel, JCC, retirement home, etc: Urge your congregation or community building to switch to wind-powered rather than coal-powered electricity. Call your utility company to learn how.
  • Day 3 (which this year is Shabbat): Automobile: If possible, choose today or one other day a week to not use your car at all. Other days, lessen driving. Shop on-line. Cluster errands. Carpool. Don’t idle engine beyond 20 seconds.
  • Day 4: Your network of friends, IM buddies, Facebookers, and the members of civic or professional groups you belong to: Connect with people like newspaper editors, real-estate developers, architects, bankers, etc. to urge them to strengthen the green factor in all their decisions, speeches, and actions.
  • Day 5: Workplace or College: Urge the top officials to arrange an energy audit. Check with utility company about getting one free or at low-cost.
  • Day 6: Town/City: Urge town/city officials to require greening of buildings through ordinances and executive orders. Creating change is often easier on the local level!
  • Day 7: State: Urge state legislators to reduce subsidies for highways, increase them for mass transit.In states (like Pennsylvania and New York) where high=rofit oil/ gas companies are trying to “frack” Oil Shgale deposits, demand a moratorium until we can get full inormation on
  • Day 8: National: Urge your Senators to strengthen the authority of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-burning plants, autos, oil refineries, etc. — for the sake of our planet’s climate, and to lessen asthma outbreaks among our children. Some Senators and Congressmembers are seeking to cripple the EPA, mostly to protect Big Coal.

Happy Hanukkah for you — and Planet Earth!

• For more information, to explore having your congregation or community becoming a partner in the Green Menorah Covenant, or to arrange for Green Menorah resource people to visit your community, please contact us at [email protected] or (215) 844-8494.