Who Is Performing the Mitzvah: The Child or the Parents?

— Cheryl Friedenberg and Valerie Franklin

When it comes to preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah, of course the kids have to learn all of the prayers.  There’s no getting around that task! However, the community service, project A.K.A. “bar or bat mitzvah project,” also involves a lot of time, preparation and effort.  So the question is:  are the kids really doing the work in performing their own bar/bat mitzvah project or does Mom or Dad take over this role and do most of the work for them in an effort to make it easier on the child and lessen the burden?  

If we are to truly teach our kids, who are transitioning to young adults, about tikkun olam (repairing the world), then it is OUR responsibility as parents to guide our children to perform their own bar/bat mitzvah project.  

More after the jump.
Pre-teens are old enough to make decisions for themselves.  As a parent, you can assist your child by working along side of them to research the community service project that peaks their child’s interest.  But, don’t do the deciding for them! They have minds of their own and what seems valuable and exciting to you may seem dull and tedious to them.  There are so many organizations in need of volunteers.  Have your bar/bat mitzvah student dig deep to find that special something, making the project a pleasure, not a chore.

Second, allow them to do the project themselves!  Sure, they may need you to drive them to the assisted living home to play their flute for the elderly or take them to a craft store to buy the yarn to make the crotched hats they hope to donate to children in need, but you are not the star in the show.  You are the assistant.  Permit your child to implement his/her own ideas.  The more hands on work the student experiences, the more pride and joy they will feel in the end.  That’s the purpose of repairing the world.  They will not receive payment for their work; they will be paid back with pride and joy over their accomplishment.

It’s not the parent’s responsibility to write the solicitation letter on behalf of their child who is asking for gently used clothing to donate to a shelter.  Children go to school to learn to write and read.  The letter needs to be written from the bar/bat mitzvah student.  They’ll most likely end up with more donations in the end because people want to give to children when they see the effort they are putting forth in helping others.

Parents tend to feel empathy for their overscheduled children who are involved in sports, after-school clubs and have hours of homework.  Our role is to help them manage their time, prepare well in advance and encourage them to do their best.  If we do the community service project for them, we are short-changing the whole experience of what it is to become an adult in a Jewish world.  We must set an example for our kids and show them what giving actually is.

Now imagine, after months of preparation for this momentous day, your child is up on the bima, proudly delivering his bar mitzvah speech. He proudly announces:  “For my bar mitzvah project, I chose to work with… by volunteering my time at… I really value this experience and will treasure it always!” Now, you, as a Mom or Dad, did something right!  You taught your soon-to-be-adult how to be a mensch and make a difference in this world!  Mazel tov!

Visit www.themitzvahbowl.com, a website created for the purpose of helping bar/bat mitzvah students find meaningful mitzvah projects.

Contact at [email protected]

Review: The New 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future

THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future, by Robert Levithan seems to have been compiled at age 59. Gay, AIDS positive and “in the 1990s the ‘designated die-er’ in my circle”, the author exudes the profound joy of one blessed with unexpected years of life who has attained through the new medications, luck and self-care: “extraordinary health.” His sadness, given AIDS means he cannot responsibly provide his seed to father children, is also reflected in this honest narrative. A therapist in private practice, and active volunteer with Friends In Deed, a crisis center for those with life-threatening illnesses, he is also an active blogger. The New 60 is a reprinting of about thirty-three of Robert Levithan’s on-going blogs.

Frankly, as Robert Levithan presents himself in writing, I found it hard to like the man. His style is flooded with a stressing of associations with persons and things accomplished — the Huffington Post, O — The Opra Magazine, having had a relationship with the photographer Peter Hujar, with another man who had “an Oscar and some Tonys,” and a “Venezuelan director,” his nephew being a “Lambda award-winning author,” being photographed by Robert Maplethrope, upcoming travels to Turkey, Greece, South Africa, etc. And an entire chapter that opens: “Of late, I have been dating mostly younger men —  much younger men.” And, further on in the chapter: “My lovers have been my teachers, my comrades, my students.”
I felt I was missing the point of the book, something that a target audience would know right away. So I e-mailed Robert Levithan to find out the intended target audience, given he hadn’t reached his sixties at the time of writing, the title wasn’t conveying well. He called almost immediately: “I have a real desire is to reach young men and women with the message that they don’t have to be afraid of getting older. A lot of people, particularly gay men, fear passing 40.”

Concerns about HIV & Gay Suicide

Levithan told me he was deeply affected by Bob Bergeron’s suicide. Bergeron had written a book titled “The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond,” but it never was published despite a signed book contract, because he killed himself prior to the volume’s release. Levithan also of his concern for: “Narcissistically driven gay men that, when they lose attractiveness believe their life is going to be over.” He also writes of the dangers of vanity and the great beauty of “other-bodied people.”

Levithan further explained on our call: “The myth is those with HIV have a ‘shelf life.’ I show how to keep going and grow from it.” His goal is to offer an alternative view, that other chapters of life are possible, after 40, with/or without AIDS. It’s still not clear to me how a title “The New 60” would attract a readership of those fearing moving into their forties or fifties, nor what he knows, yet, about being in one’s 60s or beyond. His optimism and advice is abundant.

Questions of Boundaries

Given Robert Levithan is a therapist, his range of choices of partners seems strange. Surely he is aware of the problem of power differentials between people that arise not only professionally, but also by age. So I asked him: How do you view it as ethical to date young men?” Levithan first addresses this by explaining that he advocates recreational sex, not only sex inside of relationships and views it as a need of most men and some women. He also explains, as he does in the book, how having young lovers allows him to give them the mature mentoring he received from three relationships with older men when he was young. And then points out, as what he seems to consider a redeeming factor, a psychodynamic awareness he offers in the book: that perhaps dating young men is a form of avoidance of long-term relationships. “Besides,” he adds,  “I’m not a predator, young men approach me.”

“How do you tell someone you have AIDS?” I feel I have to ask, since safe sex isn’t a topic addressed in the book. “I really don’t have to; it’s listed in my profile on dating sites.” So I further inquired: “With so much that is fascinating to do in life, why is your ability to attract sexual partners a preponderant theme in your book?” His response: “In the HIV community, the HIV positive folks tend to feel they won’t have an opportunity; that their sex life is over. So I portray my own flawed journey, as a source of inspiration.”

Jewish Values Considerations

Since the author provides a chapter in which he strongly advocates honestly, I will give my honest opinion. I wouldn’t put this book into the hands of most young gay men under 40, or young people elsewhere in the spectrum of gender, despite it’s depiction of some beautifully realized Jewish values – particularly visiting the sick, honoring the dead, volunteerism and philanthropy. Actually, it is when he is sharing mitzvah-centered vignette’s and not talking about himself, that I find Robert Levithan is at his best.  

As a liberal rabbi, I’ve taught young people — gay and straight, the mitzvah of shmirat ha-guf, care for the body, the practices of safe sex, nutrition and exercise and the value of waiting on an intimate physical relationship until one is with someone likely to be enduringly beloved. This author’s values just don’t go there. THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future constitutes a provocative read for mature adults, and can lead to meaningful discussion. This book may well also be a helpful gift for those who tend to isolate, and/or lose their perspective on how life can continue in its joys and wonders in the wake of severe traumas, like contracting AIDS.  

The Other Side of Adoption

Editor’s Introduction: The statistics in the article by Tami Lehman-Wilzig that follows point to the mitzvah-centered courage that it takes to adopt. The range of feelings and vignettes she shares help us all appreciate the mitzvah of kavod habriot, honor for all who are created.

The Other Side of Adoption

— by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

For over a decade my husband has been urging to me to write the book The Other Side of Adoption. “You’ve got to tell the real story – that it’s no picnic.” Shuddering at the thought, I always answer: “Too painful, too personal and it will only hurt the boys.”

More after the jump.
I have continually shrugged off the suggestion even as we endured unimaginable nightmares from both sons, including criminal activity, heavy drug use followed by rehabilitation and (thankfully) entry into a normal life of marriage and family, forced hospitalization in a mental institution due to extreme psychosis (leading to a diagnosis of a severe mental illness), followed by a long and complex rehabilitation process.

Have you caught your breath? Because these few examples only represent the height of the pain. What preceded was years of unpredictable ADD (son 1) and ADHD (son 2) behavior going way beyond the norm, often including thrill and danger seeking adventures that would lead any mother to her own private mental ward.

Fortunately, along the way I discovered that I am not alone. Long-term studies show that 75% of all adopted kids have serious behavioral problems, including various forms of addiction. Even worse, 25% of all adoptees suffer from mental illness. Based on modern-day research, scientists have discarded the theory that environment makes all the difference. Forget nurture over nature. It’s mostly genes, genes and more genes with just a smidgen of socialization.

Do I love my boys? Of course. Despite all the pain, we have never given up on them. And that’s a good thing because two recent back-to-back events with one of our sons finally gave me reason me to write The Other Side of Adoption – the side I’ve been patiently waiting for.

My husband was in the States on business. I invited two young adult, female relatives to “cousin sit” me for Shabbat and included our younger son and his girlfriend for the Friday night dinner. They arrived early, bearing in hand the first surprise – flowers.

“Don’t expect me to do any of the bracha (blessing) things,” my confirmed atheist muttered, handing me the bouquet.

“Don’t worry,” I replied.

To my second surprise, they joined the girls and myself for a rousing rendition of Lechah Dodi, after which we adjourned to the Shabbat table. Shalom Aleichem finished, I turned the Siddur (prayer book) page, noting that “since there’s no one to say Eshet Chayil (“A Woman of Valor” traditionally sung by the husband to her wife before Friday night dinner), I’ll say Kiddush (the blessing over wine).”  

Then came surprise #3.  “Who says there’s no one to sing Eshet Chayil to you?”  With all his heart, my troubadour sang my praises while I unsuccessfully tried to hold back the tears. Finished, he rose and recited the Kiddush, then mumbled: “You can do the motzi lekhem (blessing over bread).”

A cloud-nine Shabbat? You bet, only to be bested on Motzei Shabbat when he initiated a mother-son talk on relationships. “You know,” he said in the middle, “don’t take this wrong but it’s sad you never had your own children. You and Abba moved from one country to another. You had to adjust to a new culture, speak a different language… and… you’ve gone through a lot with us. Still, you stood up to all the challenges. It’s a shame you could never hand down those strong genes to another generation.”

Well, blow me over. How do you respond to such raw honesty, clarity and insight? By telling the truth. If we hadn’t adopted these two children we never would have understood what it really means to accept the other in our midst. We would never have truly understood the pain of abandonment, the agony of mental illness. We never would have learned how to persevere, how to turn bad situations into positive experiences and how to give unconditional love in the deepest sense of the word.

“You know,” I answered, “you’re right. It’s too bad that we never had children of our own, but if we had, then we never would have had the zechut — privilege — of bringing you up.”

That’s The Other Side of Adoption.

Tami Lehman-Wilzig is an award-winning, Jewish content children’s book author. Visit her website.

Feed the Hungry: Add Your Voice to Philadelphia Jewish Activism

What Jewish person can live with the knowledge over 18% of Philadelphians live below the poverty line? Many suffer malnutrition due to poverty; over 12% of Jewish Philadelphians are impoverished to the point of needing help with affording food. There are things you can do immediately, beginning with watching the 4 minute video on the right.

List of things to do follows the jump.  

  1. Consider volunteering for, or, establishing fresh produce Gleaning projects that ensure food banks have more than canned and dried food to offer.

    These projects bring volunteers to glean for the poor what the machine harvesters miss, which is tons of fresh produce! After gleaning, the food is brought to food banks that are accessible by public transportation, unlike most farms. Those making the food accessible to poor individuals, families and elderly. These gleaning projects are great to engage your congregation, youth group, Hillel, fraternity, etc. Living on cheap canned goods, which are full of salt and low in fiber, is a huge nutrition issue for our poor and elderly. Two initiatives require your attention, both can make a huge difference:

  2. Letter writing and calls: to allow a higher savings ceiling for those seeking the $35/week Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) vouchers that are provided under Pennsylvania State supervision. The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition is taking the lead, and with them the leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia continues to work with the United Way of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Coalition Against Hunger to influence Governor Tom Corbett and Gary Alexander, who heads Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare, to have vastly greater compassion and program regulations here in Pennsylvania.

    What if we ask these two men to volunteer to live for a few months on the levels of savings and possessions they are recommending. Lobbying efforts have already affected them slightly, moving their initial proposal: $2,000 total savings per regular household and for households with elderly or disabled members, no more than $3,200, up to $5,500 and $9,000. Imagine, that’s all you can keep as your personal “safety net” for the rest of your life to qualify for help with fresh vegetables! An impoverished 87-year old Jewish Torresdale resident has even filed an on-line Change.org petition to increase the power of protest.

  3. A third step is to support green space and communities gardens, such as through CityHarvest.org, and to supply food pantries city-wide, such as
    The Raymond & Miriam Klein JCC Mitzvah Food Project Pantry, where “Clients are welcome to access our Northeast Philadelphia pantry once a month on Tuesdays from 1:30-3:00pm. Please call in the morning before coming to the pantry. For more information on how to access the pantry or make food donations, please contact Lisa Sandler at 215-698-7300 x197 or [email protected]“.

    Consider Gleaning Projects and immediate activism with the legislature as your next mitzvah. The state hearing on SNAP is March 15th –  the time to send your letters and make calls is now.

The Traveling Mitzvah Bear

— by Annette Powers

Twelve adorable stuffed bears departed from the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) New York offices on a journey to over 100 early childhood centers in Reform congregations throughout the United States and Canada.

Izzy is looking at the Torah with some Ganon Gil Preschool friends while we were learning about Simchat Torah (Beachwood, Ohio).

Each of the bears — Bernie, Benny, Goldie, Hannah, Herbie, Izzy, Lily, Moishe, Rose, Sadie, Saul and Sylvia — will visit these centers over the 2011-2012 school year to teach young children about the importance of doing mitzvot (good deeds) and the value of hachnasat orchim (hospitality/welcoming the guest.) Each bear comes with a journal, the book Bim and Bom: A Shabbat Tale and ideas about what to do with the bears.

More after the jump.

Rose arrived at Glasser Preschool in Oak Park, IL just in time to make challah for Shabbat!

Some of the suggestions on the list include: preparing the students ahead of time by teaching them about mitzvot and hachnasat orchim, taking pictures of the bear doing good deeds with the students and making cards for the students who will meet the bear next on his travels.

The journal can be used for recording any photos, drawings, or writings related to the bears’ experiences while visiting. Participants can also share on the URJ Traveling Mitzvah Bears Facebook event page.

The book Bim and Bom by Daniel Swartz, donated by The PJ Library, illustrates the importance of mitzvot. The story tells of Bim and her brother Bom who work hard all week, and then spend Fridays doing good deeds. At sundown, they joyfully meet to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath together.

“The Traveling Mitzvah Bear program is a creative and fun way to instill young children with some of the most essential Jewish values,” said Cathy Rolland, URJ’s director of early childhood education, “We look forward to seeing the many creative ways early childhood educators will find to use these bears and the reactions of the children who get to enjoy them.”

Hannah came to B’nai Jehudah Preschool in Kansas. She helped us celebrate Shabbat!

“Our bear just arrived and we are anxious to introduce him to our students and start taking pictures and making memories,” said Arlene Kaufman, director of Temple Trager Early Childhood Education Center in Louisville, Kentucky. “This is such an exciting and innovative program. What a wonderful way to bring our Jewish schools together.”

The bears will gather at the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) booth at the 2011 URJ Biennial convention in December as a stop-over during their extensive travels.  

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.