Hanukkah: Menorahs, latkes and dreidels mark Jewish season of light

Nine lit candles on a menorah, close-up from low perspective

A menorah lit for Hanukkah. Photo by saildancer, courtesy of pixabay

SUNSET SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2: The first night of Hanukkah has arrived for million Jews worldwide. Although not as religiously significant as some other Jewish holidays—Yom Kippur, Sukkot or Passover, just to name a few—Hanukkah is widely celebrated, and is easily recognized even by non-Jews.

Each evening during Hanukkah, Jewish families light candles on a menorah, in honor of the Maccabees’ victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Greeks in the 2nd century BCE. As the traditional story is retold: Once the Second Temple had been reclaimed from the Greeks, purified and rededicated, there was only enough sacred oil found to burn for one day—but, miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. In celebration, Jews today partake in foods fried in oil, light candles, play traditional games and sing songs.

Stack of gifts in white paper with Hanukkah-themed tags, nighttime cityscape outside window in background

Gifts for Hanukkah. Photo by Heather Jessica, courtesy of Flickr

MENORAH IN THE WINDOW; LATKES ON THE TABLE

Hanukkah is faithfully observed by most Jews with the lighting of candles in a nine-branched Menorah, with one candle for each of the eight nights and one extra candle (the shamash), which is often placed separately from the others. The shamash must be used for “practical” purposes, so that the remaining candles may be used solely for publicizing the miracle of the oil.

While a menorah lights up a window, a game of dreidel is often played. The four-sided spinning top that is the centerpiece of the game has a Hebrew letter imprinted on each of its sides. The letters are an acronym for “A great miracle happened there.” Candies, money or chocolate gelt (coins) are often wagered in a game of dreidel.

Meanwhile, the sound of spattering, hot oil fills the Jewish kitchen, as devotees cook latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyots (doughnuts) and other deep-fried foods.

NOT CHRISTMAS: The 8-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah is not like Christmas, so far-flung Jewish relatives don’t rush home for these holidays as Christian families migrate for Christmas day. However, the whole point of lighting the Hanukkah candles, each night, is to remember connections stretching back thousands of years. Often, parents and their children enjoy the ritual together to establish this tradition for future generations.

HANUKKAH: AN AUTHOR’S PERSPECTIVE

In her inspiring book, This Jewish Life, Debra Darvick writes dozens of true stories about Jewish men and women experiencing the seasons in Judaism. In one section of her book, she explains the basics about Hanukkah’s commemoration:

“In 167 BC, Antiochus decreed the practice of Judaism to be an offense punishable by death. The Temple was desecrated, and the Syrians went so far as to sacrifice pigs in the Temple. A Jew named Mattathias and his five sons began a revolt not only against Antiochus, but against the Jews who were quite willing to take on the ways of the majority population and jettison Jewish practice. Three years later, the Maccabees, as the Jewish fighters were known, and their followers, were victorious and the Temple was once again in Jewish hands.”

She further explains:

“According to Jewish tradition, when the Temple was finally cleansed for re-dedication, there was but a single day’s supply of ritually pure oil for the ner tamid, the everlasting light that hangs in every synagogue as a symbol of God’s ever-presence. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the time needed to press and ritually purify additional oil for the ner tamid.”

 

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Categories: Jewish

Kristallnacht: Marking 80 years since ‘The Night of Broken Glass’

Black-and-white photo of broken windows, two people walking by

The night after Kristallnacht. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9: The sound of broken glass still echoes around the world on November 9, as communities remember the tragic events that took place in 1938 during Kristallnacht.

Literally “Crystal Night,” Kristallnacht was so called for the shattered glass that covered streets and sidewalks after thousands of Jewish synagogues and buildings were destroyed. Kristallnacht was a coordinated series of attacks by the Nazis in Germany and Austria; German law-enforcement officials were ordered not to intervene during the destruction. Jewish persecution moved into a dramatically public and violent phase, and while their schools, stores, hospitals and places of worship were being destroyed, Jews were beaten in the streets and detained for concentration camps.

In 2018, a range of events—from documentary screenings to memorial articles to exhibits and programs—will mark the anniversary of “The Night of Broken Glass.”

Foreign journalists in Germany reported on the events, alerting their respective homelands of the shocking events: For the first time, the public fully understood the alarming intentions of the Nazi regime. International support of pro-Nazi movements declined almost overnight, and many reports compared Kristallnacht to the gruesome pogroms of Imperial Russia. As was written in The Times of Kristallnacht: No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.

Kristallnacht marked a public turning point in the Nazi regime. The attacks on Jewish neighbors, businesses and houses of worship shocked the world; the Nazi regime’s intentions could no longer be denied. The 1,400 synagogues attacked on Kristallnacht, the 90 Jews murdered that night, and the 30,000 Jews detained for concentration camps foretold of the tragedies to come.

LEADING TO KRISTALLNACHT

In the 1920s, German Jews lived as other citizens: operating businesses, obtaining licenses and having access to education. Yet with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, things quickly began to change. Hitler immediately introduced anti-Jewish policies and forbade inter-religious marriage. When Jews sought refuge, foreign countries began locking down admissions. In August 1938, residence permits for foreigners were cancelled; thousands of Jews were forced from their homes with nowhere to go, their possessions seized by Nazi authorities. It was with these expulsions that the ground was laid for Kristallnacht.

Among those expelled from Germany was the family of Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Jew living in Paris with his uncle. When his family wrote, pleading for help, Grynszpan assassinated German diplomat Ernst vom Rath—stating that his protest had to be heard around the world. The following day, the German government removed Jewish children from public schools and halted Jewish cultural activities and publications. When word of vom Rath’s death reached Hitler, a pogrom was organized—an act that Hitler and his inner circle had been planning already, just awaiting a trigger like the shooting.

Kristallnacht ensued that evening.

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Categories: International ObservancesJewish

Sukkot: Jews gather ‘neath the sukkah for the Feast of Booths

Branches and dried stalks building structure with wooden table in the middle

A sukkah. Photo by Jeremy Price, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23—SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30: Jewish families around the world spend time in temporary outdoor shelters to celebrate the ancient harvest festival: Sukkot. Following the Jewish High Holidays each year, Jews enter a joyous “Season of our Rejoicing.”

The tradition calls on Jews to construct and dwell in temporary structures, called sukkahs, in memory of the ancient Israelites’ living quarters during their 40 years in the desert. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and, as such, many sukkahs are decorated with autumn crops. In the U.S., it is not uncommon to see sukkahs decorated with gourds, pumpkins, squash and other foods associated with fall. Traditionally work is halted on the first and second days of Sukkot, with the days in between reserved for relaxation (though work is permitted on these days).

HOW TO BUILD A SUKKAH

Though sukkahs may look vastly different, the builders try to abide by specific rules. A sukkah must have at least 2.5 walls covered with a material that cannot be blown away by wind; the roof must be made of something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks or wooden boards. The roof materials of a sukkah must be left loose, so that rain can get in and, preferably, the stars can be seen at nighttime. (Learn more from Judaism 101.) A sukkah may be any size so long as a family can dwell in it, and many Jews spend as much time as possible in the sukkah. It is common to eat meals in the sukkah, and some Jews even choose to sleep in it.

Yellow citrus fruit hanging from branch surrounded by green leaves

An etrog. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Another custom associated with Sukkot involves the Four Species. The four species—the etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel), the lulav (palm branch), aravot (two willow branches) and hadassim (three myrtle branches) are used to “rejoice before the L_rd.” With the etrog in one hand and the branches bound together in the other hand, blessings are recited. The branches are waved in all directions, to symbolize that G_d is everywhere. (Wikipedia has details.)

Note: The two days following Sukkot are Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Looking for autumn recipes, tips on building a sukkah and more? Check out the resources at My Jewish Learning, Chabad.org and Aish.com. 

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Categories: Jewish

Yom Kippur: Jews gather for ‘holiest day,’ the Day of Atonement

Black-and-white drawing of soldiers gathered in room around man speaking

A Kol Nidre service for Jewish soldiers during the Franco-German War, depicted by Hermann Junker. Photo by Center for Jewish History, NYC, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18: The high hopes and sweetness of Rosh Hashanah have passed, and Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Most Jews aged 13 and older try to complete a 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods of any kind. That extreme fast deepens each individual’s spiritual reflections and makes everyone across the community share in completing a difficult tradition.

Old manuscript of Jewish prayer

The Kol Nidrei prayer of Yom Kippur. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Between the two major holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—a period sometimes called the Days of Awe—Jews reflect on the past year and make amends for their failings. They look toward the balance of the new year 5779 (which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur) and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways.

YOM KIPPUR: THE HOLIEST DAY

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions. On Yom Kippur, the main holiday when all partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and everyone in the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Services open with Kol Nidre, now widely regarded as a deeply emotional moment when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made, and the community symbolically opens itself to regular members as well as others who rarely attend services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, but overall, it represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

The rest of the Yom Kippur litugy also has beautiful moments that encourage repentance, recommitment to the faith’s ideals and remembrance of the core story that has led the Jewish people through thousands of years of challenges. Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to many men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur.

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Categories: Jewish

Rosh Hashanah: Jews anticipate a ‘sweet’ New Year, kick off High Holidays

Apple cake on sheet with apple in background

Apple cakes are common fare for Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 9 to SUNSET TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Bring out the apples and honey and wish your neighbor a happy New Year—L’shanah tovah 5779! It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

For two days, Jews around the world attend services, seek forgiveness and joyfully enter the annual High Holy Days. Sometimes called the Days of Awe, this period culminates in Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement starting at sunset on Tuesday, September 18 this year. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the New Year begins; on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

APPLES AND HONEY FOR A ‘SWEET’ YEAR

Honey and apples are the most famous holiday foods for Rosh Hashanah—often seen on holiday cards and other media as a reminder of the joy in welcoming a “sweet” New Year—but other foods, including dates and pomegranates, have ancient associations with the New Year and still are enjoyed in Jewish communities around the world.

Looking to pair your favorite apple variety with its ideal type of honey? Check out this article from epicurious.

For apple-and-honey recipes, try an apple and honey cake from Haaretz; or try one of the recipes that will “impress your Jewish grandma,” according to Buzzfeed.

THE HEAD OF THE YEAR & THE SHOFAR

Literally “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah was never referred to by name in the Bible; rather, references in Leviticus were made to Yom Teruah, the day of the sounding of the shofar. There are many stories and lessons associated with the blowing of the shofar now, but the Bible does not clearly explain the symbol. In the synagogue, 100 notes are blown each day of the New Year festivities; some refer to this noise as a “call to repentance.”

A lesser-known Jewish tradition related to Rosh Hashanah is Tashlikh, or “casting off.” After filling their pockets, devotees walk to flowing water and empty their pockets, thereby symbolically “casting off” the sins of the old year.

Hoping to better understand the meaning behind five of the most popular Rosh Hashanah traditions? Learn more from this article, courtesy TIME.

Attention: Rabbis (and any Jew looking to reflect): In a day and age when examples of atonement from public or well-known figures can be hard to find, this piece from the Washington Post provides inspiration and ideas, as well as specific examples.

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Categories: Jewish

Tisha B’Av: Jews recall tragic events on annual day of mourning with a 25-hour fast

Stack of books with cloth on top

A traditional Jewish Tallit and several Hebrew texts. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JULY 21: Three weeks of reflection has prepared men and women for this, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar: the Ninth of Av, known as Tisha B’Av. Observant Jews who are healthy enough to undertake the 25-hour fast will follow five traditional prohibitions: No eating or drinking; no bathing; no use of creams or oils; no leather shoes; no marital relations. The final meal consumed before the start of the Tisha B’Av fast traditionally consists of a hard boiled egg and a piece of bread, dipped into ashes.

The desolate tone of Tisha B’Av is in recollection of the many tragedies that befell the Jewish people on the Ninth of Av—including, most prominently, the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The ark—the cabinet where the Torah is kept, in the synagogue—is draped in black; the book of Lamentations may be read.

MOURNING: FEELING GRIEF AFTER MILLENNIA

Today, the observance of Tisha B’Av gets mixed response, as modern-day Jewish families balance the demands of contemporary life with this call from the past.

Author Debra Darvick wrote in a column: “Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that falls during the summer, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. … I have attended services sporadically, more out of a sense of responsibility than any feeling of true mourning. How do I mourn something absent from Jewish experience for nearly two millennia?” (Debra also wrote about the holiday for her book, This Jewish Life.)

A MULTITUDE OF MEMORIES

Historically, the First Temple was destroyed on 9 Av 586 BCE; the Second, on 9 Av 70 CE. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; the Second Temple, by the Romans. According to Jewish tradition, 9 Av is associated with other tragic milestones, as well, which have been added to this annual day of remembrance.

Also on 9 Av: The Romans quashed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing more than 500,000 Jewish civilians; Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE; Germany entered World War I, the aftermath of which led to the Holocaust; and SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”

NEWS 2018

Israelis clash over restaurant and entertainment closures on Tisha B’Av: The chairman of the Jewish Home faction in Tel Aviv and the owner of a pizzeria, disagreed the request to close restaurants and entertainment venues on Tisha B’Av, as they are already closed on Shabbat and Yom Kippur. Read the story from the Israeli National News.

Modern-day mourning: world hunger and environmental crises: A writer from the Arizona Jewish Post relates Tisha B’Av mourning to something relevant to today: world hunger and the environmental crisis. Read the story here.

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Categories: Jewish

The Three Weeks: Jews lament and fast ‘between the straits’

Portrayal of white temple

Herod’s Temple as imagined in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. During the Three Weeks, Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 29: Beginning on the 17th of the month of Tammuz, and ending on Tisha B’Av, Jews lament the destruction of the First and Second Temples and historical misfortunes of the Jewish people: A solemn period, including a time of fasting, begins for Jews around the world in a tradition known as “the Three Weeks.” Each day is met with a higher degree of lamentation than the last with the exception of Shabbat. There is also great hope, however, in this time of sadness: As the past and present are examined, Jews look to the future.

During the Three Weeks, traditionally observant Jews refrain from holding weddings, listening to music, celebrating in public, embarking on trips, having hair cut or shaved, and wearing new clothing. Learn more from Aish.com. A fast is undertaken on the 17th of Tammuz and on the Ninth of Av. (For guides, stories, multimedia and more, visit Chabad.org.) The period is known as “within the straits,” or “between the straits,” from the Book of Lamentations.

A TIME TO STUDY TORAH, DO GOOD

According to traditional texts: The Three Weeks encompasses the days when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans and both Temples were destroyed. The holy Temple that had stood in Jerusalem for 830 years was destroyed. This is also a period when Jews recall Moses breaking the original Ten Commandments.

During this three-week period, Jews try to increase good deeds and charitable works, while intensifying Torah study.

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Categories: Jewish