A Jew, living in America, with eyes on two calendars – one Jewish, one secular – marks nonetheless the turning of the secular New Year. With hope for continued freedom and the blessing of a better tomorrow, we might take a moment during our day to say:
Eternal God, we give thanks
For the gifts of life, wonder beyond words;
For the awareness of soul, our light within;
For the world around us, so filled with beauty;
For the richness of the earth, which day by day sustains us;
For all these and more we offer thanks.
Baruch Atah Adonai, hatov shimcha ul’cha na-eh l’hodot.
Blessed are You, Eternal, Your Name is goodness,
and to You we offer thanksgiving.
(by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams)
Or we might recite:
For the good in us, which calls us to a better life,
We give thanks.
For the strength to improve the world with our hearts and our hand,
We offer praise.
For the desire in us which leads us to work for peace,
We are grateful.
For life and nature, harmony and beauty, for the hope of tomorrow,
All praise to the Source of Being.
(Adapted from Chaim Stern and Abraham Rothberg, Gates of Prayer, 1975 p. 271)
Happy New Year All!
While Or Ami was at Malibu Creek State Park for Seder in the Wilderness, past president took his son Brandon Kaplan (who signs, but speaks only sporadically) to the Grand Canyon.
Michael wrote me:
I often wonder what goes through Brandon’s mind at various times. When we approached the rim of the Grand Canyon, Brandon took his first look at the Canyon. He immediately signed “America the Beautiful.”
Remember, for each comment written today, I will donate tzedakah. Through your comments over four days, we have donated a total of $138.00! What’s today’s tzedakah recipient? Scroll below.
Chanukah Blog Thots:
Chanukah is a holiday of stories, old and new. We retell the tale of the Maccabees boldly fighting for religious freedom. We share family stories or read Jewish folktales about Chanukah in distant and not-so-distant times. Many of these stories focus on the powerful symbolism of the Chanukah menorah (lamp), such that the Chanukah lights are an expression of Jewish identity and a symbol of hope for a better future. There are Holocaust tales of European Jews who somehow managed to gather around the menorah in the ghetto or to improvise one in the concentration camps. Other stories tell of American Jews who found hope and strength as they gathered around the Chanukah lights during the long winters of the 1930s and 1940s.
Although we are commanded to make known miracle of Chanukah by placing our Chanukah lights in the window, in many of these stories, the Jews had to hide their Chanukah menorahs out of fear. In such tales, the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) symbolizes hope for a future free from religious persecution; a future in which Jews could reveal the light of the Chanukah lamp, openly declaring their identity and practicing Judaism without fear.
Displaying our Chanukah Lights
While the Jews in these Chanukah stories faced persecution, hid their identity for self-protection, and feared for their brothers and sisters, we are blessed to live in a country where we have freedom of religion. Many of our ancestors came to America in order to be free from religious persecution and to find the freedom to practice (or not practice) religion as they saw fit. When we proudly display our Chanukah lights, we are celebrating the very blessings for which so many Jews could only hope.
Freedom of religion allows Jews and people of other faiths or no faith to worship or refrain from worship as they see fit. Religious freedom is guaranteed for all Americans by the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Our Bill of Rights has allowed religion to flourish in America by preventing the government from inhibiting religious practice and from harming or interfering with religious institutions.
A Nation that Thrives on Religious Freedom
In a November 2004 press conference, President George Bush explained the importance of the separation of Church and State: “We live in a nation that has thrived on religious freedom and religious tolerance. Our founding fathers realized the dangers of building a society based upon a single state religion. They rightly feared the tyranny of state sponsored religion. Rather, the framers put up a wall of separation between Church and State. This separation has allowed all different religious groups — Jews, Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and secularists to flourish in this country.”
Yet we have witnessed a growing presence of overt religion in the halls of government. Many elected representatives proclaim themselves the embodiment of religious values. Others declare that America is, and therefore ought to act like, a Christian nation. Such sentiments threaten the tradition of liberty that is at the core of America’s identity.
Is America a Christian Nation?
America is not just a nation for Christians; it is a nation for all. (At best it is founded on Judeo-Christian values. And while a very large number of American citizen are of one of many different Christian denominations, these denominations often cannot agree with one another on basic tenets of their creed.) Not all Americans read the Bible in the same way as religious fundamentalists. Those of us who read the Bible understand its text against the backdrop of our own faith traditions and personal life experiences. Many Americans do not look to the Bible for religious guidance at all. To turn the halls of government – and the mission of government – into a mission of faith is to destroy one of the pillars upon which our nation rests. The light of religious liberty is being threatened. Not by those who would destroy religion, but by those, who, out of devotion to their own religious beliefs, wish to impose their worldview on others through force of law.
This spread of religion into government is evident in the drive to embed one group’s religious beliefs regarding marriage, women’s rights, protection of the environment and even the validity of scientific discovery into the legal codes that govern us all. The problem is not with faith; rather, it is with the imposition of one person or a group’s beliefs onto the entire nation.
Focusing on the Second Chanukah Blessing
For Jews, religious liberty flows through the story of Chanukah. When we recite the second blessing over the Chanukah lights (…sheh-asah neeseem lavotaynu), giving thanks for the miracles that God performed for our ancestors, we acknowledge the importance of religious liberty. This prayer recalls our ancestors’ celebration as they were no longer subject to tyrannical rulers who prevented them from practicing their faith. Indeed, it is our religious beliefs that inspire us to fight for religious liberty for all and for the preservation of the separation of Church and State.
This Chanukah, as we gather around the menorah and rejoice with family, friends and Jews around the world, may we remember our call to and the benefits of religious liberty. May we work to keep the light of liberty shining brightly.
Blog Tzedakah: The seven of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $21 of my money to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund, meaning that today it was worth $42 of tzedakah.
Today’s Tzedakah: Comments you write today will yield donations to the Madraygot (12 Step) Addiction Prevention fund, which offers drug and alcohol addiction prevention education and counseling for grades 4 through 12, creates tools for parents through an online resource, and develops Jewish 12 Step support groups. Learn more about its activities here. To donate yourself, click here.
Chag Chanukah Samayach – Happy Chanukah!
One of my favorite bloggers, Ima On (and off) the Bimah, offers this posting for Thanksgiving:
A few years ago, our family started to do a Thanksgiving Seder, a retake on the Passover Seder. Much like Passover, this is a holiday whose primary ritual centers on a meal. There isn’t, however, a set liturgy for the Thanksgiving meal…and that’s where I come in. I’ve made some changes and additions to the Seder my family has used for a number of years. My own kids are, as you know, pretty young, so I’ve decided to create 2 different documents. The first is here today, for your viewing and downloading pleasure, for families with small children. Hopefully I will have the second soon, with more readings and opportunities for discussion with a more mature crowd.
Take a look at her Thanksgiving Seder (or Haggadah) here.
Check back in later for my eLearning Newsletter on Making Thanksgiving Meaningful.
A favorite blog, Ima on (and off) the Bima, offered these 13 ideas of how to commemorate 9/11.
- Attend a ceremony. We will be at the flagpole at Am Shalom, 840 Vernon Avenue, in Glencoe, at 7:45am.
- Give blood.
- Donate money to a political campaign. Any campaign. Being able to participate freely in the democratic process is a victory!
- Call or connect with an old friend.
- Tell your children where you were when it happened.
- Send a card or care package to soldiers overseas
- Visit a veterans’ home or hospital.
- Bring flowers, cookies, or just a note to your local police or fire department.
- Read the biographies of some of the victims of the attacks. Share them with your family or friends.
- Fly a flag.
- Read the Bill of Rights. Remember how important it is to us.
- Wear red, white and blue.
- Smile at a stranger. Try to remember what it felt like on September 12th and 13th…we all felt connected, bonded. Everyone was a little kinder, a little gentler.
How did you commemorate this holy day?