Tag: Holy Days

10 Ideas for a Spiritual Thanksgiving

(Adapted and expanded from works of Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein)

Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein writes: “We do not often think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday – it is an American holiday which we, as Americans observe. Thanksgiving in America was started by Christian pilgrims, and infused by many Christian values. In the media, we are surrounded by images of people sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinner and “saying grace,” celebrating the Christianity of Thanksgiving. There are always special program episodes on TV of all of our favorite shows, in which, for one episode a year, the people in the show actually express some human kindness. Homeless people are visited and fed, others in need are helped, and the heroes of our shows demonstrate that they can be “good people.”

It seems that we have not developed our own specifically Jewish traditions for Thanksgiving. Yet, Thanksgiving is an interpretation of our holiday, Sukkot, the fall festival designated to thank God for the bountiful harvest. As American Jews, we should revel in celebration of an American holiday, and not have any feelings of discomfort about it. Thanking God, after all, is a value we all share.”

  1. Begin with a blessing. A collection of Blessings for Your Thanksgiving Table are found at www.orami.org on the Holidays page.
  2. Light Candles: Light candles at your table. There is no blessing for Thanksgiving candles, which means you get to make your own!!! Start out with the way we start all our blessings, Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohaynu Melech Ha’olam… (Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Guide of the Universe, who we thank for …) Then finish the sentence as you see fit. As you light your candles, invite others at your table to make their own blessings, using the same formula.
  3. Challah and Wine: Have challah (or delicious bread) and wine at your table, and say the blessings for them. Wine: Use the blessing formula above plus: Boray p’ri hagafen (who brings forth fruit of the vine). Challah: Use the blessing formula above plus: Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz (who brings forth bread from the earth).
  4. Shehecheyanu: Thanksgiving is a great time to say shehechayanu (the blessing for thanking God for keeping us alive to enjoy this moment). Use the formula plus: shehechayanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh (who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment).
  5. Share Symbols of Thankfulness: Ask everyone invited to your dinner to bring something which symbolizes what they are thankful for. After the blessings, before dinner, have everyone talk about what they brought and its significance. Be sure everyone knows to bring something, and has a chance to talk, including children.
  6. Light a Yahrzeit Candle to Remember Deceased Relatives: Make some time for remembering the people who are not with you, either because of distance, family obligations (or preferences) or death. Families change. The people sitting at your table all have other family members with whom they are not sitting (in-laws, cousins, parents and grandparents, children who are with former spouses, etc.) Talk about who else is not physically there. A moment of silence for people who have died, and are missed can be a great way of allowing people to remember. Have people talk about who they miss and special things about them from previous Thanksgivings. You can also light Yahrzeit candles for people who have died as a part of remembering.
  7. Do some random mitzvot (acts of lovingkindness): Collect and deliver food, household and personal supplies to people who need them. There are plenty of food drives at this time of year. Contribute food. Make a donation in honor of the people coming to your dinner (or alternatively, in honor of your hosts) to your congregation, the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, Mazon (Jewish hunger organization) or a local shelter. Invite a single person, or people whose families are distant, to be your special guests. If you are a guest this year for the first time, donate what you would have spent hosting a dinner for others in honor of those you would have invited, or in honor of your hosts.
  8. Teach children about the connections between Thanksgiving and the Bible. Remember, for the Jewish community, Thanksgiving offers a special opportunity to be grateful not only for the bounties and comforts of our lives but especially for the religious freedom we have found in the United States of America. The Bible was very important in the Pilgrims’ lives. When they wanted to give thanks to God for helping them survive, they recalled the harvest festival (Sukkot) they had read about in the Bible (Deuteronomy 16:13-17). They used the Sukkot celebration as their model. In 1702, author Cotton Mather referred to the Plymouth colony as “this little Israel.” He compared William Bradford, Plymouth’s second governor, to “Moses, who led his people out of the wilderness.” More at URJ’s Thanksgiving page.
  9. Read Jewish Perspectives on Thanksgiving Day. Kevin Proffitt writes: “The Pilgrims of Plymouth observed the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, when Governor William Bradford proclaimed a special day of thanks for the colony’s first harvest. To celebrate, the Pilgrims prepared a feast that they shared with their Native American neighbors. Some time later, in the eighteenth century, many of the thirteen colonies observed days of prayer and gratitude during the harvest season. But it was not until 1777 that they agreed to observe a common day of thanksgiving.” Read more
  10. Review Jewish Values about Hunger and Poverty. As we sit down with our family and friends at the Thanksgiving table and offer thanks for the bounty that is ours, we often forget about the thousands of people in America, Canada and around the world who do not share our prosperity. While we gorge ourselves on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, others do not even have the bare necessities to sustain themselves and their families. Jewish tradition teaches us that we are required to feed the hungry. Instead of celebrating this holiday in our own insular family units, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reach out to the community and serve those who are most in need. Print out these Jewish texts, read them at your table, and then discuss how you can make a difference in the world. More ideas at www.rac.org.

If there is among you a poor person, one of your kin, in any of your towns within your land which God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hand to them, and lend them sufficient for their needs, whatever they may be. –Deuteronomy 15:7-8 

This is the fast I desire: to unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh. (Isaiah 58:7-8)
When you are asked in the world to come, “What was your work?” and you answer: “I fed the hungry,” you will be told: “This is the gate of the Eternal, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.
(Midrash Psalms 118:17) 

When you give food to a hungry person, give your best and sweetest food. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Mizbayach 7:11) 

Hunger is isolating; it may not and cannot be experienced vicariously. He who never felt hunger can never know its real effects, both tangible and intangible. Hunger defies imagination; it even defies memory. Hunger is felt only in the present. (Elie Wiesel)

How will you make your Thanksgiving Spiritual? 

11 Rituals for 8 Nights of Chanukah Celebration

The Calabasisher Rebbe, the RiPiK, teaches: One does not fully celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, unless one does 11 rituals over the 8 nights.

  1. Lights the candles and puts the Chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah) in the window to publicize the miracle. Print out the Chanukah blessings.
  2. Tell the story of Chanukah. This is a festival when Jewish values triumphed over Greek pagan practice, when religious freedom overcame the impulse for religious coercion. An important reminder that America too is home of religious freedom. Download the story.
  3. Sing Chanukah songs. We transform king Antiochus’ impulse to annihilate the Jews through simcha, the impulse to celebrate life and Jewish living. Singing is the glue that binds us to the Jewish soul. Get Cantor Cotler’s Favorite Chanukah Songsheet.
  4. Eat latkes or sufganiot (jelly-filled donuts). Both are cooked in oil, allowing us to consume the message of the Chanukah tale, that oil enough for only one night lasted for 8 nights. By playing with our food (or better, eating it), we become the oil, prepared as Jews to outshine any impulse to give up our values. Read the recipes.
  5. Give presents. Cool to give, cool to get. But be wary of becoming too materialistic.
  6. Have Parents’ Night. Set aside one night only for kids to give to parents. By insisting on this and helping facilitate it, we teach our children the values of kibud av v’em (honoring one’s father and mother), and ahava (love means giving, not just getting).
  7. Give Tzedakah (charitable giving). Set aside one night for only giving tzedakah. Everyone contribute something, then as a group choose recipients and amounts. Search the web for do gooder organizations. Here’s my 8 ideas for 8 nights of tzedakah.
  8. Celebrate with family and friends. ‘Nuff said?!
  9. Celebrate with community. Congregation Or Ami’s multigenerational Chanukah celebration on Friday, December 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm is open to the entire community. Bring a Chanukiyah to light. Enter a plate of homemade latkes into our Latke Baking Contest.
  10. Play the dreidel game. Through sacred play, we reteach that Nes Gadol Haya Sham, a great miracle happened there. Play with chocolate gelt, raisins and nuts or M&M’s, and the spoils are tasty too. Review the rules for play.
  11. Remember the (second) Miracle. Yes, that oil enough for one night lasted for 8. But as significantly, think about that one Jewish priest in the Jerusalem Temple who, knowing there was not enough oil to last until new oil could be made, lit the menorah nonetheless. From him we learn the eternal Jewish value of Tikvah, hope. Jewish families never give up hope because we believe that goodness is just a night or 8 away.
Resist the urge to allow Chanukah to become just 1 minute of candle lighting and 3 minutes of gift opening.  Celebrate the Festival with these 11 rituals. 

What did I miss?  Do tell!?!
For everything you need to celebrate Chanukah, take a look at Congregation Or Ami’s Chanukah resources page at www.orami.org/Chanukah.

Memorial Days Past: Remembering Operation Solomon

Article by eJewish Philanthropy

Over Memorial Day weekend, 1991, 14,325 Ethiopian Jews fulfilled their dreams of making it home, as they were airlifted from Ethiopia to Israel in 36 hours of around the clock flights during a covert military operation known as Operation Solomon.

At the time, the sitting government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was close to being toppled by Eritrean and Tigrean rebels, thereby threatening Ethiopia with political destabilization. Concurrently, the Mengistu regime had made mass emigration difficult, and the regime’s dwindling power presented a promising opportunity for those who had been wanting to emigrate.

Operation Solomon airlifted almost twice as many Ethiopian Jews to Israel as Operation Moses. The operation set a world record for single-flight passenger load when an El Al 747 carried 1,122 passengers (1,087 passengers were registered, but dozens of children hid in their mothers’ robes). Planners expected to fill the aircraft with 760 passengers. Because the passengers were so light, many more were squeezed in. Two babies were born during the flight.

boarding in Addis Ababa
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir welcoming new immigrants at Hadera Absorption Center
Children receiving their first clothing after arrival at Kfar Tavor



images courtesy MFA and El-Al


    What Does a Jew Pray on the Secular New Year?

    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!

    7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving is Deeply Spiritual

    There is something very spiritual about Thanksgiving.

    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because of GRATITUDE. Gratitude is especially spiritual. When we slow down and take the time to articulate the blessings in our lives, we necessarily venture into a higher plane of existence.  We transcend our yetzer harah (our inclination toward lustful neediness) to get in touch with our yetzer hatov (our inclination toward the good).  We discover the holy amongst the regular.

    Gratitude is profoundly spiritual. 

    As part of a bi-coastal family, I enjoyed the opportunity to twice articulate my gratitude: first, over the phone, to my East Coast family gathered at my brother’s home, and again, at our own California dinner table.

    7 Reasons Why I Think Thanksgiving is deeply spiritual:

    1. I spend the week before and after, trying to touch base with members of our congregation who have lost loved ones since last Thanksgiving.  A caring community needs to remember those who have an empty seat at their holiday tables.  (Passover and Rosh Hashana are also great times to reach out.)
    2. Thanksgiving food is universally delicious.  When the senses (taste buds, smell, sight) are heightened, we recognize the beauty and holiness more).
    3. I usually get in a deeply restful nap between the meal and dessert. A rested person is more apt to recognize the spiritual.
    4. We gather family together for a non-rushed, gratitude-filled evening. Spirituality blossoms when we are relaxed.
    5. We try to open an especially good bottle of wine. (See #2.)  The smell of a great wine is as delicious as its taste.
    6. This rabbi has no responsibilities beyond helping prepare the meal.
    7. The family gathers for dinner at a normal time because this rabbi does not have to run out to lead services. (See #4)

    In what ways do you find Thanksgiving spiritual (e.g., meaningful, inspired, transcendent)?

    Ten Lessons I Learned from My Dad, Ken Kipnes

    Happy (belated) Father’s Day! My day began like many others.  I woke up before everyone else, and read the paper on the internet. I watched with a chuckle as the kids woke, groggily gave me a kiss, turned on their computers, read on ESPN website that it was father’s day, and then smiled sheepishly to wish me a happy one. Five great cards (one from each child; two from my wife) with heartfelt messages. I read on my new Kindle, the Father’s Day present that – with my wife’s permission – I bought myself last week.  Dinner at a sushi restaurant.

    Then waking the day after, realizing I neglected my new Mother’s/Father’s Day ritual: writing the Top Ten List about my parent (See my 10 Lessons I Learned from My Mom, Linda Kipnes). So here goes. By the way, that’s my Dad, Ken Kipnes, on the left, with my mom Linda and our three children.


    Ten Lessons I learned from My Dad, Ken Kipnes
    (not in order of importance.)

    1. Tease, tease and tease some more. My dad can be silly and is a master teaser. There was the time he tried to convince them that he hunted and shot the turkey they ate for thanksgiving.  The time he dyed his goatee red just so he could be a redhead like 2 of my kids (the joyful look on his face when he saw the look on their faces was priceless).  Of course, the only thing that gives him more pleasure than being able to tease his grandchildren is when they become so smart that they won’t fall for his teasing (and tell him so). 
    2. There is a difference between being Aged and being Old. Your age is a chronological number that starts at birth and gets bigger as you live. Old is a state of mind. You can have a high age, but still feel young (or younger). But if you succumb to the number, or to life’s disappointments, you can quickly become angry, bitter, crotchety and “old.” Though he didn’t say that, he surely seems to illustrate it.  My dad has age (born in 1936, he just turned 74).  But he (and my mom) have shown an amazing ability to remain young – traveling, entertaining, rolling with the challenges that life brings them. And even as they slow down a bit, they continue to inspire me with their relative youthfulness.
    3. Ahavat Yisrael – Love Israel. My dad loves Israel. He loves learning about her, studying Hebrew (he learned in an Israeli ulpan once and practiced with his Israeli born grandchildren), supporting her. He worries about her like he worries about his 4 children; he kvells at her successes too!  If he had his druthers, I think, he would live in Israel a few months a year. Though his heart ached all those years that my sister and her family lived there, I know he reveled in the ability to spend extended periods of time there. Dad and Mom took us to Israel after my sister’s Bat Mitzvah service, and though having me away for a year pained them, they allowed me to spend my first year post-High School on a Reform Movement leadership program year in Jerusalem.
    4. When you have an important worthy cause, explain it to people, be brave, and ask them to support it with their tzedakah.  Whether the temple, Israel, or his current favorite – camp/Israel scholarships for kids, my Dad never shied from dreaming big and articulating those big expectations.  He was amazingly successful in encouraging others with the means to fund those dreams. (Perhaps that’s why I am comfortable raising funds for Congregation Or Ami, for the CCAR, for Federation and more.)
    5. Take it as it comes. One of my dad’s stock phrases whenever he is faced (seemingly regularly) with the challenges life brings, these words express an outlook on life that seems healthy. It is also easier to say than to live. Though life may get us down, we have no choice but to take it and live on.
    6. Sometimes have Candy for Breakfast, Ice Cream for lunch, and Cake for dinner (though not all on the same day). When I was young, my folks took us to Kimball’s Farm for Sundae’s for lunch. When my kids were young, my dad kept a drawer filled with candy bars. He would gleefully show it to our kids and, as only a grandparent could, told them them this was theirs until it ran out. Now he makes fudge and bakes delicious strudel and Mandelbrot (my mom makes the most tasty brownies and seven-layer cookies). When he arrives at our home or we at theirs, the sweets come out immediately so we just have a taste (or three). Where did it come from? Perhaps from his mother was a master baker and his dad – who owned a bowling alley – who always had a box of huge chocolate bars on top of the fridge or, when they visited us, in the car.
    7. Youth are our future. My dad was a tireless supporter of our temple youth group and NFTY youth movement. He believes that you put money, time, and effort into sustaining our youth so that they grow up to become the committed Jewish leaders of the future. He still administers the Camp/Israel scholarship funds down on Cape Cod, where they give merit scholarships to young people toward these formative Jewish experiences.  
    8. We can reinvent ourselves. I saw my dad go from the accountant in Duddy Tires Company, to owning his own optical shops, to being an accountant, to owning his own accounting firm, to partnering with my brother in the firm, to working with/for the guy to whom he sold much of his practice.  He has shared successes and disappointments and failures. He showed me that we are more than our work, that our success is in family and community. He showed me that we can always begin again. 
    9. Hearing a loved one’s voice sometimes is all you need. I discovered sometime my college/grad school years that what I told my dad was less important to him than the fact that he got to hear my voice. So I call him now regularly (often daily), just to say hi and so that he can hear my voice. I learned that I too inherited the “I just want to hear your voice” need. These days, I struggle sometimes that intensive texting with my kids sometimes supplants their need to speak by phone. See my Did You Call Your Father (or Mother)?
    10. Distances shrinks when you work hard at creating relationships.  We can create relationships even through the phone. On holidays, birthdays and just whenever, my Dad would call his parents (Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Esther, and great grandparents Bobie and Papa) and then hand us the phone so we could say hi. He created those connections through the phone. I worked hard to do the same with my kids and their grandparents. Moreover, today, my Dad spend inordinate amounts of time calling his grandchildren (all over the world) so that they know he loves them and so that they remain connected to each other.  It also keeps him young…

     Over the years, my dad taught me important lessons about love, perseverance, centrality of family, forgiveness, taking responsibility, balancing finances, finding joy with whatever your kids love (or at least faking it), loving being Jewish, and more.  My dad Ken Kipnes is the best dad of all.

    Dad, I know you will read this eventually since Mom subscribes to my blog! So Happy belated Father’s Day!

      A Prayer for Mothers, on the Eve of Mother’s Day

      A Prayer for Mothers
      by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

      Leader: Today we give thanks for mothers.
      All: For loving nurturers and strong providers.

      Leader: For mothers who birthed us, for mothers who raised us, mothers of birth and of choice.
      All: For stepmothers and adoptive mothers and all those who have a mothering role in our communities. We give thanks.

      Leader: For mothering energy in all its sources, from women, from men.
      All: For the Creator God who is mother to us all—we give thanks.

      Leader: Today we give thanks, we give praise—and we remember the dangers of motherhood.
      All: Giving thanks is not enough. We must do more to protect mothers here at home and around the world.

      Leader: So many die in childbirth. So many more become sick or injured during pregnancy.
      All: Give us strength, O God, to do all we can, to protect these most vulnerable women.

      Leader: We think not only of mothers we know, mothers in our family, in our community.
      All: In this our global family, every woman is my sister. Every woman, even those whose name and face I will never know, is my sister, a fellow child of God.

      Leader: For every woman who dies while bringing new life into the world—who dies because she could not access medical care.
      All: Am I my sisters’ keeper?

      Leader: For every infant life that ends too soon, due to lack of health care. For the pain of that mother’s loss.
      All: Am I my sisters’ keeper?

      Leader: For every woman who wishes to be a mother but cannot. For every woman who does not have the resources to have a healthy pregnancy and to care for the children she already has.
      All: Am I my sisters’ keeper?

      Leader: We are our sisters’ keepers. We are the hands of God, the work of the divine in the world.
      All: We give thanks to our mothers, by praying and working for the safety of mothers and future mothers throughout the world.

      Leader: Creator God, Mother and Father—protect and watch over mothers. Give your strength and protection and love to all who give a mother ‘s love to those in their family or their community.
      All: Loving God, keep mothers safe. And give us the strength to work to ensure that all who wish to bring life into the world can do so in safety and joy.

      Leader: Am I my sisters’ keeper?
      All: I AM my sisters’ keeper!

      Touching the Moment of Israel’s Creation

      Anat Hoffman, the energetic, inspirational, forward-thinking Executive Director of the IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) in Jerusalem, reflects upon Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. In The Pluralist, the IRAC’s insightful eNewsletter, Hoffman captures the multi-sensory joy Jews feel at the creation/rebirth and existence of the State of Israel:

      I am drawn again and again to A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz’s memoir of his early life in a young and bewildered Israel, a country which does not even formerly exist as such until a couple hundred pages into the book.

      Every Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, I think back to the passage in which Oz describes crawling into bed at three or four in the morning, still fully dressed, after celebrating the U.N.’s vote to create the state of Israel.

      As a child, Oz understands the solemnity of the event, its historical dimensions, from observing the actions of his father, who lies down next to him and does something so out of character: he cries – tears of joy. And, in amazement, Oz takes note of his father’s reaction:

      “I reached out sleepily to touch his face, just below his high forehead, and all of a sudden instead of his glasses my fingers met tears. Never in my life, before or after that night, not even when my mother died, did I see my father cry. And in fact I didn’t see him cry that night either: it was too dark. Only my left hand saw.”

      Only his left hand saw. We remain in this moment with him – still our hand searches in the dark, tries to reach back in time to touch the moment of Israel’s creation, to grasp even a bit of what it must have been like to live through that time.

      Oz does not choose the more reliable senses of sight or sound to translate the emotional incredibleness of one night years ago. He uses touch; and while we might imagine the sensation of hot tears on skin, something remains always out of our reach.

      Oz, one of our greatest writers, comes close to but cannot pin down the ineffableness of that moment. Emotionally we get it, but putting it into words is like assembling a puzzle in a dream. But Oz invites us to try – with all our senses.

      So I challenge you to do the same. Celebrate the event that made even Amos Oz’s father cry with joy. Tonight, as we move from Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day, to Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s celebrate with all our senses.

      Tu B’shvat: A Person is Like a Tree in the Field


      With Tu B’shvat (the Jewish Holy Day of Trees) coming up, I have been exploring the relationship between nature, trees, humanity and Judaism. I came across this quote from Rabbi Yisrael of Chortkov (in Ginzei Yisrael), who teaches hope in the face of dispair:

      There is a lesson hinted at by Tu BeShvat, for “a person is like a tree of the field.” When the wheel of fortune has turned for someone and they are down, when they see no way to keep their head above water; they have lost all hope and are despairing – then they should ponder a tree in winter. Its leaves have fallen, its moisture has dried up, it is almost a dead stump in the ground. Then suddenly, it begins to revive and to draw moisture from the earth. Slowly it blossoms, then brings forth fruits. People should learn from this not to despair, but to take hope and have courage, for they too are like a tree.”

      As Quoted in Yitzhak Buxbaum, A Person is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat

      Blessing for Non-Jewish Spouses and Partners on the Bimah at Yom Kippur Services

      A Ritual for Yom Kippur Morning and Family Services
      Adapted by Rabbi Paul Kipnes (Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas)
      from Blessings Written by Rabbis Janet Marder and Denise Eger

      [Background: At Congregation Or Ami, we honor and value all members of our community, including and especially those non-Jewish spouses and partners who have chosen to raise their children as Jews. The depth of our outreach and support is evident in the award-winning webpage for interfaith couples and families (http://www.orami.org/outreach/interfaith) which states “No one is more welcome at Or Ami than you.” Non-Jewish spouses are fully integrated into our community, standing on the bima as their children become Bar/Bat Mitzvah and sharing other simchas and sorrows with the congregation. We recognize the special gift and sacrifices our non-Jewish members make to raise their children as Jews. So at Yom Kippur services, just before we sang the Mi Chamocha prayer, we called them to the bima to bless them. I did not write this blessing. I thank my colleagues Rabbi Janet Marder who wrote this blessing, and Rabbi Denise Eger who helped me integrate it into the service. ]

      Today I want to recognize and publicly acknowledge for the first time some very important people in our congregation. They are part of Congregation Or Ami because, somewhere along the way, they happened to fall in love with a Jewish man or woman, and that decision changed their life. I want to let you know in advance that in a few moments I am going to be calling up all non-Jewish spouses and partners to come to the bima for a special blessing of thanks and appreciation.

      I hope that you will not be embarrassed or upset that I am singling you out in this way. The last thing I want is to make you feel uncomfortable. What I do want is to tell you how much you matter to our congregation, and how very grateful we are for what you have done.

      You are a very diverse group of people. Some of you are living a Jewish life in virtually all respects. Some of you are devoutly committed to another faith. Some of you do not define yourselves as religious at all. You fall at all points along this spectrum, and we acknowledge and respect your diversity.

      What we want to thank you for today is your decision to cast your lot with the Jewish people by becoming part of this congregation, and the love and support you give to your Jewish partner. Most of all, we want to offer our deepest thanks to those of you who are parents, and who are raising your sons and daughters as Jews.

      In our generation, which saw one-third of the world’s Jewish population destroyed, every Jewish child is especially precious. We are a very small people, and history has made us smaller. Our children mean hope, and they mean life. So every Jewish boy and girl is a gift to the Jewish future. With all our hearts, we want to thank you for your generosity and strength of spirit in making the ultimate gift to the Jewish people.

      Please, please…do not be shy and do not feel uncomfortable. It is important that we show you how much you have our love and respect, and there is no better time to say that than on the most important day in the Jewish year. Please come up now, and receive the heartfelt gratitude of your congregation.

      [Music is played as non-Jewish spouses and partners come up on the bima]

      You are the moms and dads who drive the carpool for Mishpacha, Kesher and Temple Teen Night. You help explain to your kids why it’s important to get up on Sunday morning or to come to Temple midweek, and to learn to be a Jew. You take classes and read Jewish books to deepen your own understanding, so you can help to make a Jewish home. You learn to make kugel and latkes; you try to like gefilte fish; you learn to put on a Seder; you build a Sukkah in the backyard. You join your spouse at the Shabbat table – maybe you even set that Shabbat table and make it beautiful.

      You come to services, even when it feels strange and confusing at first. You hum along to those Hebrew songs, and some of you even learn to read that difficult language. You stand on the bima and pass the Torah to your children on the day they become Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and tell them how proud you are and how much you love them, and how glad you are to see them grow into young Jewish men and women.

      We know that some of you have paid a significant price for the generous decision you made to raise Jewish children. You have made a painful sacrifice, giving up the joy of sharing your own spiritual beliefs and passing your own religious traditions down to your kids. I hope your children and your spouse tell you often how wonderful you are, and that their love and gratitude, and our love and gratitude, will be some compensation, and will bring you joy.

      In your honor, I now ask our congregation to rise, and repeat after me as we offer you this ancient blessing from the Torah…

      Yivarechecha Adonai V’yishm’recha – May God bless you and watch over you;

      Yair Adonai Panav Eilecha Vi-chuneka – May the light of the Holy One shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

      Yisa Adonai Panav Eilecha, V’yasem l’cha Shalom – May God be with you always and grant you the precious gift of peace.

      It was Pharoah’s daughter, a non-Israelite (a non-Jew) nurtured that baby, who became Moses our leader, who saved our people from Egyptian slavery and received Torah for us and brought us to the gateway to the Promised Land. Similarly, you nurture your children, ensuring they grow up connected to the Jewish people. What you are doing is no less than miraculous. You are ensuring that Jewish values, Jewish tradition, and Or Ami continues to shine brightly. Thank you for being the miracle in our lives.

      Todah Rabbah Lachem – Thank you all very much.

      #4: The Candle of Contemplation

      Chanukah Candle #4. Arbah (Hebrew), cuatro (Spanish), maha (Tahitian), chwar (Kurdish).
      Happy Fourth Night of Chanukah.

      Chanukah Blog Thots:

      A Story
      Learned from Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
      There is wonderful Hasidic story, told of a conversation between the rabbi and a member of his community. The man once asked: “Rabbi, what is a Jew’s task in this world?” The rabbi answered: “A Jew is a lamp-lighter on the streets of the world. In olden days, there was a person in every town who would light the gas street lamps with a light he carried on the end of a long pole. On the street corners, the lamps sat, ready to be lit. A lamp-lighter has a pole with a flame supplied by the town. He knows that the fire is not his own and he goes around lighting the lamps on his route.” The man then asked: “But what if the lamp is in a desolate wilderness?” The rabbi responded: “Then, too, one must light it. Let it be noted that there is a wilderness and let the wilderness be shamed by the light.” Not satisfied, the man asked: “But what if the lamp is in the middle of the sea?” The rabbi responded: “Then one must take off one’s clothes, jump into the water, and light it there!”

      “And that is the Jew’s mission?” asked the man. The rabbi thought for a long moment and finally responded: “Yes, that is a Jew’s calling.” The man continues – “But rabbi, I see no lamps.” The rabbi responds: “That is because you are not yet a lamp-lighter.”

      So, the man inquires: “How does one become a lamplighter?” The rabbi’s answer this time? One must begin by preparing oneself, cleansing oneself, becoming more spiritually refined, then one is able to see the other as a source of light, waiting to be ignited. When, heaven forbid, one is crude, then one sees but crudeness; but, when one is spiritually noble, one sees the nobility everywhere.”

      How can We Prepare Ourselves to be Lamp-lighters?

      First, see the candles for what they may represent:
      Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz teaches:

      Traditional Chanukah lights had three elements: oil, wick and fire. The fire ignites the wick, and the oil (or, today, the wax candle) provides fuel for a continuous flame.

      To succeed in any endeavor, we need the same three elements: The creative spark (the flame) , that must be given form (the wick), and the form must be given sustenance (the oil or wax).
      The Hebrew words for flame, wick and oil are נר (ner), פתיל (petil) and שמן (shemen).
      Taken together, the first letters of each word—נ (nun), פ (phey) and ש (shin)—form the Hebrew word נפש (nefesh), or soul.

      A candle is a symbol of the soul. To prepare ourselves, let us pay attention to each element as we kindle the Chanukah lights: the creative spark of the flame, the wick that gives form to the flame, and the oil that keeps the flame alive.

      Next, Be Attentive to the Soul Within
      Rabbi Jonathan Slater teaches:

      The miracle of Chanukah – according to the Talmud, and as emphasized by Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev – was that the single cruse of oil lasted for eight days. Those ancient Maccabees looked at the container of oil and, based on their previous experience, decided that it was sufficient for only one day. They decided that there the container did not have the capacity to keep the flame burning for more than one day. Then they experienced its persistence as a miracle. They learned of the power of the Holy One in that manner.

      Similarly, we look at ourselves (and others) and, based on previous experience – based on personal preference, fear, bias, hope, anxiety, or need – we determine what we (or they) can or cannot do. Then, something else happens, beyond what had been expected, and we learn of God’s power.

      Similarly, when we light a candle, we expect it to stay lit as it burns, and we expect that it will finally burn out. What we often fail to notice is that in each moment that it is burning, something is actually happening. We note the beginning and the end, and say “Well, we lit it and now it’s done” yet we miss the middle, the time when its existence, when the interaction of wax, wick and flame produce light and heat, demonstrates God’s sustaining, enlivening power. And, so too do we miss so much in our lives.

      Take Time to Contemplate

      Tonight, take some time after you light the candles to examine then. Use this time to notice each miraculous moment of their existence. Hold your attention in them as they burn. Attend each moment. Notice each flicker, each crackle, each plume of smoke. Then open yourself to the possibility that there are miraculous moments within your own existence as well. In this way, you become your own lamp-lighter.

      This Chanukah, may your soul shine brightly in all the in-between moments. This Chanukah, may your life become a candle that illuminates the miraculous in your world.

      Blog Tzedakah:
      The nine of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $27 of my money to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund, meaning that it was worth $54 of tzedakah. Our tzedakah ensures that the light of this special community – my congregation – shine brightly for those in need. Or Ami reaches out to people dealing with cancer and other illnesses, struggling to recover from drug and alcohol abuse, finding joy in the face of disabilities, living in foster families, seeking the light of spiritual wholeness and more. Through the generosity of two families, all donations to the Or Ami Matching Grant Fund will double in value. (Over three days of Chanukah, your comments have led to $96 in tzedakah). Tonight’s tzedakah will also go to the Matching Grant Fund. So if you leave a comment, my tzedakah donations are doubled. If you want, you can donate yourself. If you donate $18, it is worth $36. If you donate $100, it is worth $100. We have until December 31st to raise $61,000 to receive the full matching grants. We are over $43,568.00 toward that goal. If you want to donate, click here.

      Chag Chanukah Samay-ach * Happy Chanukah.

      #2: The Candle of Confusion………………. (Over How Much to Celebrate Chanukah)

      Chanukah Candle #2. Shtayeem, dos, du, shay-nee, ʼiṯnān (Arabic), dua (Indonesian), ʻe-lua (Hawaiian, for the new President-elect), twai (Gothic), yerkou (Armenian), two. Happy Second Night of Chanukah.

      Blog Tzedakah:
      The five of you who left comments yesterday ensured that collectively, we donated $15 of my money to the Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker (ACAC) program that helps foster children. Read more about that program here. If you want, donate yourself there.

      Now leave a comment (below) today and I make a tzedakah donation to the Brandon Kaplan Special Needs program, which ensures that kids with special needs and their families receive the support they need within the Jewish community. Learn more about the program here and here. If you want, donate yourself there. Remember, though, for every comment made today, I’ll make a tzedakah donation to help special needs kids seeking a brighter future. So just make a comment below.

      Chanukah Blog Thots:

      My colleague Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein, Spiritual Life Coach, wrote words that speaks to everyone who struggles to find direction celebrating Chanukah during the Christmas season. His conclusions are wonderful.

      This time of year is one of major conflict for me. I don’t like having to defend Jewish tradition. I don’t like having to say that Hanukkah is not a big deal holiday and that we have to resist the temptation of our society’s to turn it into the Jewish American Christmas. This has always been my least favorite time of the year. I’m on the defensive no matter what I say. If I say it’s ok to celebrate the secular festival of American consumerism, I am putting down Christmas. If I say that it’s not very Jewish to celebrate the season with all the gifts and decorations of Christmas, I’m taking away all the fun of the party.

      But I heard a story a while ago that I find really useful for framing my discomfort and the resolution of it. It took a couple of years to come to terms with the story. Here’s how it goes:

      This old guy is about to die. He is very uncomfortable about his impending death, worried about what will happen to the Jewish people. He goes to his rabbi. He complains bitterly of his worry and his need to hang on to life until or unless he can see that the future of the Jewish people is secure. In his magical wisdom, the rabbi brings him to the eighth year of the second Christian millennium, to the last month, and here he sees the Jewish people making a huge deal out of Hanukkah, an admittedly minor, insignificant holiday. He sees children getting gifts every day, celebrating with great joy this very minor holiday. He hears incredibly insipid songs dedicated to spinning tops and potato pancakes, can’t figure out their meaning, but at least he recognizes the happiness and warmth of the songs. Finally, after taking in this spectacle, he says to the rabbi, “If this is how they celebrate such a little holiday like Hanukkah, I can rest assured. Think how they must be observing the important holidays, like Sukkot and Shavuot, or even Shabbat!”

      Many other rabbis who tell this story go on to lament what they see as the irony of this story – that we have lost sight of our authentic Jewish holidays and have focused a lot on a minor holiday. I differ with them here, and I base that difference on the very story of Hanukkah. Hanukkah celebrates a military victory that has little or no spiritual or religious value. The historical accounts of Hanukkah do not include the story with the cruse of oil lasting for 8 days. That story was attached to it much later, in Talmudic times, around 400 years after the battle was won but the war was lost. In other words, our ancestors saw miracles in the story in which G!d was not at all Self-evident, attributing the military victory to G!d. They then further added G!d into the Hanukkah story, making it a spiritual event, with the device of the “miracle” of the oil.

      G!d doesn’t appear in burning bushes, in splitting seas or earthquakes, thunder or lightning in the Hanukkah story. In fact, G!d isn’t even mentioned much. The Maccabees are praised for their bravery in winning the battle, and there is a sense of awe attached to the legend of the oil, but I don’t remember anyone saying it was G!d’s direct hand that kept the oil burning for the 8 days, just a very strange experience, a miracle. That G!d doesn’t appear in the story, doesn’t mean that G!d is not there, just that it’s our job to understand that G!d can be in the little things, in the unbelievable victory of the small over the mighty, in legends of rededication that we tell ourselves in order to sense the closeness of G!d in the less than spectacular. The rabbis turned to the legend of the oil when memory of the military victory was fading, when they were oppressed, lost, down and out, and needed to find G!d, to find miracles, to find holiness in what they had left.

      That’s a Hanukkah lesson I am comfortable with: that G!d is present to us, in the miracles of our daily lives, if we see G!d in the smaller, non-spectacular stories of our own lives and our times. Recognizing when we need to turn to G!d, and finding the Holy One right there with us, as we struggle with our own battles and our own losses. Hanukkah is a way of rededicating ourselves to seeing the light of G!d where G!d’s Presence may be most needed, most welcome, most missed. Hanukkah is a reminder that G!d’s light in our own lives is the miracle, and it lasts way more than 8 days!

      So, in thinking about it, I’m not all that disturbed by that which other rabbis might find lamentable – that in our society we have elevated a minor holiday into major proportions. It means we’re still a dynamic religion, still growing, developing and changing. It means that the Judaism we celebrate today continues to have creative energy. May we learn, as our ancestors did, to infuse that creative energy with G!d’s Holy Presence, making more obvious to us the miracles of G!d in our own lives each and every day. May the candles we light this Hanukkah remind us that the light from G!d will never diminish, and may we enjoy the glow way after Hanukkah is over.

      Chanukah Resources: Concerned about the non-historical origin of the eight days of oil story? Read here. Need Chanukah resources: songsheets, candle blessing instructions, a copy of the story? Go here.

      Happy Chanukah! (Check back tomorrow to discover which is the correct way to spell the holiday’s name: Chanukah, Hanukkah, Hanuka, Hanukka or…)