Tag: rituals

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.

I Almost Made Myself Cry at the Bar Mitzvah

There we stood, Rabbi and three generations of the Tillis family, preparing to physically pass down the Torah midor lador (from generation to generation).  This primarily Reform Movement tradition makes manifest what is happening in fact and deed: that another young adult is receiving Torah from his ancestors.  At the end of this line of stood a young man Jared, who though he spent his life challenged by special needs and multiple treatments – a rare form of non-convulsive epilepsy, speech therapy, vision therapy, challenges reading and decoding – now stood ready to do what every other 13 year old boy does.  Jared was becoming a Bar Mitzvah. 

I looked out at the crowd of family and friends.  On their faces I saw utter amazement; reflected in their eyes was the wonder that this young man, in spite of all the challenges he faces, had led the prayer service so beautifully.  His Bar Mitzvah teacher, the incomparably talented Diane Townsend, had been by his side, pointing to each transliterated syllable so that he could chant the prayers at his own pace.  Too see how creatively she had retransliterated each word in a way that it would be comprehensible to this specific Bar Mitzvah boy is to witness a master teacher at work.  Yes, we had already each experienced that Shehecheyanu moment, that blessed happening that reminds us all that we were just touched by the miraculous. 

What words could I say which would further capture the holiness before us?  And how to do it in such a way that everyone would understand on their own level: the Bar Mitzvah boy in his specifically special manner of comprehension and the guests who had been touched by the Transcendent? 

We are taught that Torah was revealed in 70 languages at once so that each person could comprehend it.  Who is to say that which languages they were?  Perhaps some were the language understood by a child with special needs. Maybe the simple concepts that a profoundly challenged child could comprehend.

So I told them: We are taught that Torah was given to everyone at Mt. Sinai: the rich and the poor, the strong and the less strong, the healthy and the sick.  Yes, even those who stuttered (Moses), were leprous (later, Miriam), or were beaten down by the challenges of their lives (all the Israelites) received the Holy Torah.

I reminded them, lovingly, that sometimes we doubt who was able to receive Torah, but that as long as there are people who believe (I looked at Mom and Dad and older sister), everyone can grasp hold of the holy books. 

I said a bunch of other words too, but as I looked out at the congregation, seeing not a dry eye in the sanctuary, I started to choke up too, and mumbled something that I cannot remember anymore.

Then we passed Torah down midor lador (from generation to generation) completing the cycle.

Worshippers were moved.  One said, “Jared’s service was the most moving and touching ceremony I have ever been to” while another explained that she “will never forget Jared’s amazing ability to turn an ordinary ritual into a meaningful event that we will carry in our hearts forever.”  

I am left with three profound memories of this Bar Mitzvah service:

  • That this young man, standing on the shoulders of all the Jews who came before him, became a Bar Mitzvah just like the best of them;
  • That we are blessed to have a teacher as skilled as Diane Townsend who finds a way to point each child – no matter how challenged, no matter how reticent – toward Torah;
  • That the Holy One of Blessing (God) blessed us this day by allowing each of us to experience the transcendent holiness of this Bar Mitzvah. 

…Shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higee-anu lazman hazeh – Blessed are You, God … for giving us life, for keeping us in life, and for bringing us to this special moment. 

(BTW, the other Bar Mitzvah boy earlier that day made me proud, amazed, and inspired.  Because he was special too. Not special needs.  Just special, like every child is special.  But that’s another blog post.)

Congregation Or Ami exudes openness and welcoming of families with children with special needs.  Read about it.

Kid Tzedakah: A Plastic Bag Filled with Coins

Three children walk up to a rabbi after services, requesting to speak with him.  The oldest, almost eleven, speaks for the other two nine year olds.  With maturity and poise, she explains that each Shabbat and during other holy days and regular days, the three of them put tzedakah into their tzedakah box.  It is part of their regular ritual welcoming Shabbat and it is very meaningful to them.  When the box became too full, they opened it, counted it, and with a small donation from their parents to make it even, they have $54.00. (Actually, they actually collected $55 but used one dollar to “seed” their next tzedakah collection drive, ensuring that this donation was a multiple of chai (18=life).  So pictured above is the gallon-sized ziploc bag filled with pennies, nickles, quarters and dimes, plus a few bills.  Kid tzedakah, I call it. 

Kid tzedakah may be the most important kind of tzedakah of all.  Although Kid Tzedakah is not listed on Maimonides’ Ladder of Tzedakah (8 Rungs of Tzedakah) which weights the different ways of giving, I believe that we should place Kid Tzedakah somewhere in the top three.  Kid tzedakah is the ziploc bag or piggie bank or tzedakah box filled with coins which young children bring into their synagogues and give to the rabbi, or bring to other organizations and donate to support other causes.  Kid Tzedakah usually amounts to a multiple of 18, never over $72 or $90.  It never is listed on donor boards or donor honor rolls.  But it is the most precious of all. 

Kid tzedakah is the way that one generation ensures that the other understands the importance of giving. It is the process, set up by parents, to make giving tzedakah a regular practice of the next generation.  For a certain generation, Kid tzedakah was given to Keren Ami (the fund for Israel, usually through the Jewish National Fund) whose blue and white tzedakah boxes once sat in every Jewish home.  Today, sometimes Kid tzedakah is synagogue-based, when our children donate regularly at the beginning of the Religious and Hebrew School classes.  Other times, it is the ritual of placing a few coins into the tzedakah box before lighting Shabbat candles.  Some people allow the children to collect the coins that come out of parents’ pockets and place them weekly into the tzedakah box. 

Kid tzedakah may be the lifeblood of the Jewish people, ensuring that our children understand that giving of our resources – money, and yes, time and energy – is central to being a Jew.  That when we sing in our prayerbook – L’takein olam b’malchut Shaddai – that we fix the world, returning it to the idea envisioned by God – this is the essence of Judaism.   That the ritual of giving must continue into their adult lives. 

So thank you, Gross family children, for giving your $54 of Kid Tzedakah.  We will use it to help families in our community who are struggling through this difficult economy.  We will ensure they have food on their tables and a roof over their heads.