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In Defense of Thanksgivukkah

facepalm

By this point everyone knows that Thanksgivukkah is occurring this Thursday.  By some accounts, this is the greatest culinary event in history; by other accounts, it’s a horrible occurrence that needs to be ignored.  Almost every possible article has been written about it, even The 8 rules of Thanksgivingukkah Sex (just click on it now, we know you’re going to. We can wait ..questionable content for work).  While there are some valid reasons to want to separate the two holidays, many of the arguments, such as those presented by Allison Benedikt, are overblown.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. When dealing with any event that is several centuries or even millennia old, certain liberties are going to be taken with the story. Much like a plot twist in Homeland or 24, facts can get in the way of a good story.  Historical purists would probably take umbrage with the way both stories are told in elementary schools. However, the underlying principles of the holidays are both commendable. Personally, Thanksgiving is about gratitude and being thankful for what we have. Hanukkah is about overcoming adversity against challenging odds, it’s not about presents.

But Allison Benedikt’s complaints go far beyond historical critique, and her article needs a response because there are not enough face palms in the world to express my disdain for it. Why Slate chose to publish this is beyond me, because she is someone who appears to have a very limited understanding of Judaism as a whole and whose love of Judaism is itself questionable as shown in her own writings. Let’s proceed:

I don’t want my kids to think Thanksgiving is a “present holiday.”

This shows a complete lack of understanding about Hanukkah. If you think Hanukkah is a presents holiday, you are doing it wrong. This woman has completely secularized and commercialized Hanukah so, to her, it has little value beyond a night to give kids gifts and maybe eat fried foods. She has already lost the true meaning of Hanukkah, the continued struggle of the Jewish people against unmistakable odds and violent attacks that was overcome by our community’s famous strong will. It’s true that with the recent exception of Black Friday hysteria, Thanksgiving has largely escaped the commercialism that plagues so many other holidays.  She should try to keep Hanukkah free of commercialism as well.  Also, her failure to teach her kids about the story behind Hanukkah, rather than just presents, demonstrates her own misunderstanding of Hanukkah and deficiency as a parent.

Combining the Holiday foods is an awful idea.

First, if you don’t think sweet potato latkes sound amazing or think pastrami with Brussel Sprouts (since bacon is out of the question) is awesome, I can’t help you. More amazing Jewish fusion food for me! Due to Hanukkah’s connection with oil, basically anything imaginable on the Thanksgiving menu can now be justifiably deep fried like a state fair. Fried foods are better than their regular counterparts; this is an inarguable fact of life. Anyone who disagrees should probably just pack up and move to North Korea. . Our food is one of the things that bind us as not just a religion, but as a culture, and we should embrace the culinary hybrid of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

Jews should not feel ashamed to be different.

I spoke with two individuals whose parents were intermarried and they mentioned they liked Thanksgiving because it didn’t highlight the differences in the two sides of their family.   Those of us from dual Jewish parent homes can still relate to the awkwardness of the holiday season. As Jews we often can feel like outsiders and Thanksgiving is a bonding time where regardless of our religious differences we are like everyone else in the Country. These differences are most obvious during the Christmas season.  There are holiday parties which are, to be honest, Christmas parties at work and with our friends. Our desire to socialize and celebrate with friends and coworkers can often be in conflict with our religious roots.  As the incomparable Kyle Broflovski says, “It’s hard to be a Jew on Christmas”, but on Thanksgiving it doesn’t matter.

Hanukkah’s rise and specifically its association with gifts is at least partially related to our exclusion from Christmas activities. In the realm of religiously important holidays, it’s not particularly high.   We spend our holy days not eating, while others get a Federal holiday to celebrate their biggest religious occasion.   However in our desire to fit in, we shouldn’t ever be afraid to embrace who we are and the addition of latkes to the thanksgiving table shouldn’t alarm anyone. We can still appreciate Thanksgiving as a secular American holiday even if we happen to give it a Jewish twist this year.

This is the only chance in our lifetime where the first day of Hanukkah will occur on Thanksgiving. Something fun and unique is happening in the Jewish world, and we should embrace it.

Happy Thanksgivukkah,

Jon Halperin

The opinions reflected in this article are that of the author and do not represent the views of Gather the Jews or its staff.

 

Hanukkah 2013 Events!

hanukkahAre you looking for something Hanukkah-related to do before or after you celebrate Thanksgiving outside the District?  Or are you riding out Thankgivikkah here in DC?  Either way, we’ve gathered the DC Hanukkah events for you!  If you see an event missing, email Rachel at rachelg@gatherdc.org so we can make sure it makes it onto the list.

Many of these events require advance ticket purchase or RSVP.

Thursday, November 20th:

Sunday, November 24th:

Monday, November 25th:

Tuesday, November 26th:

Wednesday, November 27th:

Thursday, November 28th:
Sunday, December 1st

Monday, December 2nd:

Tuesday, December 3rd:

Wednesday, December 4th:

Thursday, December 5th:

Saturday, December 7th:

Sunday, December 8th:

Monday, December 9th:

Famed Christmas Elf Toy Meets its Jewish Match: ‘Mensch on a Bench’

MosheLast April, GTJ told you about a Kickstarter campaign for ‘Mensch on a Bench’. We’re happy to say that ‘Mensch on a Bench’ has become a reality!

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When his son asked for The Elf on the Shelf—the famed Christmas toy that is said to keep an eye on children and report back to Santa Claus regarding their behavior—entrepreneur Neal Hoffman says he felt an admitted pang of “elf envy” and saw the need to offer something more appropriate.

“I said to myself that I wished there was a toy and book that was an alternative, that was rooted in Jewish traditions,” Hoffman tells JNS.org.

Hoffman, at the time an employee of the Hasbro toy and game company, would go on to create a new toy to ensure that those celebrating Hanukkah wouldn’t experience the same “elf envy.”

With roots tracing back to the 1970s, The Elf on the Shelf has sold nearly 2.5 million units. The elf has now met its Jewish match through Hoffman’s The Mensch on a Bench, a toy and book set based on the story of the character “Moshe the Mensch.” Available for the first time this Hanukkah, the set costs $36 (plus shipping and handling).

Using the popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter to raise money (in Jewish-appropriate denominations of $18) Hoffman brought his dream of a Jewish judge of childhood behavior to life. The book that comes with Moshe explains that this savvy tzaddik was in the Temple with the Maccabees when they defeated the Greeks in the second century BCE. As the age-old story goes, there was only sufficient oil for one night, but it lasted for eight. How? Moshe volunteered to sit on a bench all night and keep an eye on it. Thousands of years later, Moshe is still on a bench and still watching over Hanukkah, much like The Elf on the Shelf watches over Christmas.

Hoffman, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, explains that as a father of two in an interfaith household, he was well familiar with The Elf on the Shelf from his nieces and nephews. When his son asked for one, he says he initially laughed off his idea for a Hanukkah-themed alternative to the toy, but the idea kept coming back until he could resist it no longer.

While Hoffman sees The Elf on the Shelf as a symbol of the commercialism of a holiday, he suggests that Moshe the Mensch is a keeper of the eternal traditions of Judaism.

“The Elf is more secular and not as religious, just pure fun,” he says.

mensch-bookMoshe may not be an “answer” to the elf, but it is an “alternative” that is appropriate for Jewish children and allows them to create their own Hanukkah tradition, Hoffman says.

Hoffman used his years of experience at Habsro—where he worked (and played) with the legendary likes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers—to his advantage for creating The Mensch on a Bench. Yet the experience was different than anything he had done before, he says.

“This was the first time I had to take an idea and figure out everything, including the design, engineering, pa

ckaging, marketing, fundraising, Web development, and timeline management,” Hoffman recalls. “It really made me appreciate the caliber of people I had worked with in the past.”

While he didn’t have his former Hasbro colleagues working with him, Hoffman was far from alone. He quickly found fans on Facebook and backers on Kickstarter, and says his biggest support came from his family. The passion for Moshe the Mensch was immediately “contagious,” he says.

In an effort to explain Moshe to the masses, Hoffman hurried to come up with a believable backstory, and created the book to accompany the toy.

“The book is inspired by the story of Hanukkah,” Hoffman says. “It tells about how the Maccabees came back to the Temple and were tired from the war and needed to sleep. With only one night of oil, they were worried it would go out overnight and leave them in the dark. One man volunteered to watch over the lights: Moshe the Mensch.”

To give Moshe and his story more staying power and appeal, the book also includes activities for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Hoffman hopes to bring the book not only to his local library, but also to the Jewish literacy nonprofit PJ Library, which to date has delivered more than 3 million books to youths. He also says sequels are possible.

“There are still a lot of words that rhyme with ‘mensch’ that we can work with,” Hoffman says.

In the meantime, Hoffman is looking forward to opening his own Moshe on the first night of Hanukkah (Nov. 27).

“I think we have a fun idea that Jewish families can rally around and use to make Hanukkah more fun,” Hoffman says. “Over the next couple years, Jewish families will decide if this is a great idea and something they want, or if the Mensch will become a rare collectors item.”

This article also appeared on JNS.org.

Mensch on a Bench

menschMensch on a Bench is a new Hanukkah tradition, meant to bring families together with a hardcover book and plush doll of Moshe the Mensch.  To support the campaign to get Moshe into stores, visit the Kickstarter Page.

ELF ENVY.  That is what started this whole thing.

Our son Jacob wanted to be like many of his friends and get an Elf on a Shelf, but being Jewish, the answer was no.

That got us thinking.   The Elf on a Shelf is a new tradition…so why couldn’t we, as Jews, add a new tradition to our holiday to add some more Funukka to Hanukkah.

We created the story of Moshe the Mensch.   Moshe was at the Temple when the Maccabees returned victorious from the war.   Judah Maccabee was exhausted from the fighting and he wanted to go to bed.   But, with only enough oil left for one night, Judah was worried the lights would go out in the middle of the night.   Moshe volunteered to sit on the bench of the Temple and tell everyone if the lights went out.   What a Mensch sitting on that Bench.

The book goes on to tell the story of Moshe, his 8 days sitting on the bench, and his love of the traditions that Jewish people have.

The product is designed for young Jewish families, but is a great introduction to Hanukkah for those not of the Jewish faith.

In the end our goal is to increase active participation in Hanukkah and make the celebration of the holiday even more fun than it is today.  We also want to teach kids what it is to be a true Mensch and teach them to strive to make a positive difference in the world around them.

The funds raised via Kickstarter will be used to cover the costs of the first production run of 500 Mensch figures.   The minimum order that the factory will produce is 500 units.  The funds will also cover the development and production of the Mensch on a Bench book and packaging.

Our progress on the project is as follows:

  • The concept and logo are complete
  • The prototype is in production
  • The manuscript to the book is written
  • We have selected a factory to produce the figures, books, and packages

With the funds from Kickstarter, our next steps are to:

  • Illustrate the book
  • Complete the package
  • Complete initial production run of 500 dolls and books
  • Ship product to the US and into the hands of boys and girls by Hanukkah this year!

Learn more about Mensch on the Bench directly from Neal:

 

GTJ’s Satirist Brian F. – Christmas Writes Cease-and-Desist Letter to Hanukkah

The following letter was leaked from a law firm in Brooklyn: 

Hanukkah
18 One-Candle Drive
Jerusalem, Israel

Dear Hanukkah,

It has come to my attention that my client [CHRISTMAS] contends that you [HANUKKAH] have infringed upon Christmas’ position as the preeminent gift-giving holiday during the cold weather months of November and/or December.  My client demands that you cease and desist your existence as a gift-giving holiday immediately.

I understand that you [HANUKKAH] are a “festival” and not a holiday.  However, you and my client [CHRISTMAS] are constantly grouped by the politically-correct masses into the same category.

In the scenarios listed below, the unauthorized likenesses of Hanukkah (H) to Christmas (C) are highlighted:

· Menorahs (H) vs. Christmas Trees (C). A free-standing symbol of holiday cheer consisting of lights and flames.

· Potato Pancakes(H) vs. Buttermilk Pancakes (C)  Honestly, did you really have to re-invent the pancake?

· Blue Tinsel (H) vs. Green/Red Tinsel (C).  Decorative tinsel is for Christmas.  You may not make it blue and call it ‘Hanukkah Tinsel’

· Dreidels (H) vs. Assorted Gambling (C).  Dreidels are a cheaper knock-off of dice- which are supposed to have six sides.  The only gambling allowed during the holiday season is reserved for College Bowl Games.

· Eight Nights (H) vs. Christmas Eve (C).  The nights of Hanukkah are artificially inflated, my client alleges, to overlap with Christmas every few years.  Unacceptable.

· Adam Sandler (H) vs. Bing Crosby (C).  Mr. Sandler’s “humorous” incarnations of the Hanukkah song are a rip on Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”  And all he does is name celebrities that are Jewish.  That’s not a song, that’s a Wikipedia page.

You must cease and desist all attempts to emulate Christmas immediately.Should you not comply, Christmas will write another Cease and Desist letter each year until you come into compliance.You will be responsible for an eternity of attorney fees, plagiarism, royalties, individual and/or class-action law suits on behalf of Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

Check Out the DC Hanukkah Events!

Celebrate the Festival of Lights with the DC Jewish Young Professionals!  This page will be updated regularly so check back.

First to get you in the mood:

Wednesday, December 5th

Saturday, December 8th

Sunday, December 9th

Monday, December 10th

Tuesday, December 11th

Wednesday, December 12th

Thursday, December 13th

Friday, December 14th

Saturday, December 15th

Sunday, December 16th

NEW GTJ Health Series: 7 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

With Thanksgiving upon us, and Hanukkah and New Years quickly approaching, even the healthiest eater can be tempted by holiday treats.  Lucky for you, GTJ is here with a helping of tips to limit the damage on your waistline while still allowing you to enjoy this festive season.   Below I serve up a 7 course meal of suggestions to help get you through the holidays.

Tip #1: The Best Defense is a Strong Offense.  Eat Breakfast!

While it can be tempting to skip meals or limit your calories substantially in anticipation of large holiday meals, this may be harming you more than you think.  Research from the Journal of American Dietetic Association among others, suggests that those  eat breakfast have lower BMIs (body mass index), are less depressed, and have better cognitive performance.  Conversely, those avoiding breakfast have an increase in appetite later in the day that often causes overeating and weight gain.

Take home point: Eat a well-balanced breakfast with lean protein (like nonfat yogurt or milk) and fiber rich foods (like oatmeal or fiber rich cereal) to limit overeating at your latka feast.

Tip #2: Limit the Alcoholwho

For many, alcohol can be vital part of getting through extended holiday time with family.  In reality, alcohol will hijack your healthy eating plans.  First of all, alcohol is empty calories-it has no nutritional value and our body often fails to register that you consumed these calories which leads you to eat more to compensate.  Second, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes fluid loss and thus dehydration.  As we get more dehydrated, we get thirsty and drink more of these empty calories.  Lastly, alcohol lessens inhibitions and induces overeating, making even the most diligent partygoer a latke hog.

Tip #3: Hold Off on the Appetizers:

My Aunt Jan is famous for her spinach dip at Thanksgiving.  At many holiday parties there are large tables of these dips, treats, and other foods that are high in salt and fat.  Just like that nosey relative, there is just one strategy: Stay away!  Position yourself away from the appetizer tables; this will help you avoid the tendency to eat what’s in front of you.  If seeing and hearing your family snack around you causes you to want to snack, you’re not alone.  One strategy to get around this is to keep yourself occupied with a cup of water or low calorie beverage in  hand or chewing sugarless gum while others are snacking.

Tip #4: Limit the Gravy and Sour Cream

The eternal debate between apple sauce and sour cream for official topping of the latke will last forever (see The Leevees song “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream” for a synopsis of the arguments), but the debate over which is healthier has long been settled.  One tablespoon (and who only uses a tbsp. of sour cream?) of sour cream has 31 calories, of which 86% are fat.  So if you’re enjoying a couple of latkas and add a reasonable 5 tablespoons of sour cream, you are adding on 15g of fat.  Stick to the applesauce!

Gravy is similarly fatty.  One simple tip to limit homemade gravy’s fat- refrigerate the gravy to harden the fat overnight and then skim it off, this will eliminate over half of the gravy’s fat content.

Tip #5: Savor the Food You Eat

When deciding what foods to eat at a holiday feast, select and savor your favorites even if a couple are less healthy.  By enjoying the foods you do eat, you will feel less guilty and more full of holiday cheer.

Tip #6: Eat Your Veggies

Your mom was right- you should eat your vegetables.  They are jam packed with vitamins and antioxidants that help detoxify our bodies and protect us from cancer.  Vegetables are also full of fiber that helps make us feel full.  So pile on the grilled and steamed vegetables (avoid higher fat options like fried or those with heavy sauces).  Healthy examples include lemon grilled kale and butternut squash, or mashed sweet potato and toasted almond green beans.

Tip #7: Choose one Desert to Savor

If you’re anything like me one of my favorite parts of a Thanksgiving or Hanukkah meal are the desserts.  All of them.  But rather than sampling every single pumpkin pie or jelly doughnut, pick your favorite and savor it.  Feel the texture of every bite and enjoy it.  And grab a slice for your grandma, she’ll love you for it.

Alex Berger, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He graduated in 2008 from the University of North Carolina and is currently in his last year of a combined MD/MPH program. He is excited to be back in the DC area and to share tips on nutrition, health, and fitness. He can be reached at Alexander_Berger@med.unc.edu.

 

Award-Winning Coconut Sweet Potato Flan

After taking first place at Sixth & I’s Holy Chef contest, GTJ’s food columnist Courtney agreed to share her original recipe with us.

I’m taking a break from my usual theme of “converting” existing non-kosher recipes in order to share a new recipe that I invented for the Hanukkah-themed Holy Chef contest at Sixth & I. Enjoy!

Recipe

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 12-16 servings

Level: Difficult

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups sugar, divided
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 1lb)
  • 1 cup cream of coconut
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Pierce sweet potato several times with a knife.  Microwave for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Let cool while making the caramel sauce.

Set aside a 10 cup soufflé dish or individual ramekins.  Add 1 cup of sugar to a heavy saucepan.  Melt the sugar over medium-high heat, swirling pot to promote even cooking.  Cook until all of the sugar has become an amber-brown liquid.  Keep a close eye on the sugar while it is cooking and remove as soon as it is done—it can burn quickly.  Pour into the prepared dish(es).  (Note: you can cook the sugar with up to a ½ cup of water and cook the water off, but I found it easier to make the sauce without.)  Set aside.

Spoon the insides of the sweet potato into a food processor.  Whisk together cream of coconut and coconut milk until they are smooth.  Add half of the mixture to the food processor while the machine is running until a smooth paste forms. 

In a large bowl, combine the remaining sugar, remaining coconut mixture, condensed milk, water, vanilla extract, and ginger and mix well.  In another bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks until frothy. Strain the eggs into the ingredients in the first bowl.

Add the sweet potato puree to the other ingredients.  Whisk well and pour into the prepared dish with the caramel sauce.   Place the dish in a large baking pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake for 1hour and 45 minutes or until the flan is set but still soft.  Remove from the oven.   Carefully remove the soufflé dish from the water and transfer to a rack to cool.

Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Before serving, run a knife through the edges and invert onto a serving dish.

Are You a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

Most of us learned in Hebrew school that the story of Chanukah involved a war between the Greeks and the Jews. However, in truth, the conflict was just as much a fight between Jews and their fellow Jews as it was between the Jews and their Greek oppressors. What our ancestors fought for holds much relevance for us today.

Every year at Chanukah we thank G-d for the miracle that occurred “in those days at this time.” This is because the message of this holiday resonates with Jews of every generation and perhaps more so with our own generation than with any other. Many mistakenly believe that Chanukah is religiously a ‘minor’ holiday, but in actuality the teachings of this holiday and the relevance they hold for today’s modern Jew – especially those of us living in America – make it one of the most important.

One thing that distinguished the Greeks from previous world empires was that they were just as focused on spreading their culture – Hellenism – as they were about gaining money and power. Hellenistic Greek culture, with its emphasis on learning, at first glance seems quite compatible with Jewish culture. The Greeks venerated their philosophers and thinkers. Similarly, Jews honor and respect their Torah scholars. However, in many ways the worldview of the Greeks was completely different from that of the Jews. The Greeks valued the body and physical beauty above all else. In Greek society, deformed or sick infants were routinely abandoned to the elements or even thrown off cliffs to their death. Beautifying the body was considered holy in itself. In fact, many of the gymnasiums in which people exercised in the nude also featured shrines to the Greek gods. To the Greeks, the gods themselves were gods in man’s image.

The Jews believed in only one G-d who created human beings in His image. The Jews understood and valued spirituality over physicality. The Torah the Jews received at Mount Sinai taught them that the world was not perfect and that human beings had to assist G-d in perfecting the world by doing the mitzvot, caring for the weak and the needy, and doing acts of kindness.

The Greeks were relatively tolerant of the cultures they conquered and they extended that same tolerance to the Jews. They were fine with Jews studying Torah as long as they did so in a philosophical, detached, and intellectual manner. What drove the Greeks up a wall was the Jewish value of studying Torah in order to connect with G-d. The Greeks didn’t mind if the Jews wanted to follow some of their rituals even if they did seem to the sophisticated Greeks to be antiquated, anachronistic, and superstitious. What the Greeks couldn’t stand was that the Jews believed in a divine reality higher than rationale thought. They resented that the Jews saw themselves as a distinct and holy people committed to bringing holiness into the world.

Many Jews – especially those of the intelligentsia and the upper class – jumped on the Hellenization bandwagon and adopted the Greek language, Greek dress, Greek education, and, in some cases, even Greek idol worship. It’s quite understandable why many Jews went for Hellenism. After all, Greek culture held a powerful allure. It kindly beckoned the Jew saying: “It’s ok, you can be Jewish. Just don’t be so different! Adopt our enlightened thinking…Maybe add a pig or two to your sacrifices in the Temple…Enjoy some Greek theater…Participate in the new world order!” When Greeks saw that some of the Jews stubbornly refused to comply, they outlawed Sabbath observance, brit milah (ritual circumcision), and Rosh Chodesh (the celebration of the new moon at the start of each month on the Jewish calendar). The significance of these three mitzvot will be explained later.

In many ways, Greek or Hellenic culture is the foundation of secular, Western thought and culture. Unlike many nations that have risen up and tried to annihilate the Jewish people throughout our long history, the Greeks of yesteryear did not seek to harm us physically. The Greeks did not wish to eliminate the Jewish people. However, they desired to destroy Judaism. How many of us Jews today, living comfortably in the United States, free to worship as we choose, would give our lives and fight for our Judaism if our government suddenly decided to outlaw Shabbat, brit milah, or Rosh Chodesh?

The Shabbat irked the Greeks. In a society that only valued a person by what they accomplished, resting one day a week was seen as lazy and immoral. Brit milah upset the Greeks, because they believed that nature and the human body was perfect in itself. The fact that Jews would alter their own bodies was an affront to everything the Greeks held dear. Rosh Chodesh represented that Jews operate on a different time table than the rest of the world. If the Jews were to be properly assimilated into Greek culture, this simply could not do. But how many of us would be prepared to fight for these mitzvot? How many of us recognize and appreciate the sanctity of resting on Shabbat? How many Jews believe having a brit milah is a barbaric ritual of the past and how many American Jews have even heard of Rosh Chodesh?

In ancient times, one Jewish priestly family known as the Maccabees could not stomach the Greeks and what they were doing to Judaism. They’d also had enough of the Hellenist Jews making a mockery of their religion. These few courageous, stubborn, and proud individuals rose up against the Greeks and the Hellenists. Their victory boosted the morale of the Jewish people and re-instilled the fundamental Jewish pride that was at risk of being lost forever.

We live in confusing times. The openness and tolerance that defines American and Western society seems to encourage many of us to put aside our Judaism – or at least those aspects of it that separate us and define us as a distinct entity. Universities (modern-day embodiments of Greek culture) with their emphasis on academic achievement combined with hedonism discourage individuals from trying to transcend the physical and connect to G-d, the Source of all Creation. On Chanukah we light a menorah to show that the holiness and truth of Judaism and the Jewish people should shine brightly. We specifically light our menorahs near the door to demonstrate that we must impact the world. Jewish values must make this world a holier, kinder, and better place – a place in which G-d feels comfortable dwelling.

Most of us Jews are neither Hellenists nor Maccabees. Most contemporary Jews living in America possess such insufficient Jewish educations that they are not even able to make an informed decision about who they are. Yes, it’s true that most Jews today do not follow the majority of Jewish laws and customs of their ancestors, but the vast majority do not do so out of willfulness, but out of ignorance. Most Jews in this generation have been so cut off from traditional Judaism and their heritage of Torah and mitzvot that they hardly recognize their own tradition. But, we need not worry. It does not need to stay this way. If we allow the fire of our Chanukah menorahs to ignite a spark in our hearts and in our souls, we can summon the fearless and proud Maccabee inside each of us and do more to learn and grow in our Judaism. Like the shamash candle that is used to light the other candles on the menorah, we can kindle a flame of passion for Judaism in the hearts of our fellow Jews.

For the first time we Jews are not forced by external circumstances such as rampant anti-Semitism to be Jewish. No longer are we protected by the spiritual safety provided by the shtetl. No longer are we confined to the ghetto. For the first time in Jewish history we are not only tolerated, but accepted. Many of us assimilate into our benevolent host culture rather than use our freedom to be Jewish in a positive and spirited way. The choice is in our hands. We can choose to marry out, assimilate, and disappear. It’s very easy to do today! Or we can stand up for what’s right and discover more about the truth and beauty of Torah and why it is an eternal gift to humanity. We can do our job as Jews by being a light unto the nations or we can simply disappear into the family of nations. The choice is ours. So who are you going to be – a Hellenist or a Maccabee?

How to Navigate Chanukah in DC

Editor’s Note: To discover more Hannukah events, see our hand-edited Chanukah events page, the events list to the right, and the events we have posted on our Facebook wall.

Chanukah week is a prime week for making connections in D.C., particularly if you’re still new to the scene. You won’t find a better week with more diverse socializing opportunities, be it volunteer, organization related, or just for complete fun.

The great part about is that the holiday theme means there is less pressure to wear your suit and tie, be well-stocked with business cards, or have an elevator speech ready at these types of gatherings.

But whether you’re hitting up the Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill this Tuesday, or gorging on falafel at the Second Annual Falafel Frenzy on Dec. 24, don’t totally slack off. There are a few easy ways to keep yourself in check and still make the most of these events that could reap longer-term benefits, be it socially, educationally, or professionally. Because you never do know who you’ll meet at these Chanukah functions. Everybody loves a good party, and more people are likely to turn out this week than any other.

Here are just a few tips to safeguard your Chanukah-week outings:

  • Inform your guest. If you’re bringing a guest with you to an event, make sure they’re in the know about the event you’re attending.  Also, debrief them on proper decorum and attire, if necessary. Your guest can reflect directly on you should you run into a potential connection, and your guest’s behavior, positive or negative, can be a factor for your reputation.
  • Make the most of first impressions. How you introduce yourself to people is fairly important. It can be a little difficult to navigate gracefully through an introduction when your face is stuffed with latkes or you’re double-fisting for the night, so keep in mind that you may need to shake some hands and compose yourself with poise.
  • Read the news. Or something. There’s nothing worse than uncomfortable silences. So do your due diligence and have a few conversation topics ready in case you need to quash the awkward silence. It’s worth it to read up on the latest news (totally not a ploy to assert validity of my job), and generally topics like the economy or foreign affairs will get you scooting around conversationally in D.C. Of course, if you’re still new to the city, you’ll soon learn that it’s nearly impossible to evade the political discussions. And probably religious ones as well, since at least 90 percent of the crowds you’ll see during Chanukah events are Jewish. So pick a topic or two and master it. It will pay to have something to contribute to the conversation.
  • Give yourself some down time this week. With so many events going on, you don’t want to burn yourself out with all the socializing. Feeling over-socialized could hinder your maximum networking abilities or drive you to write blog posts recounting your Chanukah overdose.

And most of all, have fun. It’s a great time of the year and it should be enjoyable for you, whether you stay in D.C. or head elsewhere. So stay warm, be surrounded by good company, and have a happy Chanukah.