Top Eight Hanukkah Traditions for Washingtonians

As Adam Sandler famously said, “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah, so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah.”  Well. Yes it is funukkah to celebrate Hanukkah [in DC] and here are my top eight recommendations for how you can have your own funukkah: 

1:  Up your Insta Game at One of DC’s Holiday Pop-up Bars / Try the #Shotnorah

Selfie, selfie, take a selfie at any of the holiday pop-ups tracked online in dc.eater.com or attend PopVille favorite Ivy and Coney in Shaw as they transform in the month of December to the Chai-vy and Cohen-y Hanukkah Bar for the third straight year.  Go with seven other friends and take part in the #shotnorah, which is what you’d expect it to be from the description.  See it featured on The Today Show earlier this month.

2:  Attend the National Menorah Lighting at the White House (Sunday, Dec 22 @ 4 PM)

menorah

Thousands attend the National Menorah Lighting every year at The Eclipse in front of the White House.  Since 1974, a menorah has been lit on the mall. The National Menorah Council advertises theirs as the largest menorah in the world.  This year’s Menorah Lighting already passed, but make sure to add this to your must-do Hanukkah list for 2020!  

3:  Support HIAS at the 3rd Annual People’s Hanukkah Party at Casolare (Monday, Dec 23 @ 6:30 PM)

Several great organizations have come together to welcome the stranger, welcome the citizen, and welcome the light at the 3rd Annual People’s Hanukkah Party, which is a super foodie friendly event at Casolare Ristorante + Bar inside the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel.  

4:  Get your Falafel Frenzy on with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (Tuesday, Dec 24 @ 8:30 PM) 

falafel frenzy

Hanukkah Happy Hour: Havana Nights may be over as Dec 17, but it isn’t too late to enjoy some socializing with friends while supporting the charitable work of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington at the annual Falafel Frenzy at Mission Dupont.  I used to help organize this every year during my singles days and had a [falafel] ball every year!

 5:  Volunteer for D25 Before Getting your Chinese Food and Seeing a Movie (Wednesday, Dec 25)

Over 40 different projects are available on the December 25th Day of Service (D25), the Edlavitch DCJCC’s largest volunteer event of the year, to perform some good ol’ tikkun olam.  Repair the world by preparing/serving food for those in need, wrapping presents, donating blood, painting a school, and more! 

6:  End of Year Giving to Support Organizations Meaningful to You on Hanukkah

Donating time is one way to give back.  Making charitable gifts is another… About four years ago I started a new tradition to celebrate my end of year giving by recognizing eight different Jewish organizations that are meaningful to me and sharing on Facebook for each night of Hanukkah that I purchased an Israel bond and donated it to the charity that day.  I personally get a lot of meaning out of these double mitzvahs – as the bond purchase goes to the development of Israel and then when the bond matures, the interest and principal are paid out to the charities I selected on Hanukkah.

7:  Light the Menorah with Family Over FaceTime 

Hanukkah

My wife’s family has this great tradition where her sisters and their spouses all FaceTime each other, plus their parents, to light candles and sing Hanukkah songs.  They’re located in Boston, Cleveland, and Detroit – so this is a way for all of us to be together (virtually) on each night of Hanukkah.

8:  Embassy Hop to Attend a Multicultural Hanukkah Party

It’s a bit cliche, but hey – we’re DC – and many embassies will be hosting Hanukkah parties.  Work your network and get the invite(s) as it’s special to celebrate Hanukkah on foreign soil at embassies across the city.  One of my favorite DC memories was attending the Embassy of India Hanukkah party a few years ago. The Embassy of Israel one has always been a lot of fun.  I still have Morocco and a few others on my DC bucket list.


jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood, or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

DID JEW KNOW: You Can Celebrate Hanukkah Meaningfully as Adult

did jew know

One of the things I hear adults struggle with when it comes to Hanukkah is that it is largely a holiday for kids. It involves presents, dreidel games, chocolate coins, and some very interesting a capella remixes. And while of course adults can and do enjoy these kitchy aspects of the holiday, they may not necessarily engage us for long or at all (I mean, how many latkes can one eat over eight whole days? Have you actually tasted gelt?!). 

Plus, the story itself (as is often told to children) is rather simplistic when you think about it. A small band of righteous rebels defeat an evil empire and the oil of the menorah miraculously lasted for eight days when it should have just lasted for one. It makes for a great tale, but it might not hold the same meaning as we get older, when we realize that things usually aren’t so straightforward; be they about politics, war, theology, and even hope.  

For those of us in our 20s and 30s, what can Hanukkah mean to us now? How can we celebrate it in a way that is meaningful, relevant, and inspiring? 

This year, I ran a two-part “Hanukkah Deep-Dive” series for people asking this very question. We came up with a variety of ideas, which I’ll get to below. 

First, we studied ancient texts about Hanukkah, going back to where it all began, so to speak. Two main ideas stood out as having the potential to guide us to newly adapted mature Hanukkah, namely, how and where we light the Hanukkah candles. 

How to Light the Menorah

When it comes to Hanukkah traditions, perhaps the most substantial one we can revisit as adults is lighting the menorah. It’s beautiful, it’s got fire, it’s DIY, and its meaning runs deep. 

The ritual of how to light menorah began with the rabbis in the Talmud, a compilation of Jewish law and debate that was collected in the first couple of centuries, CE. This was long after the Maccabees had won the war and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem by the way. 

When it came to decide how to light the candles of the menorah, (the lingering piece of the Hanukkah story that could be done at home) two major scholars, Hillel and Shammai had a disagreement.

Shammai said that we should begin with eight candles on the first day and subsequently decrease the number of lights as the days go on until we only have one left.

Hillel on the other hand, said that we should begin with one candle and add one more each night until we have eight lights on the last day. The latter is the tradition we’ve come to observe. But, why? 

The reason given by the Talmud is that “One elevates in matters of sanctity rather than downgrades.”

In our class, we discussed how to make sense of this ritual from an emotional and psychological point of view. Hillel’s approach of adding light, many noticed, can help us feel a sense of movement from utter darkness to a place of increased brightness, presence, and visibility. It’s no wonder that Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, takes place during the darkest time of year. When it’s dark, we crave light, we crave seeing and being seen, we crave knowing that things can get better. Lighting the menorah Hillel’s way reminds us that it’s possible to find sources of light within and without, even in the midst of dark and scary times. 

By starting with just one light, we also acknowledge that the seeds of change can start out rather humbly, rather than showing up suddenly as a fiery blaze. It’s up to us to pause, notice the small light, and embrace its unassuming energy. By spreading the amount of light each day (literally and figuratively), we embody the idea that when we or someone else brings light into the world, it can quickly catch on and gain momentum. Our individual acts of love and kindness can spread to another, then another, and then another, which in turn, can turn into that fiery blaze of goodness. 

And even though most people in our class preferred Hillel’s approach, there were a few who preferred Shammai’s. After all, if the menorah in the ancient Temple was lit up, it would have had all of its branches on fire at once, with declining light as the days went on as the oil slowly ran low. Shammai’s approach seems to have been more of a reenactment of the miracle. But what’s inherent in his approach is that as much as darkness can make us feel alone, depressed, even afraid, this method underscores that moments of uncertainty can also contain holiness, unleashed potential.

His message was, “Don’t let fear drive you from what you don’t know or can’t yet see. Be patient and trust yourself.” 

Where to Light the Menorah

Realizing the relevance behind both of these messages, we connected them to the main mitzvah (commandment) of lighting the menorah, which we discussed at length. The mitzvah, according to the Talmud, is to light the menorah in a place where anyone can see it from the street, be it outside our homes or on a windowsill. The main goal is to publicize the miracle and not just keep it to ourselves. 

When it comes to what the miracle actually was or represents, there are different ways one can see it. At the heart of it, is that the Maccabees, who had no reason to believe that there would be enough oil to last more than one day, decided to light the menorah with what they had anyway. Maybe they were naive, maybe desperate. Both are possible. But regardless, they decided better to have some light in the world than no light at all. And with that one decision, they were met with unexpected result. 

For some, putting the menorah in a window or entrance to one’s home (or online) is about exercising religious freedom and showing up proudly as Jews and that’s important. It can also be about spreading hope to those who need it most, regardless of background. It can be sharing light with those who are outside in the dark and see our lights within and those of us lighting the candles within who can share them with others. But, more than anything, we should make sure we are actually living out the message behind this ritual every day. Then, I think we’ve reclaimed Hanukkah as adults for our time. 

How to Live the Message of the Menorah

  • Do a selfless act of kindness for different friends and strangers each day of the holiday and reflect on it with others. 
  • Reach out to people you don’t know well, who you’ve been meaning to reach out to like a neighbor or new co-workers, even invite them to a Hanukkah gathering. Invite them into conversation about hope and rededication, or different familial traditions and heritages. 
  • Since Hanukkah is about rededicating sacred space (Hanukkah means dedication), rededicate yourself to something or someone that is sacred to you. How can you uplift that part of your life this year? Get a group of friends together and share your goals, see how you can support one another in your rededications. 

If you have any questions about the above or want more ideas on how to make Hanukkah more inspiring to you as an adult – email me at rabbi.ilana@gatherdc.org. Wishing you a very happy, as well as meaningful and relevant, Hanukkah.


 

ilana

About the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and creating real and meaningful connections with them. When Rabbi Ilana isn’t officially Gathering, she can be found cooking in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on hikes, desperately searching for good pizza in DC (seriously, help her find some!) and watching a lot of tv.

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A New Jew’s Guide to Navigating the Holidays

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate the holidays.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge, but I don’t care for the cold, the stress, and the mounting pressure to find those around me the perfect gift. Once, the illusion of Santa Claus was ruined for me when my childhood best friend told me it was my parents, not Santa Claus, bringing us presents. The image of my parents sneaking down on Christmas Eve to pull presents out of their year-long hiding places just ruined it for me.

The year 2018 marked a major changing point in my life: I was mid-conversion to Judaism and found the holidays were fast approaching. I was overwhelmed and unsure how to navigate the opposing traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah. I was preoccupied with and torn on the following questions:

“Should I skip Christmas to prove my commitment to my conversion?”

“Will my non-Jewish family, friends, and coworkers understand if I don’t participate in Christmas?”

“Will my newly adopted Jewish family, friends, and Rabbis understand if I do participate in Christmas?”

When you think about it, Christmas around the world is not just one day. Christmas is celebrated for almost two months here in the United States (sorry, Thanksgiving!). We have elf on the shelf, Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas, and let’s not forget that Starbucks releases their Holiday cups and menu in early November. There was no escaping Christmas for me—I could not go into a mall, turn on the TV/radio, or even walk down the street without having Christmas shoved in my face.

I was struggling to come to terms with all that I would be leaving behind. My lifelong holiday memories centered around my family’s Christmas traditions. I’ll never forget my grandparent’s annual Christmas Eve party filled with the maternal and paternal sides of family as well as neighbors and longtime family friends. Another tradition that stood out to me was receiving a new ornament from my mother each year and the resulting fights with my sisters. We fought to ensure our ornament had prime real estate on the Christmas tree, which meant front and center for us. Most recently during the Christmas holiday, my family would share mimosas and reminisce on how my grandparents always gave us the same socks, scarves and kitchen gadgets, year after year.

Christmas was never about religion in my family. There was no Jesus in a manger or midnight Mass, so why was I flooded with so many questions from others? I was questioned on how my family was dealing with my conversion and if I was going to skip Christmas celebrations with them. The questioning crowd would greet me with raised eyebrows and looks of confusion when all I managed to muster was, “I don’t know yet.” And at the time, I didn’t have answers to their questions.

Was it a big deal if I celebrated Christmas with my family, or was I destined to eat Chinese food and attend the movies on the 25th of December?  All I knew at the time was that I did not have the answers figured out for myself, which meant I surely didn’t know how to respond to the well-intended questions from others.

I decided to contact two Rabbis whom I trust: Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein who oversaw my conversion class and Rabbi Evan Krame who oversaw my conversion. Rabbis Bernstein and Krame made it clear that celebrating Christmas did not make me any less Jewish. They reminded me that I decided to convert to Judaism, but my family did not. Their wise and comforting counsel let me relinquish the shame I felt about wanting to celebrate Christmas with my family. I found the courage and space to have both Christmas and Hanukkah traditions in my life; I did not have to sacrifice one set of traditions for the other. Ultimately, I was reassured that if my decision was good enough for the Rabbis in my life, then it was also good enough for me and everyone around me.

If you are converting or newly converted, I am not here to tell you how you should or shouldn’t celebrate the holidays during and/or after your conversion to Judaism. Conversion is a personal process and you must trust yourself and your gut instincts. What I do suggest is that you articulate to your family and friends that you are navigating new and exciting traditions and ask them to be more supportive and less judgmental until you figure out what being Jewish means to you. Follow the path that gives you the greatest peace of mind and ask for acceptance and tolerance from the Jews and Christians around you

It is 2019 and my apathy for the holidays has not diminished; however, I feel immense gratitude to be able to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah with those I love. I am confident in my decision to adopt holiday traditions from both faiths. I enjoy finding ways to merge my old Christmas identity with my new identity as a Jew. This year I hosted a Tacky Sweater Party and represented my Jewish faith by wearing a Hanukkah sweater. I also teamed with my office to adopt underprivileged kids for Christmas. Most importantly, I will spend the holiday season with both of our families, indulging in all that Christmas and Hanukkah have to offer (which means loads of Christmas cookies and latkes!).

hanukkah sweater

Jillian Stringer (left) at her Tacky Holiday Sweater Party

PS…If you are a latke expert, please share your recipes!

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About the Author: Jillian Stringer is an account executive in the Intellectual Property sector by day and food/wine enthusiast by night. When she’s not wedding planning or working, she can be found cooking or playing mahjong and canasta. She lives in DC along with her fiancé and their house plants. 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Celebrating Chrismukkah

chrismukkah

Chrismukkah is an indecisive person’s dream.

There’s no “or” involved when it comes to decorations, presents, food, music, any of it – you just get to have it all. Trees and menorahs, one big morning and eight little nights, gingerbread and latkes. Chrismukkah takes the most fun parts of Christmas and Hanukkah, doubles the December stress, and makes for one uber holiday.

The O.C. Invents Chrismukkah

Interfaith families have been celebrating the two-for-one Christmas-Hanukkah combo for some time now, but the holiday wasn’t officially dubbed “Chrismukkah” until Seth Cohen on The O.C. made the concept famous back in 2003.

You can make fun of the early aughts teen drama for a lot of reasonsridiculous, melodramatic storylines, villains that had frosted tips and wore puka shells, and Mischa Barton’s acting skills. But Chrismukkah? Pure genius.

I love The O.C. for all of its iconic pop culture moments, and I’m also kind of weirdly grateful for it. When I first discovered reruns of the show back in ninth grade, I saw how Seth Cohen embraced his own “brand” of Judaism. This depiction helped me define how I experienced my own religion. Sure, he was a fictional character, but he was also one of the only people I’d seen at that point who was raised the same way I was, with one Jewish parent and one Christian parent.

Celebrating Chrismukkah Growing Up

chrismukkah

Chrismukkah, 2001

I grew up in a southern college town with a tiny Jewish population. I could count on one hand the amount of other Jewish kids I knew from school, and my family’s involvement with the local Jewish community was fairly nonexistent. My parentsmy mom’s family is Jewish, my dad’s family is Christiandecided to raise my brother and me without much structured religion, but we definitely identified as Jewish. 

I struggled a lot with what that religious identity truly meant, though. I often felt not-Jewish-enough to be a part of the Jewish community, and I didn’t fit in with the evangelical Christian population that made up a lot of my school. When I saw the “Chrismukkah” episodes of The O.C., it gave me a simple way to explain to people what my experience was like, not just with the holidays, but with religion in general. As trivial as it sounds, I was able to accept that enjoying my Christmas decorations and watching Christmas movies on repeat doesn’t lessen the strength of my Jewish identity.

The O.C. calls Chrismukkah “the greatest super holiday known to mankind,” which is over the top, and also pretty fitting for how seriously they take it. In the second season, the “yamaclaus,” a Santa Claus-themed yarmulke is introduced (which, by the way, is a great Chrismukkah gift if you’re short on time and money this year). 

For me, my family celebrated Hanukkah every year, as well as the secular aspects of Christmas. As most Jewish people know, Hanukkah became a big deal culturally simply because it happens to coincide with Christmas. But in the Hilton-Glicksberg household, this meant we had an entire month of holidays. Menorahs, stereotypical Chinese food, a movie on Christmas, Santa, stockingsthe whole thing. 

My Relationship with Chrismukkah Today

I took for granted the extra work involved for my parents trying to juggle two holidays. But, as I got older, I appreciate the time and effort they both put into sharing their favorite traditions with my brother and me. Some of my strongest childhood memories revolve around celebrating Chrismukkah, which is why I, like Seth Cohen, love it so much. 

My relationship with Judaism continued to evolve as I’ve moved around to different cities and met new people. But, my first introduction to Judaism will always be with Hanukkah. Now, as an adult and living far away from my family, Chrismukkah is a lot more toned down, and there’s less novelty surrounding the marathon event. Yet, this hybrid holiday with the funny name is more meaningful than ever. 

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elena hiltonAbout the author: Elena Hilton is a communications consultant specializing in guiding nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations. Her writing and reporting has been published in Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Glamour. In her free time, Elena can be found kayaking, cheering on the Florida Gators, or volunteering with Horton’s Kids

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Top 5 Chinese Restaurants for Jews on Christmas 

Over the years, one of my favorite “Jewish” traditions has been going out for Chinese food with my family on Christmas – or simply getting some Chinese delivery. 

Have you ever wondered, “how did this tradition come about?” Like many Jewish traditions, this one started in the Jewish “homeland”. Nope, not Israel. I’m talking about a tradition that was started in our other homeland – New York’s Lower East Side. 

Author of “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”, Jennifer 8. Lee wrote, “[At the turn of the century], Jews and Chinese were the two largest non-Christian immigrant groups. So, there was a natural bond between these two cultures.” Jennifer goes on to say that going back three or four generations, Jews and Chinese weren’t just united by living next to each other, but Jews were self-conscious about being outsiders. At Chinese restaurants, Jews found an ally in their Chinese neighbors in the form of shared sweet and sour flavors.

This history of our tribe’s love of Chinese food is also associated with the comfortable level of being more kashrut, since after all, Chinese food is also an easier cuisine to separate milk from meat. It gives the illusion of keeping kashrut because Chinese cuisine rarely contains milk. 

Here are the top 5 Chinese restaurants in the DMV to enjoy during Christmas. Since I’m vegan, all the Chinese restaurants aren’t only written up by The Washington Post and Washingtonian, but also offer the essential vegan Chinese food – veggie spring rolls! That being said, I brought my non-vegan Mother along with me to nosh on this Jewish/Chinese/Christmas experience.

So, if you decide to go out for Chinese food or snuggle up with some Chinese carry-out and binge watch your favorite movies, these are the top Chinese restaurants to go to on Christmas. ‘Tis the season for spring rolls!  

 

Full Key

chinese food

This Hong Kong regional speciality restaurant has been a mainstay on the “Top Cheap Eats” in DC by the Washingtonian since the 1980s for good reason. It’s a great place to frequent, especially on Christmas because the dishes are all family style portions and can be comfortably shared. The atmosphere is set with hot tea, on the tables, dumpling soups sizzling, and signature pan fried noodles full of Asian veggies and seafood. Although Full Key is known for their seafood, their eggplant in garlic sauce is mouth-watering and served in abundance, which is a nice option for those of us keeping kosher. Full Key’s veggie spring rolls feature black bamboo shoots, watercress, and are served hot and crispy. They are definitely worth ordering!                                                                                                                     

Xi’an Gourmet 

xian gourmet                                                                                                      

While there are so many amazing East Asian restaurants in Rockville, Xi’an Gourmet is a stand out with its fancy modern Asian decor and gourmet twist on East Asian food that incorporates

cumin and other unique spices. Don’t sleep on the sesame Shaanxi cold steamed noodles, cold cucumbers, and my mother’s favorite – cumin roasted lamb satay, which almost has a Indian/Pakistani like flavor. Xi’an Gourmet also has moderately priced beer and wine selection, which includes my favorite, Coronas. After all, what’s a better mix than Mexican beer and Chinese food? L’chaim!                                                                                                                                            

East Pearl

east pearl

East Pearl is another gem in Rockville, featuring Hong Kong Cuisine. The restaurant also offers a separate menu with more traditional Chinese dishes. They are known for their “spectacular” Soyed chicken, as noted in the Washingtonian. The staff is also very accommodating to adjust to different dietary restrictions. Their Singapore noodles with shrimp and jalapeno, crispy spring rolls, and peking duck makes for a festive Jewish Christmas in an open restaurant that is tastefully decorated with painted Asian flowers all over the walls.                                                                                      

Yuan Fu

yuan fu

If your family reminds you of the aunt in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who says, “You don’t eat no meat? I make you lamb,” I probably wouldn’t recommend taking them to Yuan Fu. However, if your family members can get over the shock of an all-vegetarian Chinese restaurant, they will find that this spot has a lot to offer, especially if you keep kosher. Since its very hard to find vegan authentic hot and sour soup, Yuan Fu’s is so amazing! Try the cold sesame noodles. They are super delicious and refreshing! If you are watching your calories, Yuan Fu a good choice since they offer a menu of low oil dishes too. There coconut juice is  served in an actual coconut and sipped through a straw, adding to a festive holiday spirit. 

 

New Big Wong

new big wongNew Big Wong is a mainstay in Chinatown for Jews on Christmas. This Cantonese restaurant, located below Rita’s Italian Ice, serves portions that are family style, reasonably priced, and perfect for holiday sharing. Some outstanding dishes include peking duck, moo shu dishes of all sorts, sesame noodles and, of course, my go to favorite veggie spring rolls served with hoisin sauce. New Big Wong offers Spanish and Italian wines. Keep in mind, it’s much cheaper to buy a bottle of wine for a group, instead of ordering by the glass. Dim sum is also served on weekends.

Before you go off and make your Christmas dining plans, I’d be remiss not to mention Ruan Thai. Although not a Chinese restaurant, this Wheaton spot has amazing veggie spring rolls, mango sticky rice, and drunken noodles – and they are open on Christmas.

 


micheleAbout the Author: Michele Amira is a nice Jewish girl,  DC based journalist, spoken word artist, and vegan. When not writing, she might be found Israeli dancing,  listening to hip-hop, and enjoying a l’chaim (toast) with her favorite drink – margaritas on the rocks. 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.