Chanukah is in the Air
by Dr. Adena K. Berkowitz
There is no doubt about it - Chanukah is in the air. The kids have begun to ask - is it Chanukah yet? Judaica stores are filled with menorahs and dreidels and mainstream bookstores are putting Jewish books and Judaica items in their windows too. Some might say - why all this emphasis on gifts and materialism? Is that what the holiday is all about? To that we can say - there are eight nights of the holiday - eights nights to use as educational opportunities for children and adults as well. So here are some suggestions and guideposts for enjoying the holiday in a spiritually uplifting way, hopefully as a means to stimulate discussion among your friends and loved ones.
The first rule of thumb - go out and splurge - on a beautiful menorah - a Chanukah candelabra. In fact, let each member of your family have a menorah (if you haven't seen the new kids themes menorahs, they are really something). Place them on your window sill, if you safely can, to help fulfill the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle of the holiday. There is nothing as nice as to look out and see all the menorot glowing through the windows. Next, invite together a group of friends or family to enjoy one of the best Chanukah traditions - latkes with applesauce or sour cream or both (so you'll diet in a few weeks). Finish it off with an Israeli culinary contribution, sufganiot, donuts. And each night, before you get too filled up, think about the following thoughts:
First Night, Sunday Dec. 13th:
As you light the first candle with the appropriate blessings, reflect on all that has transpired since last Chanukah and the joy that after so many trials and tribulations, Jews around the world are joining in celebrating this holiday. When you make the blessing thanking G-d for having reached this point, hug your near and dear ones. Or if your family is far flung-pick up the phone and "reach out and touch someone" - a relative or a friend you haven't been in contact with in a long time. And even a nice e-mail will do. Think about those still denied celebrating Chanukah in freedom, like the Israeli soldiers still classified as missing in action.
Second Night, Monday Dec. 14th:
Chanukah is all about dedication to the right values. So dedicate tonight to reconnect to the Jewish community. If you are not a member of a synagogue, seek one out to join. If you can't afford the dues, many synagogues have sliding fee scales arrangements to accommodate all. And if you're already a member but attend infrequently, make a pledge to go this coming Shabbat. Come be a part of the Jewish community, not apart.
Third Night, Tuesday Dec. 15th:
Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Well, don't you owe it to yourself to see the Temple, at least the remnant, the Western Wall in Israel? Commit yourself to visit Israel - you can see ancient sites or just go for the warmth of Eilat or the beauty of Lake Kinneret. And if you have already gone, would it hurt to go again?
Fourth Night, Wed. Dec. 16th:
We all love presents and many designate one night for big presents and other nights for smaller ones. But what about those who are too poor to provide presents for their children? And if Chanukah is about giving, so how about giving of yourself. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Have your kids donate a toy to children who are sick or in need. Increase your pledge to charity, there are so many worthy causes in Israel and right here in New York waiting for your support. Besides, you'll get a nice tax break if you donate before the end of the year.
Fifth Night, Thurs. Dec. 17th:
Make a pledge to become a knowledgeable Jew. You may have a lot of advanced secular degrees but if your Jewish literacy is still at the kindergarten level, do something about it. Read a Jewish book or newspaper. Enroll in a class on Judaism at your synagogue or JCC. Watch/listen to Jewish radio and TV. Join or start a Jewish study circle. Our tradition says find yourself a teacher. And if you have an intensive Jewish background, then help those who are looking to connect. Do some Chanukah outreach and sweeten the deal with a few latkes, donuts and that great Chanukah tradition, chocolate coins!
Sixth Night, Friday Dec. 18th:
Tonight partake in one of the best things Judaism offers - a weekly time-out, a spiritual island in time. Free yourself from work. Turn off the TV, beeper, cell phone. Pull yourself from your computer and e-mail and just enjoy the tranquility of the next 25 hours. Light your Chanukah candles first and then the Shabbat candles before 4:12 pm. It might be a little early for you, but you can do it. Make a pledge to have Shabbat as a weekly occasion to slow down and spend quality and quantity time with your family and significant others. Think of it as a weekly thanksgiving celebration/dinner each week. The food can be sumptuous or very simple. But a little wine (and kosher wine has moved beyond heavy malagas and are now winning awards), some yummy challah and don't forget the chicken soup is the best medicine for what ails you.
Seventh Night, Sat. Dec. 19th:
Mark the end of Shabbat (after 5:17pm) with havdalah. If you aren't familiar with this ritual commemorating the conclusion of the Sabbath, ask your rabbi for guidance or a friend who can help. Then light the Chanukah candles and as you do reflect on a Hasidic tradition that says we have until Chanukah to ask all whom we may have wronged for forgiveness. Did you hurt someone's feelings? Did you intentionally or unintentionally say an unkind word? Make a resolution to say I'm sorry. Think of it as a post Yom-Kippur checkup, without the fasting of course!
Eighth Night, Sun. Dec. 20th:
Well, here we are at the last night of Chanukah. Tonight, as all the candles are lit, think of the debate that raged in the Talmud between Rabbis Hillel and Shammai. Should we light all the candles the first night and decrease the number of candles or increase the number night by night? We follow the School of Hillel, invoking the dictum to increase our joy each night and bring more light into a world which at times can seem too dark. Reflect on Chanukah as a time when all Jews can express our unity with one another. What unites us is greater than what divides us. And most of, don't forget, Be Happy - It's Chanukah.
Dr. Adena K. Berkowitz is a consultant to Hadassah and serves as a community liaison for NYC Public Advocate Mark Green.
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