The Need to be United

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency, lights his Chanukah menorah.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency, lights his Chanukah menorah.

As winter arrives and the days grow shorter, outdoor lighting is needed more during the Chanukah season than at any other time of year. This need is taken particularly seriously in Israel, where outdoor menorahs make a nocturnal stroll through city streets a treat for the eyes — and for the spirit.

The outdoor Chanukah menorah was one Israeli tradition that painters Israel Hershberg and Yael Scalia Hershberg embraced when they made aliyah from Baltimore more than three decades ago. Each year, they place nine shot glasses filled with olive oil (and each topped with a wick) in a simple box fashioned of brass and tin. The box has glass windows and little chimneys.

“It’s something of a Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) artifact since it seems they don’t make them anymore,” Yael said of the box, which was purchased from a craftsman in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim. “It’s very old world, and in its authenticity and its simplicity it has real charm.”

The term menorah itself can be cause for confusion, even in Israel. The one used thousands of years ago in the Jewish Temple, which was adopted as a symbol of the nascent state of Israel, has seven branches. But the Chanukah menorah has nine branches — one for each day the scarce oil burned in the reclaimed temple more than 2,000 years ago, as well as a “shamash” to light the rest of the candles and stand guard over them as they burn.

In an effort to stem the confusion, in the late 1800s Eliezer ben Yehuda, the father of the modern Hebrew language, coined the term “chanukiah,” which is how today’s Israelis tend to refer to Chanukah menorahs.

But not all chanukiahs are outdoor affairs. Many of the 70-plus chanukiahs in the home of Tel Aviv collector Bill Gross and his wife, Lisa, are just too gorgeous—and too valuable—to expose to the elements.

Gross, however, is intent on “seeing them returned to their original use,” which is why he uses a different chanukiah each year. The rotation includes the 1950 Israeli specimen he used growing up in Minneapolis. “I believe that as soon as you look at them as art objects, it rips them up by their roots. These are objects made for performing a mitzvah, and it’s only right to let them do that,” he said.

Old chanukiahs also serve as a reminder of those years when the act of lighting them was a risky undertaking. One chanukiah, dating back to pre-World War II times, is on display in the Holocaust History Museum at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, where visitors can find it in the section dealing with the Nazis’ rise to power. Every year, members of the family who donated it — the Mansbachs — take it home to Haifa to light it for the holiday.

“The thousands of personal items in Yad Vashem’s collections help us connect with the experience of Jewish men, women and children during the Shoah,” said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.

Member of Knesset Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) and his family also use a chanukiah that reminds them of this dark time in Jewish history — a replica of one constructed of nails in a concentration camp. “It was a gift for my bar mitzvah,” said Lipman, a Maryland native who now lives in Beit Shemesh. “As a people we have always used any means at our disposal to survive and to stay strong, and every year when we light this chanukiah, we and our children are reminded of that.”

But not all menorahs have survived tough times. Many, like the one Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky used in a Soviet internment camp 34 years ago, remain only in the memory of those touched by their light. Back in 1980, Sharansky was one of a group of political prisoners and the only Jew. “But when I told them Chanukah was coming, everyone was very enthusiastic,” he said.

One friend who worked in the wood shop fashioned a crude menorah of pressed wood from a box for Sharansky. He lit in the barracks on the first night of Chanukah and on several subsequent nights, until a KGB collaborator turned him in and the menorah was confiscated. “The head of the camp called me in and told me, ‘This is not a synagogue; you were brought here for punishment, not for praying,’” recalled Sharansky, who promptly embarked on a hunger strike.

The hunger strike made the camp leaders nervous because a commission from Moscow was expected to arrive shortly. On the last night of Chanukah, Sharansky told the head of the camp, “You want me to stop the hunger strike? You give me back my menorah and bring me nine candles. I’ll say the prayers and you say, ‘Amen.’”

Which is exactly what happened. “I prayed the day would come when we will celebrate our freedom in Jerusalem and that all our enemies will hear our prayer and say, ‘Amen,’” said Sharansky. Since the prayer was in Hebrew, the head of the camp didn’t understand a word but just kept saying “Amen.” The next day, after the commission had come and gone, Sharansky was sent back to the camp’s prison.

The light from all the menorahs throughout time continues to shine down through Jewish history, said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi in charge of the Western Wall and other Israeli holy sites. Every year, after lighting the official Western Wall chanukiah, Rabinowitz returns home to light the small silver one his in-laws gave him for his wedding 25 years ago. “A little bit of light takes away all the darkness,” the rabbi said. “And this year, more than ever, we need the light. As a people we need to be united and together, with no fighting or disagreement. We Jews need to connect through this light to the spirit of Chanukah and to each other.”

Rabinowitz added: “At a time of so much darkness, we need to also connect to the power of our Jewish tradition. The light has the power to bring us back to it and to unify us.”

The chanukiah at the home of Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency, came with his wife Batsheva’s grandfather all the way to America from Germany, where he purchased it after the war. “He had lost everything but gathered whatever he could to buy a semblance of Judaism, which for him was a sign of rebuilding and hope,” said Fass. “And now that it has been passed down to the fourth generation in our family, it also reminds us that Jewish history is still being written and Israel is the homeland for tomorrow’s generations of our people.”

“Each night when we add a candle and the light grows steadily stronger, we realize once again the importance of being here in Israel, the only place in the world that is truly ours,” Fass added. “Like the miracle of Chanukah, this mini miracle of our ability to return home to Israel is something that we want to publicize to the entire Jewish world.”


Off With His Head

Judith with the head of Holofernes by Italian master painter Titian.

Judith with the head of Holofernes by Italian master painter Titian.

Judith is a beautiful widow who has fascinated artists, writers, poets and composers through the centuries. The heroine of the Book of Judith, a text that was never accepted into the Jewish cannon, Judith serves the role of holy Jewish widow, of seductress and of soldier.

Here is a quick rundown:

Judith comes onto the scene in chapter 8 of her book, introduced by a lengthy genealogy, which connects her to several important biblical characters, including the Forefathers. She summons the town elders and rebukes them for questioning God’s plan and their willingness to surr-ender to the enemy. She presents a secret plan to save her community, prays to God for assistance, beautifies herself in preparation for her journey and leaves her hometown of Bethulia with her maid. Almost instantaneously, Judith is (likely by design) captured by the Assyrians. She presents a “vision” for how the Assyrian army can win the war without loss. She is taken to General Holofernes’ camp, attends an intimate banquet and cuts off Holofernes’ head while he is drunk. Then she returns to her hometown with the head, meets with the elders, is praised, they celebrate, and she goes back to her life as a widow.

Most scholars consider the story of Judith to be fiction. For example, it takes place in a city called Bethulia in Palestine, but no such place is known. In addition, explained Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, who referred the JT to a chapter she wrote in the 20th anniversary edition of “Women’s Bible Commentary,” “The book opens in ‘the 12th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Ninveh’ (1:1). Yet, Ninveh was destroyed in 612 BCE, before Nebuchadnezzar became king in 605 BCE; he ruled the Neo-Babylonian Empire from his capital city of Babylon. It is not possible that the Jews had recently returned from exile and rebuilt their Temple (5:18-19) since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple in 587 BCE and the Temple was rebuilt in 520 to 515 BCE under the Persians.”

But Judith’s story, said those interviewed, is not meant to be a history as much as it is meant to be a meta-phor, a discussion of the themes of Jewish survival and identity in a gentile world and of female survival in a man’s world.

“From a Jewish perspective,” said Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, a professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College, “Judith preserves Jewish tradition but is not sacred.”

The book is referenced at Chanukah because although there is debate as to exactly when the story is supposed to have taken place — and the beginning of the book makes it sound as if the events took place centuries earlier — most scholars believe that it was written during the Hellenistic period, the time of the persecutions and battles that eventually are commemorated by the celebration of Chanukah.

“In this sense, it is a companion piece to the book of the Maccabees, which likewise is not part of the Jewish Bible but was written by and for Jews,” explained Eskenazi.

Robin Gallaher Branch, professor of biblical studies at Victory University in Memphis, Tenn., said there are many ways that one could describe Judith,
including planful, verbose and powerful. She said that Judith is a similar character to others who are in the Jewish cannon, including the judge Deborah (in her leadership) and the almost-uncannily similar story of Yael in the Book of Judges. The Israelites are at war with King Jabin. When Jabin’s army goes to attack, led by Sisera, Yael welcomes Sisera into her tent with apparent hospitality. She gives him warm milk and other foods and when he lies down to sleep, Yael creeps up to him, holding a tent peg, and forces it through his temple and into the ground. As a result of the killing of Sisera, God gives the victory to the people of Israel.

But what do we make of a character who beheads a foreign general and hangs it on display?

“To interpret Judith today is not simply to determine whether or not Judith offers a positive or negative role model for women in her time or our own,” noted Hopkins. “Rather, it is to recognize how she challenges all stereotypes. As she moves across the gender spectrum from widow to seductress to soldier, Judith subverts the presuppositions about gender that we bring into the text.”

Hopkins said that on the one hand Judith seems to be an ideal woman for her time — beautiful, loyal, pious, intelligent and initially silent — who remains in her home when she is widowed, leaves it only in times of crisis and returns after her victory. On the other hand, she rebukes the town elders, manipulates people and vacillates between proclaiming her subservience to God and carrying out her initiative (though in the end, it is clear that God endorses what Judith has done).

Eskenazi defends Judith’s character.

“Judith is presented as a highly savvy, even brilliant, strategist who plans every move to bring about the downfall of her people’s chief enemy,” said Eskenazi, describing Judith’s power not just as physical (i.e. using her beauty), but also as linguistic. She said Judith acted out of self-protection.

“If anything, the killing of this one man saves many lives,” Eskenazi said.

Judith, in Hebrew Yehudit, literally means woman of Judah, and Eskenazi feels Judith represents the Jewish people under siege at the time of Greek subordination.

“The metaphor and message encourage people to trust that piety and action can combine to bring relief and a secure future,” she said.

Is Judith a feminist role model? Eskenazi said yes — “her independence is exceptional.”

Noted Branch: “Judith relates well to other women. … They identify with her. She inspires them.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief

Stretching One Day’s Provisions To Eight

112213_stretching_one_days_provisions_to_eightA beautiful thing about many Jewish laws is that they are open to interpretation. Evolving analysis helps transform a seemingly obsolete idea into a concept that is relevant and applicable to contemporary issues.

Bal tashchit is one of those laws. Its original form commands to “not destroy with wanton abandon” (particularly geared to war time), because such acts would be excessive and wasteful. The example provided is with regard to fruit tree orchards, the destruction of which would cause suffering to both the victors and future gener-ations, so it is considered extreme. Over the centuries the bal tashchit interpretation has evolved to “you shall not waste” and encourages conservation, which, of course, is relevant to present-day living.

One lesson embedded in the Chanukah story references wanton destruction and conservation. The Maccabees triumphed over the Greeks and returned to restore and repair their desecrated Temple. There was only enough sanctified oil to burn the eternal flame for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days, long enough to procure more of the oil needed. In a sense, it’s a story about taking what is enough for one day and stretching it for eight days. It is also about miracles.

“If we’re talking about Chanukah miracles and conservation, we can just look at ourselves,” said Laura Menyuk, education programs coordinator at the Pearlstone Center. “If we’re made in the image of God, aren’t we a co-creator in miracles too? We don’t just use up and destroy the resources of the earth, we can also create miracles by conserving and re-creating those resources. Ideas of sustainability and energy conservation are an underpinning of all of our programs.”

The Pearlstone Center offers programming that makes the concepts of sustainability, consumption and conservation— bal tashchit — concrete and accessible to even the most basic beginner. They offer hands-on events, websites and media that instruct on ways to become more energy conscious and that help make caring for the environment a tangible, uncomplicated behavior to practice.

In one of the programs, visiting school children weigh leftover food collected from their plates after a meal. They collectively have many pounds of leftover food that would go to compost. The students develop an awareness about leftover waste and are challenged to see if at dinner they can aim to waste less. It makes a simple concept about food choice and consumption a very real, achievable and, more than that, understandable notion for anyone.

Pearlstone also hosts family camps, retreats and open-farming days that offer accessible and usable practices about recycling, home gardening, pickling and cheese-making. Their programming ranges from low-impact just getting your hands dirty (literally) in basic environmental practices to days-long immersion retreats that feature instruction, discussion and participation while living off the land and studying agriculture- and conservation-related Jewish text. Another offering is information on how to make a sustainable simcha, such as a wedding or bar or bat mitzvah.

Another local resource is the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network (BJEN), which is a coalition of organizations providing education, programming and public policy advocacy and works to engage the Jewish community in sustainability and conservation issues.

Pearlstone Center programs can be found at Learn more about BJEN at

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor

Raising a Thanksgiving Toast this Chanukah

This Chanukah will offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a Thanksgiving toast to the lights of the festive candles. With the table decked with rich and decadent fare, these wines will make the perfect accompaniment to the Thanksgiving turkey (and Chanukah latke).

Gilgal Pinot Noir 2011
The elegant and complex flavors in a Pinot Noir make it a great pairing for the Thanksgiving turkey. Pinot Noir is an example of a niche varietal, which suits those looking for a subtle yet sophisticated wine and for those who do not seek an overwhelming fruity flavor.

Newcomers to this varietal should try the Gilgal Pinot Noir, which is eminently drinkable and an ideal introduction to the distinctive pinot flavors. The 2011 Gilgal Pinot Noir displays aromatic strawberry, sour cherry and mulberry fruit characters, which are perfectly balanced by its floral and spicy notes.

111513_Raising-a-Thanksgiving-Toast-this-Chanukah1Galil Mountain Meron 2009
The Galil Mountain Meron is a lusciously rich blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Syrah is the predominate grape in the Meron blend and has in recent years become Israel’s star varietal. Otherwise known as Shiraz, the Syrah’s distinctively rich flavors shine through, and the Meron showcases a beautiful blend of wild berries, blueberries and red cherries, complemented by a hint of oak. This strong and well-balanced wine exhibits a silky texture and a long velvety finish that fills the palate with its rich flavors.

The Galil Mountain Winery is situated in the ever-changing Northern Galilee region. Each
season brings new views, which are reflected in the winery’s unique labels. The Meron, likewise, evolves during the meal with new flavors expressed with every sip.

Yarden Merlot Odem 2007
This limited-edition Merlot comes from the Odem organic vineyard located in the Upper Golan Heights. Single vineyard wines are produced from the very best grapes grown in a single, and special, vineyard. The Odem vineyard uses unique methods to maintain its organic character, and winemakers have commented that since going organic, they have seen a significant improvement in the quality and color of the fruit.

111513_Raising-a-Thanksgiving-Toast-this-Chanukah2The Yarden Merlot Odem is aged in French oak barrels for 18 months, giving it a long finish and wonderful aging potential. Floral, spice and earthy notes enhance the distinctive Merlot characters of cherry and blackberry, which are especially identifiable in this single vineyard wine. While this is definitely a wine to wow your guests, it will also make a truly special Chanukah gift for someone who appreciates a fine wine.

And Don’t Forget the Shmaltz … Beer! >>

Anna Harwood writes for IMP Media.

Read also, Thanksgivukkah: Thanksgiving And Chanukah … Together! >>


It hasn’t happened since 1888, and it won’t happen again until 2070 and 2165. After that, it will be 70,000 years until it happens again. So grab your dreidels, latkes and gravy boats, because this year Thanksgiving and Chanukah collide.

Yes, the first day of Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. Time magazine calls this event “the best excuse for overeating since sliced potatoes.”

Most are calling the holiday “Thanksgivukkah” — a word coined and trademarked by Dana Gitell, a 37-year-old marketing specialist from Boston.

Gitell said she hit on the idea in 2011 after seeing a calendar that showed Jewish holidays over the next five years.

“I was driving and thinking about what you would call that day and rolling the words around in my mind, and I came up with … Thanksgivukkah,” she said.

Gitell started a Facebook page for Thanksgivukkah that has taken off.

Thanksgivukkah has inspired enterprising commercial interests and ordinary folks alike. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature a dreidel balloon. You still have time to order Thanksgivukkah shirts and gifts from I found lots of fun ideas and things to see online. You can find several terrific Thanksgivukkah videos on YouTube. Click here to see Stephen Colbert’s hilarious tribute to Thanksgivukkah. I laughed out loud when he tried making a hand menorah instead of a hand turkey.

Gil and Margie Brodsky’s Thanksgivukkah version of the Chanukah song featuring lyrics such as “Come light the menurky” and “Let’s have a party with latkes and turkey” is also a riot.

Another entertaining YouTube video is “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah,” a lively song performed by the entire staff and student body of the Kehillah Schechter Academy of Norwood, Mass. Creative lyrics include a transition from Plymouth Rock to “Rock of Ages.”

And check out PJ Library is a fantastic “Jewish family engagement program” dedicated to providing free, high-quality Jewish children’s literature and music to families across the U.S. On its site are links for child-friendly Thanksgivukkah crafts such as a pumpkin menorah made with real miniature pumpkins, a Star of David napkin ring and ideas for toddlers.

For foodies, this day is a true fantasy feast. There are unlimited ways to combine Chanukah and Thanksgiving recipes. On past Thanksgiving days, many Shabbat-observant Jews didn’t pay too much attention to serving turkey on that Thursday. This is because the very next day was Shabbat, so they often saved the turkey for Friday night. But this special Thursday event deserves the full-on turkey treatment. You even have time to order the Star of David or dreidel mold for potato pancakes at

You might consider Thanksgivukkah a fad because, let’s face it, it’s not going to happen again for a long, long, long time. But think of the many Jewish babies that will be born on this day. They surely will be celebrating the event for generations to come.

I asked Larry Levy, owner/chef of Biddle Street Catering, what he’s doing for Thanksgivukkah, as he is always on the cutting edge of food fads. Levy said his more adventurous clients are asking for more creativity for Thanksgivukkah, and he can deliver just that. I tasted his new menu additions and can attest: Levy has a great option for Thanksgivukkah gravy. His fabulous lighter Bordelaise sauce is made with wine, and he has another one that he braises the turkey in, with Manischewitz wine as an option. His yummy pumpkin cheesecake (pareve or dairy) has a delicious cranberry topping. And his homemade doughnuts are infused with jelly or pumpkin mousse. The uniquely roasted brussels sprouts have pieces of sautéed crisp pastrami. His apple/potato pancakes and homemade cranberry relish are other wonderful items that combine the holidays in delicious ways. And Biddle Street makes gorgeous garnishes of large turnip flowers, leek daisies and spaghetti shreds of carrots.

For an easy and unique turkey presentation, I use fresh kale, fresh sage, canned spiced apples and fresh cranberries or grapes to decorate my turkey platter. You can slice and prepare these herbs and fruits in advance. If you decide to plate each person’s dish, think about placing the sliced turkey on top of a large potato pancake and then drizzle with gravy.

Pumpkin pie and other pumpkin dishes can easily be made pareve by using non-dairy coffee creamer in place of the evaporated milk. Non-dairy cheese such as Tofutti can be used to make pumpkin cheesecake or dips.

I always love food mash-ups, so Thanksgivukkah suits me fine. I combine two different stuffing box mixes, such as cranberry and cornbread, and add some sautéed onions and dry sage for a homemade taste. For quick, good gravy, I mix turkey gravy with beef gravy (can, jar or powdered mix) and add some essence from the turkey. My mother always combined the gravy she bought from the deli: one pint of beef and one pint of turkey.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Carrot Dill Soup >>
Biddle Street’s Brussels Sprouts With Shallots And Pastrami Crisps >>
Biddle Street’s Apple-Potato Latkes >>
Cranberry Crumb Bars >>

Tips & Tricks
Here are a few recipes and tips to make Thanksgivukkah delicious and memorable. Gobble Tov to all!
• Try substituting Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream.
• Make a thin potato kugel and use your Jewish star cookie-cutter to shape potato kugel pancakes.
• Spice up some store-bought apple sauce with red cinnamon candies. Heat to dissolve the candies and create pink potato latke topping.
• Fill mini-cannoli shells with pumpkin mousse or the filling from pumpkin pies. Dip the cannoli ends in cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer

Read also, Raising a Thanksgiving Toast this Chanukah >>

Pass The Cranberry Latkes

With the cornukiyah, writer Edmon J. Rodman creates  a centerpiece suitable for a Thanksgivukkah table.

With the cornukiyah, writer Edmon J. Rodman creates a centerpiece suitable for a Thanksgivukkah table.

If the Pilgrims are lighting menorahs and the Maccabees are chasing turkeys, it must be Thanksgivukkah, as some have come to call the confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah that will happen this year on Nov. 28.

It’s a rare event, one that won’t occur again until 2070 and then in 2165. Beyond that, because the Jewish lunisolar (lunar with solar adjustments) calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, the Chanukah-Thanksgiving confluence won’t happen again by one calculation until the year 79811 — when turkeys presumably will be smart enough to read calendars and vacation in space that month.

How do we celebrate this rare holiday alignment? Do we stick candles in the turkey and stuff the horns of plenty with gelt? Put payes on the Pilgrims? What about starting by wishing each other “gobble tov” and then changing the words to a favorite Chanukah melody:

“I cooked a little turkey,

Just like I’m Bobby Flay,

And when it’s sliced and ready,

I’ll fress the day away.”

The holiday mash-up has its limits. We know the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will not end with a float carrying a Maccabee. But it has created opportunities as well: Raise your hand if you plan to wait until the post-Thanksgiving Day sales for your Chanukah shopping.

Ritually, just as we’ve figured out that we add candles to our menorahs from right to left and light them from left to right, a new question looms this year: Should we slice the turkey before or after?

For our household, the dreidel-wishbone overlap means that our son at college who always comes home for Thanksgiving will be home to light the family hanukkiyah too.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Dr. Ron Wolfson, whose book “Relational Judaism” speaks to how our communal relationships — how we listen and welcome — can make our Jewish communities more meaningful. “This year is about bringing friends and family together.”

Wolfson, also the author of “The Hanukkah Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration,” said in a recent interview that this year’s calendrical collision
is a way to enhance “Thanksgiving beyond football and a big meal.”

In our land of commercial plenty, the confluence certainly is serving up a feast of merchandise. There are T-shirts saying “8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes” and a coffee mug picturing a turkey with nine burning tail feathers. And then there’s the ceramic menorah in the shape of a turkey — a menurkey, created by 9-year-old Asher Weintraub of New York.

But being more of a do-it-yourselfer, I recycled an old sukkah decoration to create my own Thankgivukkkah centerpiece — the “cornukiyah.”

For the holiday cook trying to blend the two holidays’ flavors, there’s a recipe that calls for turkeys brined in Manischewitz, and I found another for cranberry latkes. But what about a replacement for the now infamous Frankenstein of Thanksgiving cuisine, the turducken? How about a “turchitke,” a latke inside of a chicken inside of a turkey?

For Wolfson, who has largely ignored the merch and wordplay, this year simply is an opportunity to change the script. At his Thanksgiving dinner, he is going combine Chanukah ritual with holiday elements found on, a website that uses American holidays to pass on “stories, values and behaviors.”

Searching the site, I found a “Thanksgiving Service for Interfaith Gatherings” by Rabbi Jack Moline that includes a reading that also could work for Chanukah — a holiday of religious freedom — as it celebrates many of the occupations that “we can do when we are free,” including activist, writer, artist, entrepreneur, even journalist.

For our own celebrations Wolfson, a Fingerhut professor of education at American Jewish University, wants us to consider the similarities of the stories at the heart of each holiday.

“The Pilgrims were escaping religious persecution in Europe. They did not want to be assimilated,” Wolfson said, adding that “the Maccabees were fighting against Hellenization,” another form of assimilation.

Counter to the usual “December dilemma” for the intermarried — whose numbers have increased to 58 percent since 2005, according to the recent Pew study — Wolfson noted the “opportunities and challenges” presented this year by Chanukah and Christmas not coinciding.

“We usually feel the tension between the two holidays,” he said. “This year, we can feel the compatibility of the two.”

The early Chanukah will help people to appreciate its “cultural integrity,” said Wolfson, adding that he “would not be surprised by a spike in candle lighting this year.”

But for others in the Jewish community, the pushing together of the Festival of Lights with Turkey Day has forced other changes, some unwanted.

Rabbi Steven Silver of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, Calif., is canceling his temple’s traditional Friday night Chanukah dinner.

“That holiday weekend will be vacation time, people will be out visiting family and friends,” he said. “The rabbis won’t have anyone in front of them that weekend, and that’s a problem.”

Yet, Silver also has found the confluence has presented an opportunity.

The day before Chanukah, his congregation is planning to attend an interfaith Thanksgiving service at a Catholic church.

“There will between 800 and 900 in attendance, from Buddhists to Sikhs, and three Jewish congregations,” Silver said. “We are planning to bring a 6-foot-high wooden menorah and symbolically light it.”

The holidays overlapping, he said, “are giving us an opportunity to show the miracle.”

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist.

Absurd And Unreal

Dr. Shimon Samuels says Greek anti-Semitism has existed for years.

Dr. Shimon Samuels says Greek anti-Semitism has existed for years.

Whenever there is a profound social or financial crisis, covert anti-Semitism will make its way to the surface.

That was the message Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, delivered regarding the recent vocal surge of anti-Semitic sentiments in Greece, mainly through the Golden Dawn Party, which now hold seats in the Greek Parliament.

But Rabbi Cooper painted a picture that is both strikingly concerning and also improving, one in which there is much anti-Semitic talk (though not much action yet) on the one hand and blossoming Greek-Israel relations on the other. It seems inexplicable, but according to other experts in the field, Rabbi Cooper is painting an accurate picture.

Rabbi Cooper’s colleague, Dr. Shimon Samuels, director of internal relations at the center, has been focused on researching and halting anti-Semitism for the last 40 years, especially in Greece. He told the JT that much of the anti-Semitism (usually covert) in Greece stems from the Greek Orthodox Church.

“The Greek Orthodox Church still has a great deal of anti-Semitic tropes in its language,” said Samuels. “The Greek Church has not gone through a reformation like the Catholic Church.”

In Greece today, he said, there are roughly 4,000 Jews, but at one time, before the Holocaust, there was a vibrant, Greek-Jewish community. The Jews lived mostly in Thessaloniki on the Island of Crete. The Jews were wiped out when Nazi Germany invaded Greece during World War II.

While the first recorded instance of Greek anti-Semitism happened during the Hellenistic period with the story of Chanukah, since then, over the years, there have been highs and lows in terms of how overt versus covert Greek anti-Semitism has been, Samuels said. He talks about how during the 1982 Lebanon War, the Greeks used the language of the Holocaust to describe the conflict in the Middle East and blame the Jews. He noted this was likely because of feelings of guilt among the Greek population, which had been accused of not speaking up on behalf of its Jewish population when the Germans arrived.

“If they can dress the Israelis in the stereotypes of the Nazis, then they can feel, ‘I was not so bad, the Jews are doing the same,’” he said.

Over the years, there have been instances of anti-Semitic acts or hate crimes. For example, in October 2012, vandals spray-painted the Rhode’s Holocaust monument, which was dedicated to the 1,600 victims of the city who had perished at the hands of the Nazis. The public prosecutor, however, took care of the case.

In Samuels’ estimation — and according to Christos G. Failadis, press and communication counselor of the Embassy of Greece in Washington — it is likely that the Golden Dawn Party, which has a swastika-like image as its logo, is getting the acceptance it has because of the current dismal economic situation in Greece and the rise in crime by illegal immigrants. The immigrants are not Jewish, but there is general xenophobia in Greece, Samuels said, and anti-Semitism is coupled with that.

“Golden Dawn [members] will escort elderly Greeks to do their shopping, will help them to take out their money,” said Samuels, explaining that by offering social services, people begin to feel loyal. Likewise, he said, they have taken many of the young adults who are out of work and created a powerful youth movement. His fear: The party is not marginalized, but it is growing. While the anti-Semitism espoused by the party is now nonviolent, Samuels said, “It can and it possibly will [turn violent].”

At that time, the only solution would be for the small number of Greek Jews who still live there to leave.

But Failadis strongly opposes Samuels’ sentiments. He said, “You cannot characterize Greek society as anti-Semitic. That’s absurd and unreal.”

He echoed Samuels’ sentiments in noting that “recently, because of the economic crisis, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party had the chance to collect more votes than expected.” But he said, “Personally, I believe that the neo-Nazi elements assailing democracy and the rule of law will be marginalized by Greek society, which, in its vast majority, deplores intolerance and nonviolence.”

Failadis cited that Jewish and non-Jewish Greeks have lived side-by-side since the 15th century. (Samuels said a recent survey showed that 24 percent of Greeks would refuse to live as the next-door neighbor of a Jew.)

Failadis said he is very proud of Greek-Israeli relations, which have taken leaps forward in the last three years, partly due to the weakening of ties between Israel and Turkey. He told the JT that the deepening of Greek-Israeli relations is based on “the major potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in a number of sectors, including economy, trade, tourism, investments, agricultural development, defense, technology, energy, the environment, shipping and education. The multifaceted cooperation between the two countries is aimed at promoting development and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. This cooperation does not exclude, and is not directed against, any third party, and it is dictated by the multiple security challenges in the region.”

“They have cartoons of Israelis devouring Palestinian children but will welcome the Israelis into their hotels because they bring business,” said Samuels. “This is a mixed relationship.”

Failadis noted the importance of seeing the positive and said, “Look to the future!”

Not Home For Chanukah

Lone soldier Alex Simone celebrates at last year’s FIDF Gala. (Justin Tsucalas)

Lone soldier Alex Simone celebrates at last year’s FIDF Gala.
(Justin Tsucalas)

For Julie August, coping with her son Josh’s decision to move halfway around the world and join the Israeli Defense Forces last year was not easy.

“It would be hard enough to have him serving while I was there,” said August, who lived in Israel for a time before moving to the Baltimore area. “But to have him so far away makes it more difficult.”

According to Friends of the IDF, there are approximately 2,800 immigrant lone soldiers in the Israeli military. These are soldiers without any close family residing in Israel who chose to move there to join the IDF. For these soldiers, money and time constraints make it extremely difficult to travel home to celebrate holidays such as Chanukah and Thanksgiving with their friends or family.

Luckily for the August family, Josh was able to come home for Rosh Hashanah in September. Normally, she said, his absence at Chanukah would not be a major concern, but with this year’s Chanukah-Thanksgiving overlap, his absence will be more poignant.

“For Chanukah it doesn’t really bother me so much, but just seeing the family together, even on a Friday night — because we all get together for Friday night dinner — it’s a little bit difficult,” she said. “It’s not easy.”

When he joined the IDF, Josh also joined Garin Tzabar, an organization that provides support for lone soldiers. The knowledge that her son has a support system and even an adoptive family in Israel, August said, has made the past few months easier, in addition to August’s ability to visit Israel every couple months and stay with family members still living there.

“I bring things for him that remind him of home,” said August, adding that Old Bay, loose tea and coffee are some of his biggest requests.

The Simone family has found a way to fix the hole that the absence of their son, Alex, a lone soldier in the IDF since 2011, has left at the holiday table; they’re taking Thanksgiving to him. Or, at least, they’re trying to.

“We don’t know that we’ll be able to see Alex,” said his father, Vito, who is traveling to Israel at the end of this month to celebrate the holidays with Alex’s adopted kibbutz family. “We’re hoping that we can. We don’t know that he’ll be able to get time away.”

For the Simone family, having a support system of other local families going through the same thing has been crucial.

“We’ve gotten to know other parents of soldiers my son knows. We’ve gotten to know parents of soldiers my son doesn’t know, and we’ve introduced him to the soldiers,” said Simone. “There is an evolution that occurs, and camaraderie between parents.”

In just two generations, the Chattler family has gone from protesting the Vietnam War to serving in two different militaries. Their youngest son, Jordan, is in the Marine Reserves and their middle child, Daniel, is an IDF soldier.

“I’m really proud of them,” said father Zac Chattler. “But there’s always that element of worry.”

With Daniel in the Israeli Air Force, the Chattlers don’t always know where he is or what he is doing, so most of their contact depends on him calling them once a week. There is no guarantee that they will be able to speak with him on Thanksgiving or during Chanukah.

“There’s one less person at the table,” said Zac Chattler.

Even the high taxes placed on goods shipped from the U.S. to Israel are an obstacle for the Chattlers.

“To send Chanukah gifts or something — you really can’t,” said Chattler. “Just to send some homemade cookies or something — just if he needs a new pair of socks or underwear — you can’t send that either.”

Adam Edelman, who went through the trial of having a child in the IDF when his son, Aharon, joined two years ago, said the service was a learning experience for the whole family.

“When I ask him what he learned from the army, he says ‘patience,’” said Edelman. “And what did we, as parents, learn? Parents of a lone soldier have to learn to recognize that you’re not in control of your child anymore. You have to put a little bit more faith in God.”

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter —

Chanukah: Gifted

Traditional though it might be, this year’s Chanukah gift guide is all about, well … Chanukah. We’ve found some of the prettiest, most whimsical Chanukah menorahs, dreidels and Judaica from a variety of Jewish retail establishments about town. Yup! There’s no reason at all to set foot inside a mall. What a relief!

Whether you’re seeking something useful such as a Chanukah menorah or coffee mug, something decorative such as a ceramic dreidel or porcelain figurine or even a keepsake Jewish-themed necklace or earrings for someone you love, count on these local stores to help you with your search. To see more gift ideas, visit the stores or their websites:

Jewish Museum of Maryland Gift Shop, 15 Lloyd St. ( or 410-732-6400)
2910 on the Square, 2910 O’Donnell St. ( or 410-675-8505)
Peace Love Shop ZYZYX!, 2570 Quarry Lake Drive ( or 410-486-9785)

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter —

Chanukah Heros And Villains

Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi said, “Women are obligated to light the Hanukah menorah for they took part in the miracle.” (Shabbat 23a)

Two heroines emerge from the Hanukah story that often get lost in the heroic tales of the Maccabees.

Their names were Judith and Hannah and they also symbolizes the victory of the Jews over the Greeks.
[Read more…]