Thursday, December 18, 2014

8 ingredients for the Best Hanukkah Ever

Whether you’ve got a gaggle of kids or an empty nest, whether your hanukkiyah (Hanukkah menorah) is lit up by candles or oil or electricity, whether you prefer applesauce or sour cream, here are 8 kosher ingredients that will light up your home this week.

          Latkes:          Awe
We eat latkes, not to remember Irish potato farmers, but to remember the miracle of the oil. Sufganiyot (Israeli jelly donuts) also quality. A miracle is an event that points us toward awe. At Hanukkah, we are in awe of many things: the oil that lasted for 8 nights, the victory of the weak over the mighty, the amazing fact that oil burns at all! Take a few moments to think of and share something that fills you with awe. Savor it.

       Gelt:               Generosity
While we may associate “gelt” with (bad) chocolate, the coins were once a holiday tip for the local laborers. Before we had gift giving, Hanukkah was a time for tsedaka and other acts of generosity. Some families dedicate (at least) one night of Hanukkah to tsedaka: choosing a cause for a Hanukkah contribution, donating a toy to a needy child, serving at a soup kitchen or food pantry. 

3.    Lights in the window:       Courage
The Hanukkah lights are meant to be displayed to the world. In some places and times in the past, it took courage simply to shine the lights where the (non-Jewish) neighbors could see. For some of us, Hanukkah is a time when we dare to be different. For some of us, we need courage to stand up for what we believe in. Do something courageous this Hanukkah. One new idea: add a #BlackLivesMatter message to your Hanukkiyah and share a photo online.

4.    Blessings:    Gratitude
A blessing is a public acknowledgement of gratitude. We recite our blessings out loud so that others hear them and know how grateful we are. In addition to the blessings over the candles, what other ways can you express gratitude? Write a thank you note, instead of an email. Call someone to tell them how grateful you are for their love/friendship/help/support. Thank the next person you see for any good reason at all.

    Music:            Pleasure
Contrary to popular opinion, the Dreidl Song is not the height of Jewish Hanukkah music. And Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights”  is already a throwback. Whatever kind of music gives you pleasure, enjoy and share!
  • *      Listen or sing along to Ma’oz Tzur, Peter Paul & Mary’s “Light One Candle” and all the old favorites in Hebrew, Yiddish and English.
  • *      Sing a Ladino song: Ocho Kandelikas by Flory Jagoda.
  • *      Listen to the best Hanukah music ever from The Leevees.
  • *      Enjoy a little classical music: “Judas Maccabeus,” an oratorio by Handel (who wrote a lot more than “The Messiah”).

       Silence:         Silence
‘Nuf said?

      People:          Kindness/Compassion
A lot of us get together with family and friends on Hanukkah. Enjoy their company! Imagine that you are meeting them for the first time, and let go of any old grudges, high (or low) expectations, or complaints. Find out something you never knew about them before. Smile/Laugh/Cry with them.
Not everyone has family nearby or friends who share Hanukkah with them. Think about a person who is likely to be alone this week and invite them to be with you. (contact Benita if you’d like a temple directory to help you reach out).

       Dreidl:            Joy
Hanukkah can’t be all serious. Have fun. (Remember: Being Jewish is fun! Especially on Hanukkah.)

Wishing you a delicious Hanukkah of awe, generosity, courage, gratitude, pleasure, silence, kindness and joy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Light the Inner Light

The few overcoming the many, the weak prevailing over the mighty—the victory of the Maccabees is extolled in miraculous terms. We have seen similar miracles in our own day.

While we live in a time of darkness, when the concentration of wealth in the hands of a powerful few seems unassailable, when political solutions to everyday problems seem unreachable, and when fighting for basic rights seems unavoidable, a candle of hope pierces the doom.

I have met workers who have risked everything they have in order to win benefits for their coworkers. I watched a hotel housekeeper enter the Hyatt shareholder’s meeting in a Chicago hotel ballroom and stand up to tell her truth. I have stood by Doubletree hotel workers who protested in the cold to make their case known to Harvard University. I have been in awe of their strength, faith and courage.

And they have won. In 2013 the Hyatt workers won good contracts for those in union hotels across the country. In 2014, the Hyatt 100 in Boston received compensation five years after they were fired. Also this year, the workers at Le Meridien Hotel in Cambridge won their first contract after a long boycott. The few overcame the many and the weak prevailed over the mighty. We might add, the poor shamed the wealthy.

These individuals stood up for their rights with a deep faith and unfathomable courage. They had so much to lose: their jobs, their health, their families’ security. Yet they stood together, they persevered, they refused to give up. On Hanukkah, let’s celebrate all the Maccabees, in ancient days as in our own, who carried the light within their hearts that led to miraculous victories.

As poet Charles Reznikoff wrote in his poem, “Hanukkah,”

The miracle, of course, was not that the oil for the sacred light--
in a little cruse--lasted as long as they say;
but that the courage of the Maccabees lasted to this day:
let that nourish my flickering spirit.
(From Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays)

May your Hanukkah bring light to the darkness in your life!
Rabbi Barbara Penzner

For the New England Jewish Labor Committee 8 Nights of Hanukkah

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What Next For Justice?

Two events have rocked the lives of many in our community and our country over the past ten days. First, the failure of the grand jury to indict Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and then yesterday, the failure of another grand jury to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in New York; they have ignited fear, anger, sorrow, grief, confusion, and hopelessness. For anyone who is African American or knows African American men and boys, these decisions confirm a painful experience that their lives don’t matter. However, it is incumbent on all of us to acknowledge that pain, whether it affects us personally or not. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are symbols who have galvanized an historic movement toward justice and equity that we cannot, and should not ignore.

At issue is not whether the grand jury decision was racist or flawed. While we could expend energy debating how a grand jury reaches its conclusion, the two cases raise a larger question that has implications for all Americans:  what is wrong with a justice system that leads people of color to be afraid of the police while white people feel safe and protected?  I urge you to consider any interaction you might have had with a police officer, whether a traffic cop or a cop on the beat. Did you feel safe? Did you feel harassed? Did you walk away with a warning? Did you fear being beaten, or worse?

The stark and often horrifying contrast between the experience of whites and people of color when faced with any representative of the criminal justice system demonstrates the sad truth that the system is far from just. While we might claim that the practitioners of that system are following the rules, we need to ask whether the rules themselves are flawed. What is just about a system that leads to the exoneration of a man for a death that the medical examiner deemed a homicide? Is it acceptable to give the officer the benefit of the doubt, without the rigorous scrutiny of a trial, simply by virtue of his badge? Should we perhaps hold that officer to an even higher standard, given his duty to protect and defend citizens? Where does justice go from here?

In troubled times, I turn to the ancient words of the prophet Micah:

It has been told you, O mortal, what is good, and what the Eternal requires of you—Only this: to act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.              (Micah 6:8)

Act justly (mishpat):  to follow the rule of law.
In Jewish tradition, the rule of law (mishpat) is fundamental to civil society. The Rabbis teach that the establishment of laws goes back to Noah, who lived in a lawless world and sought to remake society after the flood. Yet, establishing laws is not sufficient. We are also called to pursue justice, tzedek tzedek tirdof, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”  (Deut.16:20). This verse enshrines the principle that we must be extra vigilant to create a system of just laws. When laws are unjust, it is our sacred obligation to challenge and change them.

Love mercy (hesed):  to treat each human being with loving care
No matter what our opinion about current events, we are also called to feel compassion for those who are suffering. Where an individual or community is experiencing injustice, pain, and loss, we have a sacred obligation to show them love.  These events may seem far away to some of us. But the sorrow and hopelessness these decisions have aroused throbs in the hearts of people who are very close to us. They matter to us and we need to let them know that we care.

Walk humbly (with your God):  to respond in a way that brings holiness
Both justice and mercy must be rooted in profound humility. As human beings, created in the divine image, we cannot know the whole truth. We cannot discern the heart of another. To be godly is to act as our best selves. That godliness was the source of Gandhi’s power and Martin Luther King’s influence. We have a long road ahead to make systemic change. Our sacred duty is transformation, not confrontation. That lofty goal requires steady, intentional and loving pursuit of justice.  May we be given the strength, courage, and mutual support to see our world transformed in the name of justice, mercy, and all that is godly.