Sunday, November 28, 2010


“Oh Chanukah, O Chanukah.. Let’s light the menorah,” and depending on which of my classes version you believe either dance the hora or move to Flor’da… This past week at school the students have been practicing for yearly Chanukah performance at the local nursing homes and for our own gathering at the synagogue. The students are excited. I am excited. We’ re planning to bake red velvet cupcakes for the Rabbi’s party this year, and of course, we are making latkes.

And while on some level I don’t think I need to say this, on another I am reminder that I do. Last year someone handed the Rabbi a page explaining Chanukah as the “Jewish X-mass” at just such an event. (Why someone thought the Rabbi needed notes to talk about the festival is maybe another discussion.) These well meaning notes (being generous here) were provided by a nice adult, Jewish girl via her new, also I assume nice, Jewish boyfriend. The problem seemed to be that they were downloaded from the Internet and, I am guessing, not read carefully. There is a lot of misinformation on line, as I am sure you know. And not just about Chanukah. Though more recently I have received a number of ads on line such as “Star of David” tree toppers and “Discount Jewish Rosary Beads”. Now I admit I am on-line a lot more than I once was, so this may not be as new a development as I believe, and I also admit that not all practices are exactly the same, but I was a little confused.

Chanukah, the festival of lights, celebrates the miracle of the oil lasting eight days and the joy that we survived and thrived in the face of adversity. It reminds us, without a doubt, who we are, and what we believe, and the wisdom not to let others dictate or change this in anyway. Judaism doesn’t bend to the will of popular culture or outside influence. And how many things can you say that about?

Given the opportunity, we should remind not only our children of the complete story, of course, and what that means to us today. But additionally, each time we hear misinformation, please take a moment, if we can, to address it, in comments on blogs and info/news pages or letters to the editor. These comments don’t have to be hostile-think of it as an opportunity to address another the spirit of teaching. One wouldn’t yell at a child for what they didn’t know, only seek to help them learn. Also helpful is sending a corresponding link or resource. This way, one can use shorter answers and not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ as the saying goes.

Understandably, we cannot always spend our time explaining and explaining to various and sundry people. Especially considering that some people, particularly in real time, are not always as receptive as we might wish. I do not, on every occasion that I am wished a “Merry X-mass” go on to explain that I am Jewish, that we do not celebrate X-mass, and so on. Sometimes, I just reply with what I hope is an innocuous, “Have a nice holiday.”

Language is telling. When we want to explain a subject we say we want to “shed a little light” on it; When we want to reveal something hidden, we talk about “bringing it to light”; when someone demonstrates understanding, we say they “see the light.”
Hoping the light and warmth of Chanukah are with you the whole yearlong.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Faults and weaknesses

If there is one thing I am good at its procrastination. In fact, you could say I’m practiced. In evidence, the Rabbi and I are heading out for our first vacation in a while. Not just yet, thank G-d, because I haven’t packed. I don’t like to over pack and the weather is iffy, so…that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Like anyone, it’s one thing for me to say it and another for someone else to point it out to me. Don’t believe me? Try it one time-with someone else of course! All silliness aside, how quick are we to point out other’s foibles and perceived faults and yet we are so sensitive, so merciful with ourselves. And I say perceived faults because, how often we are wrong in our judgments!

Recently, a young woman in New Castle, PA lost her child to social services. She tested positive for drugs after eating an everything bagel hours before the birth, which of course includes poppy seeds. I couldn’t help but notice that the article paraphrased the state law as the hospital being allowed to test anyone they “suspect” may be a drug user. What made her, and not someone else, “suspect”? The Talmud says, "The one who disparages does so from his own weakness" (Kiddushin 70a). One has to wonder at the situation. What bias, judgement, or presieved short falling caused her to be suspected, and not retested and questioned before her child was removed from her home. And as a “danger” why was her child in her home?

Another tragic figure, in NY, is of the young man from Rutger’s University who jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death, after being secretly taped during sex and having it broadcast live over the Internet. His two tormentors, Dharun Ravi and Molly W. Wei, had done this before on two separate occasions, and not with this student! We should be reminded that the Tulmud warns us against shaming someone; that it is the equal of murder! Rashi goes as far as to compare the two by siting the color draining out of one’s face during embarrassment as though one’s blood where draining from the body. The Rurtger’s student was gay and, it is believed, that was why they tormented him. Certainly, this fact has something to do with blaming the victim in the court of public option. There are hundreds, even thousands of other examples.

"A fool indicts others, looking for their faults and attributing weaknesses to them. He will never speak the praises of others or positive attributes they might possess. He is similar to the flies who hover around dirty places"(Rabeinu Yona, Gates of Repentance 3:217). How often do we find ourselves making criticisms, harming someone’s reputation? Do we disparage others? And if so, to what end? Are we in the habit of shaming others? And when we hear these types of remarks, do we remember to consider what it says about the source to be making them? Even Mr. Phil, while not my favorite TV personality, accurately reminds his viewers, “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.” Maybe it is best to direct our judgments inwardly-at least then we will remember to be fair, sensitive and maybe even accurate!

It might be in our best interest to pack up these habits, as I am going to pack for vacation, and not as eventually.