Archive for the '2 Hanukah' Category

Another Woman’s March: Between Purim and Chanukah

A few months ago there was a big tumult regarding the Women’s March of Washington. Three of the four lead organizers had attended events hosted by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made a living off of making antisemitic remarks.  Perceptions that the leaders of the Women’s March had failed to condemn the rhetoric and subsequent accusations of antisemitism within the organization itself led to former co-founder Teresa Shook to call for their resignations and were followed by the disassociation of numerous state chapters. By December 2018, The New York Times reported that “charges of antisemitism are now roiling the movement and overshadowing plans for more marches.”

Questions about alleged antisemitism connected to the Women’s March organizers have swirled for months in response to an article in online Jewish magazine Tablet. While the organizers had repeatedly denied all accusations of misconduct or using inappropriate speech, the issue resurfaced when two of the March’s organizers appeared on “The View”. During the show, March co-president Tamika Mallory was asked why she posted a photo of herself and Louis Farrakhan on Instagram with a caption indicating her adulation of this hatemonger. “I didn’t call him the greatest of all time because of his rhetoric,” Mallory responded. “I called him the greatest of all time because of what he’s done in black communities.” Pressed on the issue, Mallory said, “I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements,” but when asked directly if she condemned them, she demurred. “I don’t agree with these statements,” Mallory responded. “It’s not my language, it’s not the way that I speak, it’s not how I organize … I should never be judged through the lens of a man.”

Image result for tamika on the view

What are the implications of judging a woman through the lens of a man? What is the right lens to judge a person who brings on a foe as an ally? What are the implications of a cause that I find to be just even if the allies brought together to support this cause are deplorable?

There were many voices in the Jewish community who were so triggered by the larger context of rising antisemitism that they could not see through that to the importance of the cause of the March. While I deeply appreciate the sensitivity to an association with Farrakhan being too much, I am curious about those who were against the March on the merits of it not reaching their standards of a purity of allyship. It has been noted by others that it’s a pernicious privilege to demand that a group of revolutionaries trying to make change a system maintain a purity of who they ally with for their cause.

This privilege makes sense from the perspective of Chanukah. That is to say that the Hashmonaim were revolutionaries who were fighting for their lives.  After the Maccabees beat their enemy and rededicated the Temple they found one cruse of pure oil for the Menorah. This oil was enough to last for one day, but it lasted for eight days, which was enough time for them to produce more pure oil. To the Maccabees this miracle was proof that God approved and sanctioned their military efforts. This notion of purity got expanded by the Rabbis future celebration of Chanukah. We learn:

Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Chanukah [demands] one light for a man and his household;  and the mehadrin- more beautiful [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the mehadrin of the mehadrin – Bet Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;  but Bet Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. (Shabbat 21b)

The most beautiful expression of this ritual is when everyone shows off the purity of God’s sanctioning the Maccabees fight against the Greeks.

This paradigm of Chanukah stands juxtaposed Purim. Similar to the Maccabees with the Greeks, Esther and Mordechai were fighting the existential threat of Haman. Both holidays tell the stories of a small group of people uniting to defeat the bloodthirsty forces of a much larger and more powerful oppressor. But where Chanukah represents an aesthetic of Jewish purity over Hellenistic physical beauty, Esther represents the opposite. She only became the queen by winning a beauty pageant. Esther uses her beauty to save her people, and most importantly to our discussion here, to do this holy work she made some interesting allies. Throughout her efforts he relies on the eunuchs. For a community that has not historically looked on intermarriage so positively we are all too happy to overlook her relationship with Ahashverosh. The strangeness of who she portrays as her ally comes to head in her second banquet with Haman and Ahashverosh. There we read:

Queen Esther replied: “If Your Majesty will do me the favor, and if it pleases Your Majesty, let my life be granted me as my wish, and my people as my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated. Had we only been sold as bondmen and bondwomen, I would have kept silent; for the adversary is not worthy of the king’s trouble.” Thereupon King Ahashverosh demanded of Queen Esther, “Who is he and where is he who dared to do this?”“The adversary and enemy,” replied Esther, “is this evil Haman!” And Haman cringed in terror before the king and the queen. The king, in his fury, left the wine feast for the palace garden, while Haman remained to plead with Queen Esther for his life; for he saw that the king had resolved to destroy him. When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet room, Haman was lying prostrate on the couch on which Esther reclined. “Does he mean,” cried the king, “to ravish the queen in my own palace?” No sooner did these words leave the king’s lips than Haman’s face was covered. (Esther 7:3-8)

Esther only request is the she and her people not be killed. She would not have bothered him if they were “just” enslaved. The King only acts when he perceives that Haman, who has been courted by Esther to these exclusive banquets, is trying to have sex with his wife in his palace. This seems incredibly strange that this is what provokes action and not his trusted adviser wanting to kill his queen or commit genocide. Ahashverosh is only moved to action when he sees his wife taking a strange bed-fellow.

Both Chanukah and Purim are stories of revolution and salvation. But while Chanukah is a story of purity, Esther is a story of persistence. Esther does whatever it takes to be successful, including using her beauty and not her purity to make strange bed-fellows. While people can still chose a Chanukah lens over a Purim lens to critique revolutionary activity, it should be mentioned that the Hashmonaim were roundly criticized by the Rabbis and were similar to today’s Taliban killing many brothers in name of ritual purity.  It was only after the privilege of winning that the Maccabees would claim that their fratricide was pure.

Coming back to our times we need to say clearly that women’s rights are truly in danger and we need to come together to fight this good fight. While Farrakhan and the larger rise of antisemitism is horrifying and needs to be blotted out, I think we need to be more understanding that revolutions by design get messy. Before we judge the leaders of the Women’s March too harshly in light of the Chanukah story, we need to see that their “misconduct or using inappropriate speech” might just be these women taking a chapter from Esther’s original Women’s March.

Purim Sameakh- Have a revolutionary holiday.

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Higher Level: Chanuka, Light, Reconciliation, and Unity

The other night Yishama and I were driving back from his basketball game at night. We were on our way home to light candles for Chanuka. I asked him what he was learning in school. He shared with me that he was learning the machloket in Shabbat between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel as for how we should light the Chanuka candles. There we read:

Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household; and those who will beautify the mitzvah [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and those who really will go all out and beautify the mitzvah,-Beit Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced; but Bet Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. (Shabbat 21b)

Yishama recalled the principle that we follow Hillel to increase candles because we should elevate to a higher level in matters of sanctity and not decreased.  Amidst this dark time it is hard to understand the rationale for Beit Shammai?

Image result for menorah first night

Beit Shammai’s opinion is that the number of lights corresponds to the bulls of the festival of Sukkot: Thirteen were sacrificed on the first day and each succeeding day one fewer was sacrificed (Numbers 29:12–31). On simple level the Maccabees missed Sukkot during their war and rebooted the holiday when they could. This left us with a holiday with Sukkot‘s footprint in the middle of winter. But I think that there is a deeper level still to this.

Too often we choose to remember Chanuka as a story of the small Jewish soldiers defeating the much larger Greek army. It seems closer to the facts that the unrest was actually a civil war between Jews who were aligned to the Temple tradition and Jews who had aligned to the Greeks. The miracle of the Chanuka lights is not just that the small army beat the larger one, or that a small amount of oil lasted for 8 days, but that we could reconcile a civil war. In light of this reading of history I think that Beit Shammai’s tradition makes a whole lot of sense. Yes, Beit Hillel is right that it is dark out, but as the holiday moves on we move from 8 groups or factions to one group. By the end of Beit Shammai’s Chanuka we are left with a real vision of unity.

I think about the significance of Beit Shammai’s message at this moment in history while we find ourselves embroiled in fierce political discord and irreconcilable cultural difference in our Jewish and American communities. If by the end of Beit Shammai’s celebration we reunified our community, surely even Beit Hillel would agree that we would have elevated to a higher level in matters of sanctity and not decreased.

A Light in the Dark: Thoughts on Hanukkah and Christmas

As I write this, there is a lot of negative energy in the world. There seems a force asking people to draw lines, point out differences, and make more divisions in the world. In this Holiday season I prefer to see through it all and look for the things that connect us.  To this end I find myself looking for what the story of Hanukkah and the story of Christmas have in common.

In the book of Matthew they read:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

Having seem the sign of the star the Magi came from the east looking for baby Jesus. They came because this gave them hope for the future. It is interesting to compare this discovery to the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Chanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil that was in the Temple. And when the rulers of the House of Hashmonean succeeded in gaining the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were established and made into festive days of Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

Looking for holiness in the rubble of the reclaimed Temple, the rebels found one small jar of oil with the seal intact. They took the fact that this oil lasted for eight days as a sign of the holiness of their reclamation of Temple. Like the Magi they saw in this oil hope for the future.

I think about this in the still of the night in the darkest time of the year. It might be hard to relate to this in our modern lives which are filled with light, but can you imagine trying to find something in the dark in a time before electric lights or even before gas lights? It must have really been a needle in a hay stack.

The adage goes, “If you do not know where you going you will never be lost”. It follows from this idea that if you do not know what you are looking for you will never find it. It is tempting in the dark times to grow complacent, but now more than ever we need to do the hard work of discovering and rediscovering hope. In the case of the Magi as in the case of Hashmoneans they both knew what they were looking for even if it was needle in a hay stack. We should all be blessed to know for what we are looking. In these dark times we need to be looking for a sign and we need to be looking out for each other. We all just need to find a light in the dark.

-Reposted from the Canteen

 

Letter to the President from My 10 Year-Old Son

Getting invited to the White House for a Hanukkah party tonight prompted a great conversation over the weekend with Yadid. I am proud that he had the idea of writing the President a letter. I am honored to serve as his shaliach, emissary. I am curious what kind of response he will get. No matter what it is a great lesson in civics. Happy Hanukkah to everyone and here is the letter from Yadid to President Obama.

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for inviting my parents to your Hanukkah Reception. You are a amazing person and great president, so I will say it again Thank you. Here are a few questions I would like to ask you.

1. I’m honored that you hosted this reception, But why do it when we are only 2.11% of the american population?

2. What can I do to help this racial divide in our country?

3. What are your hopes and fears for the next administration?

Sincerely,

Yadid Frydman

Orlow P.S I’m 10 years

old.

Being Present for a Difficult Topic

Two week’s ago in the Torah portion we saw Yaakov give Yosef a coat of many colors. While this special gift was supposed to be an expression of love between a father and a son, for his brothers it was a sign of Yaakov’s unfairly favoring Yosef. This led them to sell Yosef into slavery. In our Torah portion this week Yosef is finally reunited with Yaakov. It is interesting to note that he is not interested in any more presents, only his father’s presence. Last week we celebrated Chanukah and we very deliberate to get each of our children presents that they would enjoy that spoke of our love for them. Kindles so they could read and play. After this senseless shooting, the gift was out of my mind and all I could think about was wanting to be present for my children.

Like many other parents, Adina and I spent the weekend deliberating what we should tell our children about the horrific shootings this past Friday. The school in Sandy Hook Elementary is about an hour away from our children’s school in Connecticut. We both knew that there was nothing really to talk about with Emunah (3) and Yishama (6), but what could be hope to say to Yadid (8) about the death of so many precious innocents? This past Monday night when  I got home I pulled Yadid into the kitchen to talk with him in private. I asked him what they talked about at school that day. He reported to me what the school had communicated to us the were going to messaged to him verbatim. I was happy. I asked him what he was thinking about, what he was feeling, and if he had any questions. Yadid said that was sad for what happened, but he wanted to talk “when the kids were not around.”While we did get to talk about it later, I am still moved at his sensitivity. Evidently Adina and I are not the only ones who was thinking about what the right way is to talk about such a difficult topic.

There were many ways of communicating our love to our children and many ways of helping  them deal with a crisis. In the end no presents will replace a long hug and being completely present in the moment.

A Better Yehudah

What is the story of Hanukah? Simply put by the Gemara,  the Greeks oppressed the Jews who revolted. The Hasmoneans were successful and reclaimed their Temple. When cleaning the defiled Temple they discovered one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest. This was sufficient for one day’s light. A miracle occurred and it lasted for 8 days.

It is interesting to reflect on the simple plot of Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. As the second in command to Pharaoh during the drought, Yosef is living out his dream ( see Vayeshev)of having his brothers bow down to him seeking food. Yosef has Benyamin framed for stealing Yosef’s cup. Benyamin is the only full brother of Yosef, sharing both mother and father. Yosef wants to see if his brothers ever learned a lesson from almost killing him and selling him into slavery. When the hidden cup is revealed Yehudah steps forward to take responsibility for his brother. In the case of Yosef, Yehudah missed the chance to lead his brothers and almost lost his identity during the story of Tamar (with his staff and ring). But, here with Benyamin the “pure” brother, Yehudah overcomes his deep sense of guilt and steps forward, returns to his position of leadership, and unifies his family.

In this light, we see an interesting critique of the simple story of the  Hasmoneans. Seeing Hanukah as simply a story of Greeks versus the Jews and the discovery of a pure vessel of oil overlooks the civil war. Hanukah was also the story of the Jews versus the Hellenized Jews. The Hashmoaneans led by another Yehudah tried to unify the Jewish people, but that came with making Jews conform to their standards of Jewish life.The Hasmoneans  unlike Yosef’s brothers were actually guilty of fratricide. How might finding a cruse of oil clean their brother’s blood off of their hands?

As we stand there with our families lighting our Hanukah candles take a moment and realize that all families have their issues and their challenges. I can only hope that in the light of Hanukah and Miketz, we do not miss the simple message that we need to emulate the first Yehudah and not the second. Our immediate  and larger families need us to be selfless in the name of unity and not conformity. We need to look deep within ourselves and challenge the bad feelings we have for people who live different lives then our own. Simple acts of compassion these “estranged family members” can ignite the flame of redemption and reveal a better world.

 

 

An Educational Chanukah

In Hebrew we translate the word education as chinuch, but the reverse is not true. Chinuch cannot be translated simply into English as education. Proverbs instructs us Chanuch [same root as Chinuch]LaNaar al Pi Darko – to “Initiate a child in his way so when the child is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Alternatively, when you move into a new house, you would invite people over to join you in celebrating a Chanukat[same root as Chinuch]HaBayit,a dedication of your new house. I am thinking about this  today in that it is the 1st day of Chanukah[same root as Chinuch] -itself the holiday when we celebrate the rededication of Temple by the Hasmoneans. As we learn from Rashi – the premier Medieval Rabbinic Commentator – “the root ChaNaCh [same root as Chinuch] means the beginning  of the entry of a person or an implement into the craft in which he/it is destined to stay” (Rashi on Genesis 14:14). It follows that Chinuch– Jewish education – is truly about dedication and initiation.

Any of you who know me know that I  believe in camp. It is not just that I think camp is a lot of fun, camp has the potential to a place of serious Jewish education. Camp is a special learning environment with a very tight “learning loop”, holistic cycle where the camper pays attention to the counselor because the camper wants to follow the counselor’s example and join the camp’s staff in the near future. In this sense the chanichim [same root as Chinuch]– campers- are truly initiates to the larger learning project of camp. But ultimately the goal of camp is not just to train the next generation of madrichim– counselors, it is about preparing the next generation.  Ideally every camper is a future staff member who in turn will be an active member of the Jewish community and productive member of society.

The true nature of fire is that it can spread without diminishing itself. In so many ways Chanukah is not about the rededication of the temple, rather it is about the rededication of our selves. It is the mission of the Foundation for Jewish Camp to bring more chanichim to camp so they can spread that light to the world. Who knew no much education could happen around a camp fire?

– This is the product of a conversation I had this week with Jeremy Fingerman, the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, in preparation for the FJC Board Meeting this coming week.


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