We took a short break from sending the e-newsletters, because we have been very busy moving and adjusting to New Jersey. Now, just in time for Hanukah, we have really landed, and so we wanted to reach out and share some Hanukah news and Hanukah resources with you. Please keep up with the RabbiDebra.com website and the B'nai Israel website for further information.

In this Hanukah edition:

Hanukah Resources - teachings and meditations from the RabbiDebra.com website to deepen the experience of Hanukah for you and your family.

Can You Hear Me Now? - Greetings of the season from Rabbi Debra

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

Upcoming Dates of Note

Thank you

Hanukah Resources
New this year on the website, suggestions for Family Hanukah celebrations that you can do with a little advanced planning or on the spot.
- What can we do besides light candles and open gifts?
- Please check out the Holidays page for meditations, book & CD recommendations, and other teachings and ideas for the season.

Can You Hear Me Now?
Greetings of the season from Rabbi Debra

I have been teaching in the Congregation Bnai Israel (CBI) Hebrew School since I arrived here a few months ago. It is one of the great joys of my week to connect with these children. They are “normal kids” – which is to say that they have vast wisdom and spiritual insights that adults don’t always take the time to perceive.

This past week, we talked about Hanukah customs. I asked students to describe how their family celebrates, and then I asked a tougher question: What message do you think your parents are trying to send you, with that custom? The answers were inspiring:

By eating the special foods from “the old country” that my grandmother serves, they are telling us that family and tradition are important.

By having us say the blessings, they are saying, “These are holy days, so be holy.”

By giving me less than some other kids, my parents are saying, “We love you, and we don’t want you to be spoiled.” It’s important to appreciate what you get.

When a grandmother teaches her grandchildren to make potato latkes, it says: you are independent enough to do this, and I want you to carry on the family traditions.

We get together with family and friends every night. We light candles, we sing Hanukah songs, we play dreydl. The message is: we’re very Jewish.

On the first night of Hanukah, we celebrate just with my own family. That sends a message that our small team is important. Other nights, we celebrate with extended family, to say that the bigger family is also very important. On the last night, we invite a lot of people, including non-Jewish friends. And we give them latkes. The message is: include everyone.

My parents require that I get a present for my brother, and he has to get one for me. That sends a message: you can be friends and get along.

In my family, we get presents every night, except one: when we choose and wrap presents for kids who don’t have any. The message is: it’s good to get, but it’s even better to give.

Whether you have children or not, these answers are a reminder that there are messages embedded in the way we celebrate Hanukah– to ourselves and to those around us. In addition, other people – and the history and practices of the holiday itself – are sending messages, if we can only pay attention and listen.

In all our season’s greetings, with every gift and every encounter, may we impart what we truly want to say.

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

When we arrived here in New Jersey last summer, a number of congregants cornered me at the first Shabbat oneg to ask me “a very important question: ”Giants or Jets? Having struggled to be a 49ers fan over the past few years, I was a little stuck for an answer. Eventually, I decided to adopt the perennial underdog Jets as “my team.” This answer has gotten a few questionable nods from the many locals to whom I have made this declaration, but I think it has helped me to be accepted. And yet, while I cheer & criticize Sanchez and root for Cromartie & Revis, I continue to wonder at what it means that I have adopted a new team – and a new home. Who am I now? What has changed? And what has not?

In the time of the Maccabees, as the Jews were being pressed to give up their traditions and adopt new practices, they had to weigh the costs of merging completely into the Greek culture& abandoning their very identity and faith. They weren’t just being asked to root for the local chariot-racing champ, they were being asked to change their lives and beliefs in fundamental ways. Because the Greek armies were larger and stronger, the Maccabees had an existential choice to make: remain who they were and likely perish – or see their very way of life and the beliefs they held dear perish for certain. We know the choice they made and the miracles that allowed them to survive and recover. The question of how to be a Jew, though, remains.

At Hanukah I revel in the miraculous aid Jews have received and the joy of demonstrating the survival of our people. As this season “competes” with others’ seasonal traditions, though, I am also always made aware that I am a minority in a very popular dominant culture. As a Jew, how much do I cling to ancient ritual at the expense of missing attractive “mainstream” activities? As an American and a local resident, how much do I embrace the dominant culture at the risk of losing touch with core beliefs? If the 49ers played the Jets next week, whom would I root for?

It is questions like these, particularly the openness/stricture debate, that keep me engaged in spiritual dialogue. They also provide me with a window into my evolving identity. Thankfully, being in this conversation brings me a sense of vitality I always identify as Jewish, and, like the Hanukah candles of this week, fills me with warmth and light. Chag urim sameach.

Upcoming Dates of Note

Sunday, December 5:
De-Lightful Hanukah Program - Open to All Families

Join Debra from 10 AM to 11:30 AM for a de-lightful Hanukah Program at Congregation Bnai Israel , 53 Palisade Ave., Emerson, NJ. Special guests, Richard and Treasure Cohen. Master educators and entertainers, will engage adults and kids of all ages with songs, crafts, tzedakah, food, and a puppet show unlike any you have seen! Debra, Cantor Lenny Mandel, and Religious School students will assist with an educational and fun “mock candlelighting.” This is an opportunity to meet new friends and bring home lasting Hanukah memories.

Admission is free. Everyone is kindly requested to bring a new or gently used children’s book to be donated to School on Wheels, an organization serving children in homeless shelters.

Monday, December 6:
Is the Gift-Giving Season Spoiling Your Kids — or Your Joy?

Debra leads an ecumenical discussion on this topic at Sertino's Cafe, 27 Kinderkamack Rd., Emerson, NJ. More info at: CBI at Sertino's.

Click on the CD's above for more information on audio teachings you can have with you at home or on your way.


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Chag Urim Sameach,
Debra & Craig