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E-Newsletter, Hanukah!
December 06, 2015

Happy Hanukah!

In This Issue:

All Kinds of Freedom - A message from Rabbi Debra.

8 Exciting Ways to Increase Freedom - a reading & activity for each night of the holiday.

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin.

Give/Get - an approach to Hanukah you can implement.

Gelt and Gifts - easy to order - there's still time to ship!

Calendar - classes and appearances.

Staying In Touch - With thanks to our subscribers.

All Kinds of Freedom
A Message from Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Hanukah is commonly considered a holiday of freedom. The Maccabees fought for freedom from oppression and, more than that, freedom to practice their Judaism. They wanted to study Torah and observe Shabbat freely and openly. At this time of year, we often talk about the light of freedom, as well as the lights of the Hanukah Menorah.

On Passover, we remember the bitterness of slavery, and we question how and why the world – and we ourselves – are not yet free. The Hagaddah states: “today we are slaves,” and then adds, yearningly, “next year, may we be free.”

By contrast, Hanukah is more light-hearted (pun intended) on the theme of freedom. We revel in our freedom! Jewish law dictates: don’t even think about working in front of those Hanukah candles. As Hanukiyot in windows announce the miracle of the long-lasting oil, they also signal the freedom of religion that we enjoy. We can put those candles in our windows without any fear of oppression or reprisal. We are free!

Yet, too many people around the world – approximately 36 million – can literally say: “today we are slaves.” Even if we cannot free them all right now, we can do something significant. We can raise awareness and funds to alleviate their plight. We can buy fair trade chocolate gelt and fair trade winter wear []. We can personally contribute our own tzedakah money to Free the Slaves. We can yearn, and we can offer hope: “next year, may they be free.”

This e-newsletter provides a link to a new Hanukah resource I created – eight short activities and readings about contemporary slavery and its connections to Hanukah – all full of light, hope, and even fun. Please use, enjoy, and share them.

May this truly be a Festival of Freedom for all!

8 Exciting Ways to Increase Freedom - a reading & activity for each night of the holiday.

Please read and enjoy this new Hanukah resource.

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

Our cantor gave us a beautiful blown-glass menorah. It’s large and delicate, burning oil, not candles, and it glistens and glows in the dancing light. It’s a fabulous piece of art in its own right. It towers above the other Hanukah menorahs on our living room window shelf, mostly made by our kids. There are a couple made of metal nuts glued onto painted dowels on a 2x4. There’s one – another gift – fashioned out of characters from the Noah’s Ark story – and another one made of brass in a sort of modern art shape. They’re all equally great to me. We don’t pick. We light them all. By the eighth night our front window looks almost like a bonfire. I keep a close watch.

Generally speaking, I don’t go in for ostentatious shows of religion. Whose business is it anyway? I don’t want to see somebody’s cross necklace, and I’m not drawn to announce my Judaism with a Magen David necklace or stickers on my car. As a Jew in a diverse but largely Christian culture, I’ve never felt a special need to express my “otherness” with overt symbolism. In everyday life I’ve always felt that religion is a personal thing, something you practice privately and within your community. But at certain times my attitude flips.

For the last few years I’ve joined the happy hoards on Fifth Avenue for the Israel Day parade. This demonstration is as much a show of solidarity as a sign to non-Jews who see me. Given the state of the world today and the threats and prejudice heaped against Israel, the Jewish homeland requires active support. I feel it as an urgent, contemporary duty.

Celebrating Hanukah is something else. It’s an ancient exercise in freedom, urgent in a different way. It’s not only the appreciation of a concept; it’s the celebration of action. It places us at the head of a long line not just of tradition and ritual but of survival in the face of prejudice and persecution. Lighting our Hanukiot in the window is a way of saying we’re still here, we’re alive – as we’ve been through the ages, and we are thriving like these growing, dancing flames.

Give/Get - an approach to Hanukah you can implement.

Give/Get was begun by a group of four families in my home congregation, B'nai Israel in Emerson, New Jersey. It can be made up of people who are friends already and self-select or of folks who are assigned to a group within a synagogue or neighborhood. On every other night of Hanukah (e.g., the first, third, fifth, and seventh nights), families get together for candle lighting, blessings, food, songs, presents, games or other child-centered activities. On each of the other nights, one of the Give/Get families organizes a hands-on mitzvah for all four families to do together. This balances getting with giving and helps to promote gratitude and communal connections for both adults and children.

Of course, you can adapt this idea - meet fewer times, create larger groups, enjoy just one hands-on mitzvah night during Hanukah, have everyone meet at the synagogue and then divide families into smaller groups there, etc.

For suggestions and tips from the four families who originated this idea, please email with a request for information, and the families will send you resource sheets that you can use, adapt, and/or distribute to congregants & students.

Please click here for an article about Give/Get, published in the "Times of Israel."

Gelt and Gifts - easy to order - there's still time to ship!

Fair Trade Hanukah Gelt
Approximately 70% of cacao beans around the world are picked by slaves. If you are not eating fair trade chocolate, then you are probably eating slave trade chocolate. Click here to order fair-trade gelt, wholesale or retail, and make the Festival of Freedom even more free.

HANUKAH GIFTS – there is still time to download or even to ship!
Order Rabbi Debra's books or CD's from our store page, and we'll send them right out first class. Or download audio directly from iTunes.

Rabbi Debra's Speaking Calendar

Wednesday, January 20, 2016, 12-2pm at Jewish Federation, 50 Eisenhower Drive Paramus, NJ 07652 – Leaving a Legacy for the Next Generation: Spiritual & Practical Approaches. This will include a workshop component on writing ethical wills. RSVP to

Rabbi Debra will be teaching several adult education classes locally, and several scholar-In-Residence bookings are currently pending for the coming year. Please check in regularly on our Calendar page for updates and additions.

Would you like to bring Rabbi Debra to your community? Peruse topics and more at her Scholar-In-Residence page.

Staying in Touch - With thanks to our subscribers

Please be in touch via e-mail with any comments or questions about the newsletter, the teaching CD's, or any resources on the website.

We always appreciate any positive reviews you might leave on iTunes, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Thank you for all your interest and support.

Have a happy and liberating Hanukah!

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