Welcome to our Hanukah issue.

In this edition:
New Light

The Best of Hanukah: Recommended Resources

Eight Ideas for Eight Nights

Neshama Carlebach Returns!

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

More Great Hanukah Gifts

The Gratitude Project

New Light
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Recently, I phoned a few colleagues, who happen to be subscribers, to discuss the e-newsletter, as well as prospective scholar-in-residence appearances. I wanted to ask what would prove most useful for Hanukah. For all the convenience and ease of electronic communication, it misses the human element. The voice-to-voice feedback I received was both kind and wise, and it has shaped what you receive here, in this Hanukah edition of the e-newsletter.

Rabbi Michael Zedek suggested a greater focus on the historical background and meaning of the holiday. He encouraged introducing materials that would steer families away from commercialism and excess, back to the core values of Hanukah. Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg echoed those ideas, and focused on the question of “how”: “How can we observe the holiday in ways that are spiritually meaningful and fulfilling?” The way these colleagues framed the discussion prompted me to write Eight Ideas for Eight Nights, simple suggestions for Hanukah candlelighting that have the potential to deepen our practice and awareness.

Rabbi Fred Greene stressed increasing the Light – in all senses. (In Eight Ideas for Eight Nights, I share one of his ideas for shifting the focus from getting presents on Hanukah to giving of our time and spirit.) Rabbi Sanford Akselrad welcomed nightly meditations for Hanukah candle lighting, as well as Hanukah quotations. Sandy suggested creating an “Oprah’s” (or, in this case, Debra’s) book club selection list for Hanukah, covering both adult and children’s literature. In response, I enlisted the help of Amy Muscoplat, a wonderful children's librarian, to help me create an annotated list ofsome of the best books, CD's, and DVD's for Hanukah. The last person I spoke with, Rabbi Lucy Dinner, gave me practical suggestions about when and how to send out such a bibliography, to make it most useful and user-friendly. As a result, the title of each listing (whether book, CD, or DVD) links you to Amazon or another seller, to simplify research and purchasing.

In the Best of Hanukah: Recommended Books, CDs, and DVDs for Children and Adults, you will find specific recommendations that address the above concerns and interests. These resources offer vital historical and spiritual content. Equally important, many are meant for adults and children to use and experience together. The medium is the message: something deep and worthy of exploration is going on. This holiday is about more than just exchanging gifts. Each year, we can re-tell the story – and also find new layers, insights, and inspiration.

I invite you to be in touch and let me know about some of your own favorite Hanukah resources, as well as your response to those in the e-newsletter this month. Thank you to the friends and colleagues who have already shared generously of their time and ideas. Wishing you a holiday full of love and light,

- Rabbi Debra Orenstein

The Best of Hanukah: Recommended Resources

Here is a recap of the links to the Hanukah resources Debra mentions above:

Recommended Books, CDs, and DVDs for Children and Adults (annotated)

Quotations: Sourced from the Bible and great thinkers past & present

Essay & Nightly Hanukah Candle Lighting Meditations on Miracles

Eight Ideas for Eight Nights
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein
(an advance look exclusively for newsletter subscribers)

Hanukah candle lighting is celebratory, but also, often, “squeezed in” between homework and bedtime, work duties and the second shift at home. The following are some suggestions that can add structure and meaning to your Hanukah celebration. They do require some advance planning, but they are not time-intensive. You can carry one or more of the ideas through all eight nights, or use them for an individual gathering or party. The Talmud tells us that one small vial of oil miraculously lasted eight nights. Similarly, a small amount of preparation can yield unexpected and abundant meaning. Please let me know how you end up using or building on the following ideas. --Rabbi Debra

1. Kick off the Hanukah holiday with Story Night.
(The annotated Best of Hanukah: Recommended Books, CDs, and DVDs for Children and Adults offers many resources.) Stories could include different renditions of the historical story; personal and family stories; original texts (e.g., BT Shabbat 21a or a selection from the Books of the Maccabees); or folktales of Hanukah from around the world. You can also draw on literature that is thematically related to Hanukah: the right to be different, the fight for religious freedom, the few facing down the many, the spreading of Light.

2. Pick & Discuss Quotations
Choose a variety of quotations about Hanukah and its themes, write them on strips of paper, and let everyone who participates in the candle lighting select one randomly. Compare notes and discuss the quotations. Invite participants to consider the quote they selected as a message-of-the-day. The challenge: can you notice the quotation operating in the world and through you between one candle lighting and the next?

3. Share Poetry
If you are hosting a Hanukah party, ask each guest to bring a favorite poem to share about light, bravery, or miracles. (Children and adults can also write original poems.)

4. Dreydl Tournament
Sponsor an intergenerational dreydl tournament with all the money going to tzedakah. The “price” of admission is that each participant must describe a charitable organization that s/he thinks is particularly appropriate for Hanukah. (Ask everyone to bring literature to share about their chosen cause, as well.) Participants can vote on how to distribute the money, and the winner’s vote counts twice. Certificates, small trinkets, and chocolate coins can be awarded, as well. (The rules for the game are supplied at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreidel.)

5. Social Justice Project
Join or organize a social justice project for (at least) one night of the holiday. Rabbi Fred Greene shared with me the catchy title “Hanukah Lights & Mitzvah Nights.” The mitzvah you choose could be related to a specific Hanukah theme (such as supporting religious freedom), or it could spread light in another way. Though some specific mitzvot were targeted by Antiochus, our ancestors fought for the right to observe any and all of them.

6. Put on a show!
For one night of the holiday, sing Hanukah songs and light the candles at an assisted living facility or nursing home with Jewish residents. Or put on your show at a local hospital and bring small gifts for the pediatric ward.

7. Theme Night
Choose a theme for a night when you are leading or hosting candle lighting. Themes could include Light, Bravery, Miracles, Brit/Circumcision, Faith, (Re-)dedication of Holy Space, Overcoming the Odds, Integrating with Our Neighbors While Remaining Distinct as a People, The Number 8 in Jewish Tradition and Numerology, etc. Hosts can prepare everything from a traditional text study to children’s art projects to their table décor, based on a theme.

8. Meditation
Conduct a meditation following candle lighting. Hanukah meditations can build on one another (as my Hanukah miracle meditations do), or they can stand alone. Your meditation can be as simple as asking for a few moments of silence for everyone to contemplate the miracle of Jewish survival from “those days” to “this time.” In his book, Chanukah: Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul, Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf offers this beautiful Hanukah meditation:

On Chanukah, late at night, sit down in front of your menorah and just gaze at the flames. Tiny, silent flames. Glowing, sometimes dancing; vulnerable always reaching upward. You too possess an inner flame. As you look at the flames of the menorah, as you begin to notice every nuance and every detail, allow yourself to experience your own inner flame. Tiny, silent flame. Flame that is often lost in the swamp of so many things to do. Flame that wants to dance and reach upward, to touch something higher and richer deeper. That flame is your flame. And it can never be extinguished.

Neshama Carlebach Returns!

Last March for Purim, the incomparable and inspiring Neshama Carlebach, daughter of the great Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, came to Los Angeles for a powerful concert benefiting Debra’s home congregation, Makom Ohr Shalom. There were people rocking the aisles - from ages 2 to 97 and from every movement within Judaism. Two people actually rose out of their wheelchairs to join in the spontaneous dancing. I kid you not. It was an amazing event. Many people told me they had arrived tired after a busy day – leaving hours later more energized than before.

And Neshama is returning to Los Angeles for Hanukah, this time backed by Reverend Roger Hambrick
and members of the Green Pastures
Baptist Church Choir. I can’t wait! If you reside in Southern California, I urge you to join Rabbi Debra for this uplifting night of miracles and celebration.

Makom Ohr Shalom presents

With Reverend Roger Hambrick
and members of the
Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir
Sunday, December 13
7:00 PM – Dessert and Raffle
7:30 PM – Candlelighting for the third night of Hanukah
7:45 PM - Concert

The Writers Guild Theatre
135 S. Doheny Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Tickets and information at: www.makom.org/Events.html
or by phone at 818-894-1754

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

Usually, the period between Simchas Torah and Hanukah is a Jewishly quiet one. We hope that the messages and growth experienced in the Days of Awe are sinking in and taking hold –rather than dissipating. That’s the struggle Debra sought to address in the Cheshvan edition of the newsletter, entitled "The Art of Waiting." And it would be good for those ideas to sink in because Hanukah, at least as it is experienced in modern-day America, can be a challenge to recognize for its true meaning – rather than for the commercial motivations brought about by popular culture’s pressure to have it “compete” with the similarly illegitimate commercialism surrounding Christmas.

I should immediately confess that we have already caved to this consumerist message. I saw a ‘princess bike’ with training wheels just perfect for our three-year old. Consulting with the rabbi by phone and going on about the tassles, hearts, and many Disney princesses festooning this bike, I suborned her agreement that this should be the “big Hanukah gift” for our daughter as she would love it more than anything. Oy. I am haunted further by the vision of children diving for the candy and toys falling from a piñata at a recent birthday party. We are doing something right, as my son felt that taking only one was enough.

It's not that presents and treats are anathema. But when we fall out of balance, how do we get back on the wagon, avoid the consumerist messages confronting us daily, and focus on mitzvot and gratitude for the abundance we already enjoy? I hear a voice yelling loudly in my head: Torah! To access the wisdom and messages of Torah, Debra offers myriad tools and methods on the RabbiDebra.com website, in the specific Hanukah resources mentioned here, and with the CD's we have put together. (Also, see below about the Gratitude Project we have coming.) We strive to help you keep spirituality in the foreground.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and Hanukah is near. Are we not already awash in miracles? Enjoy the holidays.

More Great Hanukah Gifts

Take us with you!

Are you looking for Hanukah gifts that will satisfy and retain the meaning of the holiday? Along with the items listed in Debra’s recommemded resources above, our CD’s by Rabbi Debra and the eminent Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi make great Hanukah gifts, and between now and the end of Hanukah we will ship First Class for free to anywhere in the U.S.

The same offer applies to Rabbi Debra’s Books, also available on the site.

The Gratitude Project

In 2007 Debra gave all her High Holiday sermons on the subject of gratitude. This focus continued after High Holidays for over a year and included additional activities such as special seminars for her congregation and the institution of a “Gratitude Partners” program where members paired up and kept in touch with exercises designed to increase gratitude and crowd out complaining. This year we celebrated the third annual Gratitude Shabbat on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, one of the many legacies of “taking on" gratitude.

The power and success of this focus on gratitude has captivated Debra, and we have been collecting her sermons and materials for a forthcoming CD release, which will also include programming ideas for you and your community.

We wanted to offer you a taste of this material. Below are two short audio clips to enjoy:

Being Grateful for the Sun (3:15).
(This audio clip is taken from a service in which Rabbi Debra was asked to explain morning prayers which express gratitude for light and the sun.)

Being Grateful in this Moment (1:28)

Stay in touch with us for information about this upcoming release.

Also available on RabbiDebra.com

- December Dilemma for Prospective Converts (now a live link)

- Light the Wick : A Hanukah Essay (to appear in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal)

(Check back with the site for this and other new content)

Thank you for your interest and subscription. We always enjoy your feedback about the newsletter and the website. We invite you to forward this E-Newsletter to anyone you think may enjoy it, and we always appreciate links to our website on your own site or listserve.

- Craig Weisz