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The real story of Chanukah
As we recover from the excesses of Thanksgiving and bring Chanukah into our sights, we may think to ourselves, "Oh yes, that quaint, little holiday with the little candles.” All of us are familiar with the story of rekindled statehood from many centuries ago, and the little pitcher of sealed oil that should have lasted a day, but rather, lasted for eight. We wonder what greater meaning we might give to this holiday so it can compete with the much grander one that surrounds us and almost swallows us up whole in it's commercial glitter and sheer size. Some of us simply compete with the gifts that we give our loved ones, which have morphed over the decades from the few gruschen our Zeida's gave us (some of which should be set aside for charity) into major purchases. But I maintain that the message of Chanukah is truly as grand and may even be the flip side of Christmas. For Christmas's message boiled down is "joy and peace and light filling the world.” Chanukah's message is how to get there.
Let's start with the core history of how the holiday evolved. Antiochus Epiphenes, a ruler of the Seleucid Greeks, decided to smother not simply Jews, but Judaism. He outlawed Torah study, Kashrut, circumcision and Jewish prayer with the intention of enlightening Jews to the great Hellenist culture, whether they wanted it or not. The Hasmoneans wouldn't stand for this, so they rose up and rebelled. In a few years they were victorious and established a resumption of Jewish sovereignty, the continuation of the sacred cult in the Temple and the freedom of Jewish observance and study. Says Richard Bass in his wonderful book, Israel in World Relations, "The Jewish rebellion set a precedent in human history. It was not a war for national liberation, nor was it a struggle for physical freedom. It was a struggle for ideas, Hellenism versus Judaism: the world's first ideological/religious war. No one in the ancient world--before the Jews--thought their religion was worth dying for." (p. 47)
The problem was, however, that the Greco-Roman culture continued its stranglehold over the people. In a century or two, the descendants of the Maccabees were essentially Hellenistic in their outlook and the Temple cult was corrupt, eventually coming under the influence of the Romans. Herod, a partially Jewish king, was a vassal of Rome. He replaced the Hasmonean dynasty with his own and introduced more foreign practices. He also murdered many rabbis and sought to consolidate power from the Sanhedrin. The corruption of Jewish life that Greco- Roman rule brought to Israel resulted in zealots rebelling, the Temple being razed and the destruction of Jerusalem. Decades later, when Hadrian came on the scene, he did the same thing as Antiochus. He sought to blanket his empire exclusively with the Hellenist way of life. He totally outlawed Judaism and placed a temple of Jupiter on the site of the destroyed Temple. He quashed what was left of the Jewish resistance during the Bar Kochva years. Jerusalem was named Aeolia Capitalina after Herods' family name, and Israel's name was renamed Palestina Syrianus.
Our Talmudic rabbis were not fond of the fact that the Maccabees had succumbed in their worldview to the Greco-Roman ways and became adversaries of the rabbinic class. They deemphasized the Maccabean wars and contended that the great miracle of Chanukah was the little cruet of oil that lasted beyond all expectations. That was their way of saying that we Jews also have lasted well beyond expectation. It was their way of saying that attempts to strangle our Judaism's light would never succeed as long as we remain steadfast in our traditions and trusting in the God of Israel.
Now that the High Holidays and all of the various Jewish holidays that follow are finally over, activities around our ENJC are really "hopping" in a manner of speaking.
In the three-month period from September thru the first week of December, we are in the midst of enjoying ELEVEN Bar & Bat Mitzvah celebrations!! As their teacher, you can imagine it is somewhat stressful, in mild terms, to have them all prepared and ready for this momentous time in their lives. Our Religious School is off to a very exciting and active year as we welcome EIGHTEEN NEW FAMILIES all of whom enrolled their children in our school. I am simultaneously encouraging numerous teens who have already had their Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations, to return and chant their Haftorahs again, or chant a new Haftorah or Torah portion.
I recently orchestrated a FRIDAY EVE/SHABBAT PRAYER AND SONG BOOKLET, for the purpose of having families be able to chant or recite all of the various prayers, which are appropriate for a Shabbat eve. In addition to the booklet, I have recorded and burned an accompanying CD as well. The booklet and CD include the following:
The traditional chanting of Shalom Aleichem, the blessings for the Friday night candles, washing of the hands, the Hamotzi (blessing of the bread) and the chanting of the full Kiddush as well. If you would like a copy of the booklet and CD, please contact the Synagogue office, or click HERE. I am pleased to report that I have already supplied many families with the booklet and CD.
I am hopeful that you will request a copy of these items and by so doing, your appreciation and observance of Shabbat will be dramatically enhanced. As I have mentioned to all of my students, young and slightly older, Shabbat in of itself is like any other day of the week. Certainly we understand that is kodesh, a holy day according to the Torah and our tradition. What actually makes Shabbat holy?? It is our actions that result in the elevation of this special day of the week to one of sanctity. With this "hands on" interactive prayer book and CD, your observance of Shabbat will be special and will set a wonderful tone for your Friday eve dinner.
It has been my pleasure teaching an adult Hebrew reading class for the past year. Now that we have almost completed the book, we will be choosing a date, at which time most of the adults in the class will have a group ADULT BAR & BAT MITZVAH celebration. We hope to share further information in this regard very shortly.
I wish you one and all a chodesh tov–an enjoyable new month. Read More
I am looking forward to the return of my children, Amanda and Danny, from college for the Thanksgiving break. I am very fortunate that they are both enjoying their college experience and doing well with their studies. I am very thankful that I am enjoying my term as President of ENJC. At times it is like a roller coaster, so I always make sure that I am buckled in for the ride!
I face many challenges, such as the roof leaking in the ballroom, one of our heating or cooling units not working or making sure that we have enough congregants for our daily minyans. I also feel very rewarded in so many ways. There is a very special relationship that forms with the "regular" Shabbat and minyan attendees. They become a second family. I am thankful to be part of this family.
People say that once your children leave for college and you become "empty nesters," your life really changes. ENJC (my second family) has made sure that there is no time for loneliness. We have had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah the last four Shabbats and we are scheduled for one the next 3 Shabbats. We had 3 simchas in September also. Sitting on the bima and listening to these young men and women chant their haftorahs and lead the congregation during the services is a special treat. I am thankful to know that Rabbi and Chazzan have done such an incredible job preparing their students for this special day. For me, I get the joy of the simcha like I did for Amanda and Danny–without the expenses!
I encourage the parents of future Bar/Bat Mitzvah students to join our Shabbat family. The more frequently you attend, the more comfortable your family will feel. If you have questions, ther are many of us that would love to answer. Please come regularly to services with your young adult and mingle with us at the kiddish. If you would like, please enjoy a L'chaim with a shot of scotch. As the saying goes "Try us, you'll like us." I started to attend Shabbat services regularly after my father passed away six years ago. I have tried it and yes, I do like it! Please come join our family!
ENJC is thankful that you, the congregants, have chosen our synagogue to be the place for your family. In times when other synagogues are closing or merging to stay vibrant, we are growing. Keep coming and bring your friends. I hope that all of the ENJC families had a Happy Thanksgiving! Read More