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Darkness and Light
Rabbi Abraham Kellner makes an insightful point when discussing Jewish history in general. Whenever we are lulled into thinking that everything is marvelous for us, the Jewish community is often beset by crisis; and whenever we have gotten to a point of despair, certain realities have emerged to give us rays of hope.
When Constantine and Byzantine society put limits on Jewish life and prosperity some 1500 years ago, Charlemagne’s Central Europe, in the early Middle Ages, opened doors of opportunity for Jewish communities in France and Germany. When Isabelle and Ferdinand exiled the Jewish communities of Spain in 1492, in the very same year, Columbus discovered a land that would one day welcome Jewish communities to populate and succeed in it. Crusades and pogroms ravaged the Rhine in the days of the Crusades 750 years ago– a time of great darkness–while Poland’s dukes allowed whole Jewish communities safe harbor into the principalities of Feudal Poland. Jewish communities suffered the restrictions and pogroms in the Pale of Settlement of Eastern Europe, while Central Europe–France and Germany–were enlightened societies that encouraged the enfranchisement and success of its Jewish communities, supporting their greater profile in commercial, civic, and political life. When the dark days of Holocaust enveloped much of Europe, the new Yishuv of Eretz Israel and the great Jewish community of the United States began to find its stride and its potency.
When the door seemed to be shut and darkness was all about, a crack in the doorframe appeared, leading to the light of day. Rabbi Kellner finds a basis for his theory in the scriptural verse that describes how God accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt. Two pillars went before them–Amud HeAnan ba Yom, ve Amud He Esh liela–a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Indeed, whenever it’s bright out and the sun is shining, it seems that clouds amass and dim the light, but in the midst of darkness, when all seems lost, sparks of light, followed by light, and then a torch of light overtakes the darkness. This seems the historical journey of our people.
At Chanukah we might dwell on this. At Chanukah, we remember of time of darkness of the cruel hand of Antiochus, who sought to extinguish not the Jewish people per se, but the Jewish religion. He sought to suffocate the light of Torah–the uniqueness that the Jewish people brought to the world. He was fine with Jews living. He even had the “light of Hellenism” to offer in its place. But some Jews were insightful enough to realize that a Jewish Peoplehood had a limited shelf life without its faith and its laws, customs and values. At Chanukah we must take stock. When the door is closed on Jewish practice, Jewish ritual, Jewish law and custom, it is not just dark. Eventually the oxygen leaves the room. Without Judaism, a Jew flounders and then founders. Without Torah and Mitzvah, without synagogue and academy, without a sense of Jewish uniqueness and distinctive destiny, there is soon no meaning in Jewish existence. Jewish existence to what end? And that was precisely Antiochus’s plan. May we never be duped into such offers of “daylight.” Such offers are at best a night light, that only help put our people to sleep.
In recent times, darkness has once again descended, with anti-Semitism becoming more common, expressed on both the right and the left. Israel is being demonized, and in some places Jewish students are being shunned and harassed for their courageous support and pro-Israel views. The work ahead of us is daunting, to stem a tide of intolerance, both in academia and in the political realm, for the nation state of the Jewish People. There are far too many who want to undo the right of the Jewish people to live as a sovereign nation on their historic homeland. Such an outcome would plunge our people back into the darkness of exile and dependence. This Chanukah, as we light our hanukiah, let's kindle 9 lights...the light of mitzvah; the light of tenacity and faith; the light of pride and self-respect; the light of prayer and learning. May we kindle the light of involvement in our small but vibrant Kehila; the light of generosity, funding organizations that take a stand against intolerance and anti-Semitism. As Chanukah approaches, let's kindle the light of connection to the State of Israel; the light of Jewish self preservation; and the light of family observance and synagogue activism. At Chanukah we sing, banu choshesh legaresh… " We have come to chase away the darkness." With each of us kindling these small lights, we shall drive away the darkness and our little flames become a great torch. We cannot always foresee the clouds, nor anticipate where little rays of light will emerge. But together, with God’s help, I believe that we can drive away, at least in large part, the darkness and new light shall illumine, transforming darkness into day.
The Passover Hagadda asserts,“Karev Yom asher… tair ohr yom heshkat Laila,” a day will come in which all darkness shall be transformed to light. May this Passover wish begin with our energy and resolve at Chanukah as we kindle our little candles. With each of our energies and our commitments, daylight is on the way!
Chag muar ve sameach… Happy and healthy and luminous Chanukah, from Rabbi, Beth, Marc and Alan Read More
Winter is Coming! Wait, I meant Hanukkah is coming. And Chanukkah means latkes, right? Well, maybe. Sure, the tradition of jelly-donuts has gained a lot of traction, especially in Israel, but when we think of Hanukka, most of us think of latkes: shredded potato pancakes fried in (olive) oil. But is that really “the tradition?” Actually, no. Potatoes were only introduced to Europe in the late 1500’s CE, and the Channuka story dates back 1600 years before that, so what did we eat before then? Sure there was plenty of fried foods to harden our arteries more than Pharaoh’s heart, but one stands out—fried cheese. I apologize in advance to the lactose intolerant, but it’s fairly clear that centuries before people were eating fried potato latkes, they were celebrating Hannuka by eating fried cheese, and this was YEARS before the “Got Milk?” advertising campaign ever existed.
So the question remains, why cheese? It’s not like Judah Maccabee drowned Antiochus in greek yogurt (though wouldn’t THAT have been ironic!) And it’s not like there was only enough sour cream to serve ONE blintze on Shavuot, but somehow it lasted for eight blintzes! No, to understand the custom of Jews eating cheese on Hannukah, we have to go back to an apocryphal book of the Bible titled Judith. In the story, our heroine, Yehudit, of the 6th century BCE Israeli town of Bethulia, kills the evil general Holofernes after serving him some cheese. So now we connect Judith to Judah (Maccabee) and Holofernes to Antiochus, and it becomes obvious why Jews ate cheese on Hanukah, right?
Well….not exactly. If we look in the actual text (Judith 10:5) we see that “She gave her maid a skin of wine and a jug of oil. She filled a bag with roasted grain, dried fig cakes, and pure bread. She wrapped all her dishes and gave them to the maid to carry.” No mention of any dairy products there at ALL. So what gives? Why aren’t we eating fried fig cakes for Chanuka? (Note: Anyone who makes me fried fig cakes for Channukah gets a gold star.)
Well, we have to take another leap backwards 900 years to time of the Judges. In the famous story of Deborah we find ANOTHER woman killing another evil general. Here we meet Yael, who tricks the Canaanite general Sisera and crushes his head with a tent peg. It’s interesting to note that Yael is not specifically mentioned as Jewish, and is, in fact, married to a non-Jewish Kenite. But at LAST, dairy makes an appearance! In chapter 4, verse 10 of the book of Judges we read: “‘I’m thirsty,’ [Sisera] said. ‘Please give me some water.’ [Yael] opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.”
So finally we have this potentially non-Jewish woman offering milk to an evil Canaanite general and then killing him. This becomes conflated with a later Jewish woman killing a drunken Assyrian general. Finally, it further becomes connected with the story of Hanuckkah. Whew! What a trip! It’s enough to make you hungry for some fried cheese pancakes—or maybe some potato ones. In any case, there are as many culinary traditions for the holiday as there are spellings for Chanuckah, so don’t feel embarrassed for making those poutine latkes with parmesan gravy, just revel in the holiday and Happy Chanuka Hannukah Hanuqqah?. And a Happy New Year to all! Read More
I hope that all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! It's my favorite weekend of the year–relaxing and enjoying life with my family. Exciting times in the Brecher family... My niece just delivered baby Josie to the world. Amanda is enjoying her work experience as charter coordinator at Talon Air. Danny is starting as a salesman at Electromed. Great to be young and on the move!
ENJC is on the move also. 2019 has been a wonderful year and the majority of our activities have had wonderful turnouts. The shul has been rocking with ruach since July 1, with Hazzan Walvick and family joining us! Hazzan's energy is contagious, and you cannot help but be moved by attending the services he leads! Hazzaz has been having Game Day Shabbats after services for children of all ages. When you play a game with Hazzan, play at your own risk- he plays to WIN! I am ready for a rematch on December 7th. It might be all the participants attaching him.
We had an awesome evening celebrating the Woman and Man of the Year on November 14th. Sisterhood honored Lori Maldavir and Men's Club honored Scott Keiser- two well-deserved congregants whose entire families have led and participated in activities too numerous for me to list. My article would fill the entire Bulletin! YASHER KOACH to both the Maldavir and Keiser families!
On a recent Shabbat we were treated to a bright look at the year to come. All eleven students from the Hay Class were at the Shabbat service and read from the Torah. They also participated in other prayers throughout the service. The congregation should be looking forward to these children's B'nai Mitzvahs in the months ahead. I know I am!
Please make your reservations early for our Chanukah Dinner on December 13th. I hope all will enjoy the evening.
May I be the first to wish you a "HAPPY NEW YEAR!"