Holiday Traditions – Chanukah

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I’ve written recently about how I celebrated Chanukah as a child and growing up. I’ve included two of those links below. Some of those traditions I’ve brought to my own family, but because of our interfaithness I’ve added and tweaked some of them over the years.

In some ways it was easier to celebrate Jewish holidays while growing up Jewish in primarily Jewish neighborhood. In those early, formative years, our neighbors were mostly Jewish, and so we all celebrated the same things. It wasn’t until moving at the end of fifth grade that my new friends celebrated something different. I don’t even recall if the schools were closed on Christmas before; I imagine they must have been, but  it wasn’t until my own kids were young that I realized that schools didn’t close for the High Holy Days. I would keep my own kids home, and the only time there was a dispute with the school was when my middle son went to kindergarten and the first day of school was to be on Rosh Hashanah. I discovered another Jewish family and I joined them at the Board of Education meeting to change the first day of school. We did. But it was met with a plethora of excuses on why they should not change the status quo. It was demoralizing and it instilled in me a more vocal advocacy than I’d had before.

As the only Jewish family in our schools or the only Jewish teacher when I taught, it’s fallen to me to have to explain Chanukah, and unfortunately the expectation is usually how it fits into Christmas, which of course, it doesn’t. It would even be doubtful if Jesus observed/celebrated Chanukah; It’s always been considered a minor holiday.

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50-45 – Chanukah

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Plastic dreidl that can be filled with gelt, chocolate coins for Chanukah. When I was a kid, we got new ones each year, but I try to save them for my kids to reuse each year. (c)2016

When I was a kid growing up in Queens, we lived in a two bedroom apartment. There was a tiny vestibule where you could either go upstairs to our neightbors or turn left and walk into our place. There was a window and a radiator (where on Passover we would put a wine glass for Elijah). The living room had a sofa, a television on a wheeled TV cart, a dresser, my baby dresser that my daughter now uses, and possibly a chair, but I don’t recall that detail. It flowed into the dining room which had a doorway to the kitchen.

At Chanukah, we never had an electric menorah when we lived here. It was a brass one with a lion at the back and the shamas way up on top with a row of eight candle holders below. We would set this menorah up on the dining room table on a piece of tin foil for the wax to melt onto. Each day, we’d add another candle and watch them burn brightly until they flickered out.

We’d eat latkes and play dreidl with pennies for the pot.

Along the bottom of my baby dresser, my parents set up three piles of wrapped presents, eight gifts in each pile, and every night after we lit the candles we could choose a gift. Just one.

There was a lot of shaking and feeling of shapes going on every night. I have a very clear memory of wondering if I should open the Barbie doll or her clothes first, so distinctive was their packaging.

For our interfaith family now, we usually have done one large gift for the first night of Chanukah. Only once did we do eight gifts. It just gets too expensive. We do light the candles and use an electric menorah, the candle menorah in the dining room and the electric menorah in the living room. I always get my kids a new dreidl and a mesh baggie of gelt which they devour pretty quickly.

These are the traditions that make a holiday memorable and worth celebrating year after year.

I’m posting this a bit early because Chanukah isn’t until Christmas Eve this year, but that just gives us more to celebrate all throughout the month from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

Happy Chanukah to all.

Happy Pesach

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Passover begins at sundown this evening. Some years there are conflicts. We travel to my mother-in-law’s more often than not for Easter or right before Easter when the kids are on recess, and so we’ll only observe Passover for part of the eight days. Even after my baptism, we continue to celebrate.

This year Easter was early and we aren’t able to travel to Grandma’s for recess because my oldest son is in school and working two and a half jobs so timing didn’t work out for visiting.

However, we will be home for the entirety of Passover.

To be truthful, I hadn’t really decided to celebrate/observe until I was in the grocery store shopping. I was supposed to get a roasting chicken and potato pancake mix for tonight’s dinner, but I could feel the D-A (depression/anxiety) clueing me in that it was going to be difficult to me for this holiday.

While I want to do Passover (even if we don’t usually do a seder), I could not feel the cooking.

I looked through my wallet and found the raincheck for chicken tenders. I heard the lightbulb click in my head; over my head.

Fake it.

No roast chicken, no standing over a stove frying latkes (we eat more latkes during Passover than during Chanukah), and that’s it. Fake it.

Chicken tenders, frozen potato pancakes, can of cranberry sauce, matzoh. Lunch – gefilte fish.

I can do this.

My point is simply that there are ways to get around those pokes that depression uses to try and bring you to lethargy and apathy. It isn’t a fail safe. There will be depressive moments. There will be times when you have to ask for family for more patience and support, but when it’s important, try. That’s all you can ask yourself.

I wanted to celebrate Passover. It’s important to me to continue these traditions, for my kids to understand their Exodus from Egypt. Even before the Eucharist, I’ve always talked about Passover in the present.

Why do we celebrate Passover, I’ve been asked. We were slave, and we’re leaving Egypt. We’re escaping. We’re crossing the Red Sea. We carry the matzoh with us. It’s happening in the past, the future, and now. it is within and without time.

History and heritage are important.

So is dinner.

Food is the lifeblood of culture and family.

Sometimes depression gets the best of me, but it can never win because I keep fighting, I keep moving forward, I keep keeping on.

I fake it unhtil I don’t have to anymore, and then I fake it again, but I keep going.

Happy Pesach.

Recs – Author Jane Breskin Zalben

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I know this is a week late for Chanukah, but when I was teaching I was lucky enough to find a series of children’s books by jane Breskin Zalben that were storybooks with animals of the Jewish Holidays.

When I was growing up as a child, there was nothing like this for me and my fellow Jewish children. Christmas had mice and rabbits and deer and all kinds of anthropomorphic animals celebrating Christmas. The Jewish holiday books that were available to me were serious. Chanukah was about the Macabees and not having enough oil, and it was a nice holiday and important, but where were the singing mice lighting the candles?

Jane Breskin Zalben changed all that for me, and after I had my own kids, I finally had a child-like book to show my kids the animal kids that celebrated the same holidays we did in much the same ways. It made my life more mainstream and not at the foggy window looking in.

Beni’s First Chanukah (my introduction to the author)

Papa’s Latkes (Chanukah)

Pearl’s Eight Days of Chanukah

Porcupine’s Christmas Blues

Beni’s Family Treasury

Beni’s Family Cookbook for the Jewish Holidays

Pearl Plants a Tree (Tu B’Sh’Vat)

Pearl’s Passover

Pearl’s Marigolds for Grandpa (sitting shiva)

Happy New Year, Beni

Happy Passover, Rosie

Leo & Blossom’s Sukkah

Beni’s First Wedding

Goldies’ Purim

Yom Kippur

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I kind of failed Rosh Hashanah this year. I mean it’s still my responsibility to model for my kids and teach them how to observe. I feel as though I’m failing them in this area. I am also not ready to give up all of my traditions, and Yom Kippur is one of those thoughtful observances that gives you a mandatory stop and take inventory of where you are, where you’ve been, and we’re you’re going.

Yom Kippur is a little different today. For me, it’s less about what you can’t do, but what you can; what you do.

Fasting isn’t the absence of food; it is the presence of G-d as reminder of not only my failings of the past year, but also where I’ve succeeded.

Lighting candles for my parents. The reminder of where I’ve come from, how much I miss the every day, and it tells them that they are not forgotten. I’ve thought of including Brittany this year, but I will see how I feel when the time comes tonight.

Not working. No writing has always driven me crazy, but it has also afforded me the opportunity to slow down and think; to meditate. I am “forced” to something else.

My usual Yom Kippur activity is reading. Harry Potter was one of my Jewish holiday books and look at all my life has changed because of that beginning of that New Year. Overall, wonderful things from deep friendship to finding parts of me and knowing that are still parts missing; left to find.

This year’s book is Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin. I know, an unusual choice for Yom Kippur. I’ve wanted to read it for some time. It was a gift from my godmother, and I look at the spine nearly every day and thinking I don’t have the time, I go back to my Kindle.

Yom Kippur will give me the time.

It is a whole day where I can read, pray, meditate, pray the rosary, light candles and no one questions the whys or the wherefores.

It is the one day out of the year where I don’t have to explain my actions.

It simply is.

Why are you….?

Because it’s Yom Kippur.

The simplicity of not apologizing for who I am or who I am becoming is part of my day’s meditation.

I do ask guidance and forgiveness for those I’ve wronged even with the best of intentions. Enlighten me how I can do better and I will do my best to try.

I will let my faith continue to guide me.

I will question what I don’t understand.

I will defend the wronged.

I will be the friend I’m supposed to be.

I will be the person I’m supposed to be.