Chanukah: A light in the darkness

Man, if I was a Grinch last week, you don’t even want to know about this week. So annoyed! My ceiling is leaking and I’m camping in the living room. But there was one thing that made me feel better …

This is AMAZING!! I love a cappella to begin with and then bring in Queen, well, Chanukah doesn’t get better than that!

Cultural notes

As an American and Israeli, I noticed that this was a great cultural mix.

  1. Note the hard ch (Antiochus, Chanukah, Chai) but Mattathius.
  2. Israeli Chanukah treats (sufganiot – filled donuts) and American Chanukah food (latkes – potato pancakes). If Israelis make latkes in Israel they are called levivot (hearts – I don’t know why) and are never served with applesauce (I know, right?). And sour cream? Fuggedaboutit. Maybe gvina levana.
  3. Sevivon as well as dreidle and gelt (Israelis don’t actually know the rules to the dreidle game; they just know there’s a top and it spins).
  4. Sevivon, sov, sov, sov, as well as a clay dreidle (you gotta know your Chanukah songs for this one).
  5. Chanukiahs, but not a menorah to be found.
  6. Aba, Ema, but Bubbe (surprisingly not many grandmas are called bubbe here).
  7. Ah, but where was the miracle? Nes gadol haya po. It was here, not there (sham). We’re in Israel! (Even if Six13 are New York-based.)

So after singing this at the top of my lungs (many times), which hopefully bothers the neighbors whose fault it is that my ceiling is leaking, I’ve decided: Dammit all, I’m going to be a freaking light in the darkness.

Happy Chanukah Everybody!

“It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness”

JD east of edenMy favorite James Dean movie is East of Eden.  The story moved me so much that I decided to read the book by John Steinbeck.  I had the pleasure of visiting the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA, where I learned that Steinbeck considered East of Eden the culmination of his life’s work.  He struggled with it all his life because he wanted to truly understand the fundamental ability to choose light or darkness.


God said to Cain, “If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)  Steinbeck’s East of Eden tells us that no matter what happens, you always have a choice.

The power to choose

There’s so much awful news: Tel Aviv, Orlando, the Stanford rape case, a British MP gunned down, and plenty more that I don’t know about.  In each case someone made a choice to do evil; they chose darkness.

Debates are raging right now about why these tragedies happened. I’m not qualified to give an opinion about changes that need to be made in society and I’m not going to try.  This post is about the power to choose.

Choosing compassion

The family of a police officer saw someone running from the scene of the Tel Aviv terror attack.  He was badly shaken and could hardly speak.  They brought him in and gave him water.  The officer ran to the scene and when he saw that the detained shooter was dressed exactly like the man in his house, he rushed back, fearing the worst.  Indeed, the family had sheltered the second shooter.  The officer arrested him in the living room.

This family chose to help someone who looked to be in shock.  Without a doubt, the situation could have ended tragically, but instead we have an example of what compassion to one’s neighbors looks like.

Unsung heroes

At Stanford, two Swedish graduate students pulled the rapist off of his victim and held him down until police arrived.  The victim was completely unconscious, could not defend herself, and likely would not have been able to remember the events of what happened in order to bring her attacker to justice.

It was late at night.  The two students could have passed by and done nothing.  Instead, they chose to protect a young woman in a horrible situation.

Choosing to stand together

Sometimes you can’t save the person in danger, but you can stand beside the mourners.  Two stories I came across – and surely there are many more – remind us that it’s fine to “Je suis …” and change your profile pictures, but actions are so much more powerful.

A rabbi brought members of his congregation to grieve with mourners of the Orlando terror attack.  Just showing up was enough.

A flight crew found out that a passenger was on her way to her grandson’s funeral.  He was one of the victims in Orlando.  All the passengers wrote notes and when they deplaned, every person stopped to personally give their condolences.

Shavuot in Israel – Standing together

This week also marked Shavuot in Israel.  Shavuot is the fiftieth day after Passover and marks the date that the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Sinai.  It’s a pilgrimage holiday meaning that when the Temple stood, people came to offer sacrifices.  Today, we aren’t offering sacrifices, but we still stand together, raise our voices in song, and choose life.




Here’s a video I took while watching the sunrise on Shavuot at the Western Wall

From a single candle, thousands can be lit

When I watch the sun rise over the people and hear them singing, I know that the world is going to be okay.  Some people choose to do evil.  This is a fact and we see plenty of evidence of it.  But more people choose to do good.  More people choose light.  Sure, there may be moments .of regret, but every day we have a choice.  We can choose light and keep choosing it until we break down the power of darkness.

Wishing all the fathers a Happy Father’s Day!

And remembering my Dad z’’l

Chanukah Special

A few fun facts about Chanukah

How do you spell it?  Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanuka, … Spell it however you want.  You just need to get the sounds right.


Jewish xmas



Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?  No.  It’s a holiday that happens to fall around the same time of year.  But also yes.  It was never a very big deal in terms of holiday rankings, but in recent decades it became a much bigger holiday due to the overabundance of Christmas celebrations.  Jewish kids needed something fun in December as well.



What is the miracle celebrated by Chanukah?  In 168 BCE the Selucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, forbade the Jews to practice their religion and desecrated the Temple.  After Judah the Maccabee succeeded in ousting the Selucids, the first order of business was to rededicate the Temple.  (Chanukah means dedication.)  They found only enough blessed oil to last one day.  But they lit it anyway and sent for more blessed oil, knowing that it would take 8 days.  And miraculously, the oil that should have lasted only one day lasted for 8 days.

What’s a dreidel? What’s a sevivon?  They are the same thing:  a four-sided top that has 4 Hebrew letters on it.  Dreidel is Yiddish.  Sevivon is Hebrew.  The four letters ardreidele different depending on where you are in the world.  Outside of Israel, the letters are נ, ג, ה ,ש  which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” (A Great Miracle Happened There).  Inside of Israel the letters are נ, ג, ה, פ, which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Po” (A Great Miracle Happened Here).

The story is that children would learn the story of Chanukah with the dreidel, but those who forbade the Jews to practice their religion would see only a children’s game.

What are the rules?  All the players ante up by putting 2 whatevers in the pot (usually candies).  The first person spins the top and wherever it falls that’s the instruction for that players turn.  נ – nothing happens.  ג – you win the whole pot. ה – you win half the pot. ש/פ – put in two.

Here’s a true Chanukah story.  I went to a Chanukah party in Israel and they wanted to play dreidel.  Out of about 20 Israelis in the room and 5-6 English-speakers, I was the only one who knew the rules.  That’s right.  A secular girl who grew up in small-town America was the only person who knew all the rules.

I attribute this to family Chanukah gatherings at my aunt and uncle’s house.  I remember at least one Chanukah when all of us kids went upstairs and set up our game in the hidden corridor between the bedrooms and we secretly played dreidel.  Moral of the story:  Everyone should have secret places and everyone should know the rules of dreidel.

Foods.  In honor of the miracle of the oil, it’s all fried, baby!  Order French fries or onion rings for Chanukah!  Deep-fried mozzarella sticks?  It’s okay; it’s for Chanukah!  Fried chicken?  Absolutely! Deep-fried snickers bar?  Now it’s just getting weird.

The real traditional foods are potato pancakes (latkes [Yiddish] or levivot [Hebrew]) and fried donuts with fillings (sufganiot).  Here in Israel, most people eat sufganiot and these days they are what you might call “fancy-schmancy.”  The basic one is filled with strawberry jam (meh.  I prefer the dulce de leche version of the basic and most of the fancy-schmancy ones.)


For those of you who know about potato pancakes, you may know that one traditional way to eat them is with sour cream and applesauce.  Not so in Israel.  Whenever I have mentioned eating them this way, I get looks like I’m the crazy one.

When I was waiting at the bank this week, donuts were handed around.  It made the nearly endless wait a bit more bearable, even if it was a strawberry jam one.

What’s the real miracle of Chanukah today?  The story of Chanukah reminds us to fight for our beliefs and our way of life.  We can be proud of who we are, of our history, of our heritage, without imposing it on anyone else.

Chabad puts up a lot of public hanukiahs and lights them each night all around the world.  In Paris this week, they were discouraged from doing so.  But that isn’t the spirit of Chanukah.  They lit the hanukiah to remind us that it is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness and from that candle many more can be lit.  Together we can banish the darkness.