Friday, December 31, 2010

More on Chinese Food on Xmas

Last week's Shabbat was quite the hit with Chinese food served at the Oneg (see our previous post, Chinese Food on Shabbat), and in response, congregant Lauren Rowland forwarded the following from David Mamet:

A long time ago, I used to live around the block from Bernstein's Kosher Chinese on Essex St. I never ate there on Christmas and never ate there on a Saturday night when the place was hoppin'.

Just to reassure our readers, this is all in jest, and the Chinese food we served was Kosher, coming from Veggie Heaven in Teaneck.

And with that, our best wishes on this New Year's Eve Shabbat!  See you in 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chinese Food on Shabbat

Tonight people all around the world gather together to celebrate a holiday...  a holiday called Shabbat!

Of course, this year, our Sabbath coincides with the Christian celebration of Christmas, and it is something of an informal tradition for American Jews to go out for Chinese food while everyone else is off celebrating.  This notion has made its way to the highest levels of government in the United States, as noted in a post that appeared on this blog earlier this year, Seasons Greetings Courtesy of Elena Kagan

And whether you do go out to a Chinese restaurant, or order in, or do something else entirely, Chinese food on Christmas has come to be symbolic of our experience as a minority. an experience humorously portrayed in the following YouTube music video, Chinese Food on Christmas:

The video is by Brandon Harris Walker, who has his own YouTube Channel, and his website

Tonight at Congregation Adas Emuno, I'll be the lay leader for Shabbat services, and guess what we'll be serving at the Oneg?  Yes, you guessed it:  Chinese food!  See you there!

And, blessings of the season to you all!  Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Down the Hatch

Well, Hanukah may be over now, but the pleasant memories linger on.  And it is certainly not too late to share with you the latest about the Senior US Senator from the great state of Utah, Republican Orrin Hatch.  What does Hatch, a Mormon from Utah, have to do with our Bergen County Reform Jewish congregation, you may ask.  Well, nothing directly, but Time magazine reports that he recently wrote a song called, "Eight Days of Hannukah," which they described as "a snappy, earnest ballad about the Jewish holiday that went viral Dec. 9 after Tablet magazine posted a video for the track online."  And here it is, courtesy of Vimeo, a leading alternative to YouTube:

The Time article goes on to relate
While the 75-year-old Mormon looks a bit uncomfortable and out-of-place throughout the two-minute "making of"-style video, the man is serious about his love for God's chosen people: check out the mezuzah necklace he flashes at 00:45. "Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do," Hatch told the New York Times. "I feel sorry I'm not Jewish sometimes."

Well, Senator, perhaps you remember the old advertising campaign for Levy's rye bread?  Here's a reminder:

Well, you don't have to be Jewish to love Hanukkah!  Happy Chanukah to you, and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

For this last night, and day. of Chanukah, I would like to share with you my favorite Chanukah song, "Light One Candle," by Peter Yarrow. Here is a beautiful live concert version of the song, by Peter, Paul, and Mary:

This is very much a song about social consciousness, social justice, and social action, one of the great themes of the Jewish religious tradition.  And here are the lyrics:

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand

Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they've not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!

Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!

As we come to the end of our festival of lights, let the melody and the sentiment linger:  



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Feeling the Maccabeats

So, here's a brand new Chanukkah video that's went viral last week (going viral means it's very popular, for those of you unfamiliar with the term).  A couple of nights ago, my son Benjamin called me over to show it to me, I said I'd post it here.  

And yesterday I saw it mentioned online via The Chronicle of Higher Education's e-mail newsletter, which directed me to a short item entitled, ‘Candlelight,’ the Viral Video From the MaccabeatsThe Chronicle introduces it by saying, "A Hanukkah treat from the Maccabeats, an a cappella group at Yeshiva University. It’s viral, folks, so apologies if you’ve already seen it."  

So there's it's officially certified as viral, not surprising as it is a catchy little number.

And over on the video's YouTube page, the Maccabeats write

Buy this song on itunes!


Based on Mike Tompkins' a cappella version of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite". Video created by Uri Westrich

And I think they deserve our support.  So, anyway, okay, here's the video:

And all that's left to say is, Well Done, Maccabeats (MaccaBeatles?)!  And Happy Chanukah to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Under Hanukkah's Spell

Ever wonder why there are so many different spellings of Chanukah, to wit:


Okay, I'm exaggerating just a tiny bit here. And technically, when it's spelled with an H instead of a Ch, there's supposed to be a dot under the H, which indicates that it's pronounced as the guttural "ch" sound that is not found in English, but is present in some other languages, such as German (ach du lieber!).

For some, it's quite the conundrum, and the subject of a lighthearted song by the LeeVees:

Of course, there is one standardized way to spell the name of this holiday, and that's as follows:

See, it's spelled cheit, nun, vav (which represents the "oo" sound in this context), kaf, hei. Simple! That's going right to left, of course, because that's the direction you read and write in in Hebrew, and there are no vowels represented (aside from the vav indicating "oo"), which is typcially the case in Hebrew, although it is possible to fill in vowels using diacritical marks.

The process of translating from one writing system to another is called transliteration, and is a separate issue from the process of translation itself, which has to do with the meanings of the spoken language. And we often don't acknowledge the fact taht learning another writing system is a separate and distinct task from learning another language, and of course it's much easier to just learn another language that uses the same writing system, for example learning French when you know English (although you do have to learn about the extra accent marks), or learning Hebrew when you already know Yiddish (a German dialect which is written in Hebrew, but uses the Hebrew alphabet in a slighty different way to accomodate itself to the different sounds of Yiddish).

You see, there's a lot you can learn from going to Hebrew School...

So, with just two more nights of Chanukah coming up, here's a very nice original song about Chanukah performed live by the rock group Barenaked Ladies--the video is not much to look at, but it's the sounds that count.

Anyway you look at it, it's a spellbinding holiday!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy Honika?

 Electric Menorah, a name for a popular music act?  Or a legitimate alternative to candles?  When I was growing up, we always thought electric Menorahs were tacky, for example:

That's something that would be put up by an institution, a school, or in an apartment building lobby, along with the ubiquitous Christmas tree with its electric lights.  After all, it doesn't make sense to have something burning when there's no one to watch over it.  But for individuals and families to rely on an electric Menorah, that's like, oy!

Real Menorahs burn, like, with fire.  Mostly we use candles, but to be really traditional, you can use little bowls of oil, because that's what it originally was about, the burning of purified, sanctified olive oil in a lamp in the Temple, meant to symbolize the light present at Mount Sinai at the time the Torah was given.  

And all of this is besides the point, except as a launching pad for me to introduce you to this cool video that brings an electronic, science fiction theme to Chanukah.  So let me present to you, Honika Electronica:

So, I wonder if this guy is related to Mel Brooks at all?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Come Light the Menorah!

Tonight is the official public Menorah lighting, taking place outside of Congregation Adas Emuno, set to begin at 5:30 PM, starting with a Havadalah ceremony, and followed afterwards by a Chanukah party!  And when we light the Menorah tonight, it'll be the fourth night, and fourth light being turned on. 

As you know, Chanukah lasts for eight days, and we commemorate the holiday by lighting candles, one on the first day, two on the second, and so on until all eight candles on the Chanukah Menorah are lit. The Chanukah Menorah, or Chanukiah, actually uses nine candles typically, one being the shamash or helper, which is used to light the other eight (interestingly, Shamash is the name of the Sumerian sun god). Oh, and just in case it's not obvious, a Menorah is a candelabrum, but when I hear the word candelabrum I can't help but think of Liberace (if this confuses you, never mind, you're probably just too young to get the reference). 

 So why is this week different from all other weeks? On all other weeks, the Menorahs that are used only have six lights, plus the seventh shamash. The six lights of the standard Menorah correspond to the six points of the Star of David, the symbol of Judaism, but the Menorah itself is said to symbolize the burning bush, and it is said that the design of the Menorah was part of God's revelation to Moses. It was a feature of the Temple in Jerusalem, and remains one of the symbols of our faith, and the Jewish people as a nation. Here's one image of a Menorah, patterned after the one that existed in the ancient Temple:

And here is the Coat of Arms of the State of Israel, where the Menorah is used as a national symbol:

And now, here is a traditional image of a Chanukah Menorah:

And here's the national Menorah of the United States, on the Mall in Washington, DC, courtesy of National Geographic:

And now, these images below look pretty sad after the professional National Geographic photographer's work, but I took them with my camera phone back in 2008 at our community Menorah lighting:

With snow on the ground even, but I can't see Irving Berlin singing, I'm dreaming of a White Chanukah, oy!  Pass the latkes, please!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Feast of Lights

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was a Jewish-American poet from New York City who is best known for her sonnet, "The New Colossus," which goes like this:

The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

That's right! This is the poem that appears on a plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. 

If you're wondering about the twin cities she makes reference to, they're New York City, and Jersey City (which is actually closer to Liberty and Ellis Island that New York is).  And Chanukah itself is a celebration of liberty, after all, so it should come as no surprise that Ms. Lazarus also wrote a poem about the holiday:

The Feast of Lights
Emma Lazarus

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light,
And, purified from every Syrian stain,

The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias' stem,
The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,
Simon the fair, the Burst-of Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help of-God; o'er all his clan

Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,
Whose praise is: "He received the perishing."

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah's heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie

Disfigured and polluted--who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o'ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.

Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn,
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

This poem was published in 1882, and reflects the growing sentiment that formally coalesced as Zionism in 1897; 1882 was the year that many Jews started to immigrate to Palestine (that's what it was called back then), mostly from Russia to escape the pogroms.

So, for us now in the year 2010, Chanukah should serve as a celebration of liberty and freedom for all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Chanukah

For the second night of Chanukah, how about a lovely rendition of Ma'oz Tzur, or as it is known in the English translation, Rock of Ages?

This YouTube video was originally posted in 2008, with the following description:

The SHIRAH Choir performs "Ma'oz Tzur" Sunday, December 14, 2008 led Matthew Lazar, Founding Director and Conductor. This concert was held at the Eric Brown Theater, Thurnauer School of Music, Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, NJ. For more information, see

Our thanks to our neighbors over in Tenafly for this marvelous Chanukah treat!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hannukah!

On behalf of Congregation Adas Emuno, we wish you all a very happy Hannukah!

The video comes to us from YouTube courtesy of
twingal01 , and features "pictures of menorah's around the world. 8 days of lighting candles. 2 songs."

Monday, November 29, 2010

D'var Torah for the Jewish Standard for Chanukah

D’var Torah for Jewish Standard: Miketz/Chanukah
As we reach the season of Chanukah this year, in many of our synagogues, our leaders will be discussing what we’ve come to call “The December Dilemma”. Chanukah can become a difficult time of year for us if we and our children are comparing our December holiday to our Christian friends’ celebrations during this time. The two holidays have absolutely nothing to do with one another in terms of theology. However, in today’s material world, the holidays have become intertwined as an interfaith “festival” of buying. If we fully embrace the materialistic notions of Chanukah, and neglect to consider the roots of our holiday, we have completely lost the essence of what Chanukah represents.
When we focus on the true meaning of Chanukah, we come back to the very root of the word. Chanukah itself means rededication. Our December holiday reminds us to celebrate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is significant that the word is rededication rather than dedication. Of course, the Beit Hamikdash had already been dedicated and it makes sense that as it was dedicated once again, it becomes a rededication. But as a spiritual commentary, the word rededication allows us to look within ourselves and see where we have not been as Jewishly dedicated as we would have liked to be.
In the prayer, Al Hanisim, we are also reminded to celebrate the rededication of our people to the very idea of Judaism! We recite, “the iniquitous Greco-Syrian kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, to make them forget Your Torah.” Later in the prayer, we say, “Your children entered the sanctuary of Your house, cleansed Your temple, purified Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and appointed these eight days of Hanukkah in order to give thanks and praises unto Your holy name." In order to rededicate themselves, our ancestors had to first realize that they had lost sight of what was important. Once they had confronted their own failings, they could begin again to dedicate themselves through physical labor and spiritual endeavor in the holy Temple.
This year, may our December dilemma be, “How will we rededicate ourselves to living a Jewish life and living in the way that God wants us to?” and, “During our Festival of Lights, how will we rekindle the flames within our souls?”
I know that my own answers to these questions are unusual. Having recently returned from a journey to Rome with 19 other Reform cantors from all over North America to sing in the Italian State Basilica, my thoughts have been focused on interfaith relations and in particular, Jewish-Catholic relations. I have been formally involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue for ten years through the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. My favorite thing about interfaith dialogue is that it always brings me back to my own faith with a deeper appreciation and understanding of our traditions.
Our journey was full of wonderful experiences and also some disappointments. While discussing some of the minor disappointments of the trip, Rabbi Mark Winer, a chair of the International Interfaith Task Force of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, responded to our regret. He reminded us to view our concert and interactions with Vatican officials as the beginning of a journey.
I returned home to hear news that Pope Benedict XVI had published personal comments calling Pope Pius a "great, righteous" man who "saved more Jews than anyone else". These comments cause pain to most Jewish people. My response to the comments this time was that I will continually rededicate myself to the important work of interfaith dialogue, no matter how difficult it becomes.
The last day of Chanukah marks the dedication of the altar in the Holy Temple. In some communities this is seen as the end of the High Holiday season and people wish each other, “Gmar chatimah tovah (may you be sealed for good).” As we enter this Chanukah season, may we confront our obstacles with the strength and ingenuity that our ancestors showed. May we rededicate ourselves as individuals and as a community to Jewish living and to righteousness.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Concert Video

Dear friends,

I just received a very special gift this Thanksgiving! The entire concert in Rome, To God's Ears, is posted on YouTube. I've enclosed the link. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

final Rome posting

Dear friends,

Please excuse me for taking so long to write about the final days of my journey to Rome. It's been a whirlwind!

For most of the day on Tuesday, we practiced. Part of our practice was at the Michelangelo Hotel, which is where most of the cantors were staying during our trip. We had a quick lunch and then continued our rehearsal at the Basilica. Here is a link to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri: The basilica sits on the site of the Diocletian Baths which were the largest of the Roman public baths. You can learn more about the Baths of Diocletian here:

The sound inside of the Basilica was tremendously beautiful. We worked hard for most of the day and took a short break, after which we came back to the Basilica and presented the concert. I was whisked away during part of the rehearsal for an interview as well. We were escorted to Rome by a film crew. The crew is filming a documentary called "To God's Ears". I spent most of my interview time talking about why interfaith work is so dear to me. I often hear the cry that children of intermarried couples will not remain Jews. As a child of a Jew and a Catholic, I like to say that I'm living proof that it ain't necessarily so. I feel that it's out duty to reach out to interfaith couples and provide them with a welcoming home.

The concert was truly beautiful. There aren't words to describe the feeling of joy and triumph as our voices echoed through the Basilica. Knowing that we were sharing the beauty of our musical and liturgical traditions with Catholics in their place of worship was a moment I will never forget.

As many of you know by now, Pope Benedict did not attend the concert. Unfortunately, our main contact to the Vatican, Cardinal Keeler, fell ill right before our trip and was unable to accompany us. However, this did not detract from the meaning of the concert. We had in the audience other cardinals and the American ambassador to the Vatican. Also, my favorite moment was realizing that Anthony, the student who we had spoken with the previous day, had come to the concert.

The next day, our group attended an audience with Pope Benedict. Some of us were given VIP seating and I was one of the chosen. From all reports, the two sections of seating were equally exciting, with different views. The whole experience had the feeling of a rock concert, with crowds of people, some standing on their chairs, yelling with joy. After this experience, we went on to a wonderful tour of the Vatican Museums.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I can say that I am so grateful to have been a part of this experience. Thank you all for helping me make this trip!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Back to Leonia

Hi everybody! I'm back in Leonia. I didn't get to update our final experiences & I won't get to do it today - too much to do in order to get ready for Shabbat. But I can assure you the concert was tremendously beautiful. I promise to post before it's too far removed from my mind. Thanks for all of your support along the way. I felt like you were all there with me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 2

I woke up bright andearly in order to take in some sights this morning. I
joined together with Cantors Tracey
Scher and Rosalie Boxt and Rosalie's husband, Jason. We took a taxi over to the Colosseum at 7 am!
This is the arc of Constantine with the beautiful morning light.

After walking by the Colosseum, of course the first order of business was finding a place to have an espresso con latte. Everyone else had cappuccino as you can see. Molto bene!

After our pick-me-up we wended our way back to the Hotel Michelangelo to greet the rest of the cantors who were gathering together.

We walked past the forum and the circo massimo.

This outdoor market was beautiful. We were running late and I didn't have time to stop to buy any fruit, but I did get to snap this photo. Farmer's markets in the US are nice, but no comparison.

After our walk we met our colleagues and went to rehearse for the day. We spent the morning in rehearsal and took a break after noon to participate in a ceremony rededicating a Yom Hashoah Menorah.
Below is a photo of me at the ceremony with Rabbi Mark Winer.
Rabbi Winer is the president of the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony. You can learn
more about his work at

After the ceremony, we joined together for lunch and interfaith dialogue with the seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome. I'm sorry to say that I didn't take any pictures because I became so engrossed in the discussion! Following our discussions with the seminarians we had a meeting at the Rome Synagogue with the Chief Rabbi of Rome and then we had a tour of the former ghetto in Rome. All of the buildings that made up the ghetto have been demolished, but there is a lot of history hidden in the cracks. Our guide for this part of the day was a woman from a Roman Jewish family whose family has been here in Rome since the 14th century.
This is a photo of our guide. After our tour we did some more rehearsing and then returned to the hotel to freshen up for dinner on our own.

I had a lovely quiet evening with Cantor Jonathan Grant and his wife Sharyn, two very close friends. We went to a "restaurant" called Da i Due Ciccione (the 2 fat guys) in Trastevere. My brother gave us the recommendation (thanks, Jesse!). The place had five tables, the stove was basically next to our table and it was a homemade, classic Roman meal. Very relaxing after a long day. Below are photos of bruschetta and me with the owner/chef. Time to get some sleep before a big day tomorrow!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Evening - Day one

Our evening began at the Instituto Maria Bambina with an opening reception. Here is a view of St. Peter's Cathedral from the roof of the Institute.

Many of my colleagues were interviewed on the rooftop for a documentary film, To God's Ears, which is being created during this trip. My interview will happen tomorrow.

After the opening reception, a number of us walked over to Via Germanico to have dinner at Dal Toscano, a restaurant suggested by my friends, Lani and Paul at Context Travel. The restaurant wasn't open yet when we arrived, so we sat down at a streetside cafe to have a glass of wine. Lo and behold, the 3 young men sitting at the table next to us were seminarians who are having lunch with us tomorrow as part of our trip.

After our apertivo, we went to Dal Toscano and had a fabulous dinner. Here are my friends, Jonathan and Sharyn Grant, and me and Tracey Sher enjoying our dinner.