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."