Saturday, December 29, 2012

Eulogy for Noah Pozner

At our Shabbat services, we joined together with individuals and groups across the nation and throughout the world in mourning the victims of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and praying for their families. And in a previous post, A Response to Tragedy, we joined with Jews across the nation in calling for comprehensive reforms to end gun violence and ensure mental health care to all who need it. There is so much more that could and should be said about this terrible event, and yet so very difficult to put it into words.

However difficult it may be for us to speak to this subject, how much more so for the parents of the children lost to this act of senseless violence? And yet, we find tragedy confronted courageously with words of extraordinary eloquence. Such is the case for the eulogy delivered by the mother of Noah Pozner, which our own Rabbi Schwartz has made reference to on more than one occasion. According to the Associated Press, reporters were not allowed into the Jewish funeral service, but the family made a transcript available for distribution of the eulogies delivered by Noah Pozner's mother, Veronique, and his uncle, and they both can be read online at a variety of sites, including ABC News. And we feel it is important for many reasons to share Veronique Pozner's eulogy here on our congregational blog:

The sky is crying, and the flags are at half-mast. It is a sad, sad day. But it is also your day, Noah, my little man. I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room.

Most of all, I will miss your visions of your future. You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos.

You were a little boy whose life force had all the gravitational pull of a celestial body. You were light and love, mischief and pranks. You adored your family with every fiber of your 6-year-old being. We are all of us elevated in our humanity by having known you. A little maverick, who didn't always want to do his schoolwork or clean up his toys, when practicing his ninja moves or Super Mario on the Wii seemed far more important.

Noah, you will not pass through this way again. I can only believe that you were planted on Earth to bloom in heaven. Take flight, my boy. Soar. You now have the wings you always wanted. Go to that peaceful valley that we will all one day come to know. I will join you someday. Not today. I still have lots of mommy love to give to Danielle, Michael, Sophia and Arielle.

Until then, your melody will linger in our hearts forever. Momma loves you, little man.

Truly heart-rending words.  And we can only join together in saying Kaddish for the victims, and praying for healing for their families.

Friday, December 28, 2012

And All That Jazz

Did you catch the latest article about Congregation Adas Emuno in last week's Leonia Life? If not, you can see it on the website under the title of Adas Emuno Jazzes Up the Holiday Season in Leonia.  The date of publication is listed as December 21st, and the article begins with the following:

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble came to Congregation Adas Emuno to bring a lively, multi-cultural mix of music to Leonia on Dec. 1.

The article continues, based primarily on an interview with Adas Emuno President Lance Strate:

"They preformed for about an hour and the repertoire comes from taking Hebraic melodies and turning them into jazz compositions," said Lance Strate, President of the Congregation. "It's a kind of multi-cultural approach where there is a Latin rhythm section and sometimes we get Latin beats, Afro-Cuban beats and sometimes we get a Mediterranean touch to it."

Guests, including both members of the congregation and visitors, were entertained by a variety of songs.
"It's actually a wonderful mix and collaboration because the leader of the band, Eugene Marlow, comes from a Jewish background but the drummers are native New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent," said Lance Strate. "The saxophone player is Lebanese and the bass player is German."

The article also features a photo credited to Christopher Trento, with the following caption: "Michael Hashim, Frank Wagner, guest vocalist Shira Lissek and Matthew Gonzalez of Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble perform a variety of Hebraic melodies at Congregation Adas Emuno on Dec. 1. "

And the article concludes with some more quotations:

The concert began after a brief Havdallah service. The band was also joined by a singer who joined the instrumental musicians by adding her voice to a few of the songs.
"Four of the pieces that they did they did, they were joined by Shira Lisseck who is a cantorial soloist. She has preformed with symphony orchestras and has an absolutely gorgeous voice," said Strate.
At the conclusion of the concert, guests attended the congregation's Social Hall where there were light refreshments being served.
"We're hoping to make it a tradition but this is only the second time that they preformed for us but we are planning on having them back again next year," said Strate.
The congregation also recently celebrated the daily lighting of the Menorah for Hanukkah.

And indeed, it was a great way to start off a jazzy Festival of Lights and holiday season here in Bergen County! 

And we'll be holding on to that spirit into the new year with a performance by Magevet, the premier Jewish, Hebrew and Israeli a cappella group of Yale University, on Thursday, January 10, at 7:30 PM.  More on that in a future post, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Deprivations of Privacy

I write an occasional guest post for the blog run by the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, and I have shared some of them here on our congregational blog in the past (see Hannah Arendt, Jewish Philosopher, Hannah Arendt and Charlie Chaplin, and History and Freedom). And I thought it might be worthwhile to share my latest post here as well, even though there is very little in the way of Jewish references in this one. 

But in our Saturday morning Torah study sessions that have focused on the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides for the past few months (see previous posts such as The Less Than Perfect God of Hebrew Scripture, Stroke of Insight, Thoughts on Torah Study, Religious Freedom in America, Scientific Vs. Theological Justifications), the subject of privacy has come up in relation to the strong sense of community that existed in antiquity and the medieval period. And Arendt herself is very much a Hellenistic philosopher, although her sensibility is necessarily grounded in Jewish experience, thought, ethics, and culture. And some of you may recognize the influence of an old Yiddish proverb on the final point I make in this post. So, I think that all constitutes sufficient grounds for including this post here.

You can also see the post over on the Hannah Arendt Center site under the same title (which I've linked to their site for your convenience), The Deprivations of Privacy, where it was posted over on December 3rd. And you might find it interesting to learn that the post went up on their blog on that Monday, and 2 days later, on that Wednesday morning, I heard from the director of the Arendt Center, Roger Berkowitz, that the post brought 2600 people to their site, with many more hits continuing to come in after that.  And of course I'm happy about that, for my own sake sure, but also pleased to contribute in this way to center and the promotion of Arendt's work and thought.

So, lest you be deprived any further (and with thanks to the Arendt Center's Bridget Hollenback for providing the illustrations), here it is now, beginning with a quote from Hannah Arendt, as this was written for their blog's "Quote of the Week" feature:

"The emergence of society—the rise of housekeeping, its activities, problems, and organizational devices—from the shadowy interior of the household into the light of the public sphere, has not only blurred the old borderline between private and political, it has also changed almost beyond recognition the meaning of the two terms and their significance for the life of the individual and the citizen. Not only would we not agree with the Greeks that a life spent in the privacy of "one's own" (idion), outside the world of the common, is "idiotic" by definition, or with the Romans to whom privacy offered but a temporary refuge from the business of the res publica; we call private today a sphere of intimacy whose beginnings we may be able to trace back to late Roman, though hardly to any period of Greek antiquity, but whose peculiar manifoldness and variety were certainly unknown to any period prior to the modern age. "

-Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Here are the titles of some recent posts on the Deeplinks Blog, which is published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, America's leading organization advocating for citizens' digital rights:
  • Who's Tracking Your Reading Habits? An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy, 2012 Edition
  • Ninth Circuit Gives the A-OK for Warrantless Home Video Surveillance
  • Attempt to Modernize Digital Privacy Law Passes the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • NASA's Data Valdez: Thousands of Employees' Personal Information Compromised in Embarrassing Data Breach
  • Don't Be a Petraeus: A Tutorial on Anonymous E-Mail Accounts
  • ECPA and the Mire of DC Politics: We Shouldn't Have to Trade Video Privacy to Get Common Sense Protections of Our Email
  • EFF to Supreme Court: Limit Release of Driver Info
  • Do Not Track Update:  Professor Peter Swire to Co-Chair W3C Tracking Protection Working Group
  • Reform to Require Warrant for Private Online Messages Up for Vote, but Down on Privacy
  • Jones Meant What It Said: EFF Urges Court to Stop Warrantless GPS Tracking

Privacy is far from the only issue addressed by the EFF, but this list does account for 10 out of 16 posts appearing on the Deeplinks Blog between November 21st and 29th of this year.  And concerns about invasions of privacy surface repeatedly in regard to Facebook's data mining of user profiles and updates, Google tracking and analysis of search queries (not to mention their indiscriminate street view photography, monitoring of wifi signals, and use of gmail address books), and Apple's tracking of the whereabouts and movements of iPhone users (also done by Android and other mobile systems).  Companies are known to monitor their employee's internet use, email, and some even demand access to their social media accounts.  Law enforcement and other government agencies (foreign and domestic) seek access to citizens' email and text messages and records of websites visited and documents downloaded.  Personal messages, photos, and videos are forwarded and distributed without permission.  Sites like Wikileaks publish secret government and corporate documents.  Hackers break into databases, steal information, take credit card numbers and banking information, and in the ultimate invasion of privacy, engage in identity theft.

As much as the modern understanding of privacy seems to be under assault on account of new media and digital technologies, it's also true that many of us readily reveal personal information via online profiles and posts, post our personal photographs and video recordings, divulge our location through Foursquare and social media status updates, enable GPS tracking on our mobile devices in order to take better advantage of various apps and services, enter credit and debit card numbers on websites assuming that they are secure, and treat email, instant messaging, and SMS as if they were absolutely inviolable channels of communication.

Privacy is being consumed.  Online, our privacy is consumed by the advertising, marketing, and public relations industries, while we in turn are encouraged to serve ourselves up as personal brands (as befits cattle).  But through social media, we ourselves also consume other people's private lives, perusing their profiles, attending to their status updates, looking through their photographs, listening to their podcasts, watching their uploaded videos.  Online we participate in a great orgy of consumption, as personal and intimate details are freely exchanged. On television, we consume the privacy of a select few, but in the age of the internet, paralleling our online devotion to following the lives of ordinary people just like ourselves, we have the relatively new genre of reality TV, which serves us up real housewives and biggest losers, bachelors and bachelorettes, apprentices and survivors, amazing racers and American idols. We are cast in the role of Big Brother, but not in the Orwellian mode of surveillance in the service of social control, but rather in a trivialized form of peeping tom titillation, spying for its own sake, the pure pleasure of voyeurism as another instance of the consumption of privacy.  It's a short step from ogling others to googling them.

There is nothing new about our consumption of private lives.  What is new is the extent to which it is being carried out.  We are in the process of fulfilling Andy Warhol's prophecy that in the future everyone will be famous, but only for fifteen minutes, or was it only for fifteen people?  Without a doubt, fame and fandom are being leveled and democratized as never before, as the erosion of privacy that has long been the price of fame for celebrities has now been extended to everyone who has an online presence.  We have long grown accustomed to consuming the privacy of famous individuals in the form of celebrity gossip distributed through online services such as TMZ, through television programming such as Entertainment Tonight, and through print media such as the supermarket tabloids and People magazine (not to mention the fact that all too often this type of content is featured by legitimate news media).  Celebrity is a phenomenon that's older than television, but television's emphasis on the up-close and personal, the way that the small screen favors the close-up, lends itself to unveiling of intimate detail and expression.  As much as he was an icon of hardcore broadcast journalism, Edward R. Murrow pioneered the format of bringing television cameras into the homes of celebrities in Person to Person, a program he hosted from 1953 to 1959.  As television came to dominate the media environment of the late 20th century, the proliferating presence of cameras and microphones made private life all but impossible for celebrities. It is no accident that the term paparazzi traces its origins back to the same year that the Kennedy-Nixon debates signaled the beginning of image politics, 1960 (the term is derived from a character named Papparzo, a news photographer, from Federico Fellini's famous film, La Dolce Vita).  Is it any accident that the synonym for television set is monitor, as television's basic function is the monitoring or surveillance of the environment?

But to be fair, while television, and before it radio, allowed audiences to view the outside world while remaining themselves unobserved, providing a kind of two-way mirror (aka a one-way window) on events, they also have constituted an intrusion of the outside world into private homes, and thereby contributed to the erosion of the private sphere.  And long before the internet, the adoption of the telephone allowed strangers as well as friends and relatives to invade our privacy at any hour of the day or night, interrupting even the most intimate of activities (before the widespread use of answering machines, some referred to this phenomenon as telephonus interruptus).

Over the course of the 20th century, the increasing presence of cameras and microphones have subjected private life to increasingly greater public exposure, but more generally the wiring of the environment (the environment in effect wearing a wire) and the unimpeded flow of wireless transmissions permeating the very air that we breathe has placed privacy under increasing assault. In the aftermath of Watergate, Marshall McLuhan noted that on account of the electronic media, "the entire planet has become a whispering gallery, with a large portion of mankind engaged in making its living by keeping the rest of mankind under surveillance."  McLuhan held Arendt in high esteem, and he incorporated Arendt's observation that the ancient Greeks viewed the private individual as an idiot, noting that modern ideas about privacy are an aberration, rather than a natural and universal human understanding about how we should live our lives.

It often comes as a revelation to individuals not familiar with the Constitution of the United States to learn that there is no specific articulation of a right to privacy in the Bill of Rights or elsewhere, and that privacy rights are the product of judicial interpretation of, for example, the Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

This absence is not an oversight on the part of the founders of the American republic, but rather a reflection of the fact that the modern concept of privacy was a novelty in the late 18th century.  And as surprising as this may be, the ancient Greek understanding of private life typically comes as a shock.  As Arendt goes on to explain:

In ancient feeling the privative trait of privacy, indicated in the word itself, was all-important; it meant literally a state of being deprived of something, and even of the highest and most human of man's capacities. A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the barbarian had chosen not to establish such a realm, was not fully human. We no longer think primarily of deprivation when we use the word "privacy," and this is partly due to the enormous enrichment of the private sphere through modern individualism.

The root meaning of privacy is the same as privative and deprived, as lacking a role in or access to the public arena.  For Arendt, privacy provides the space for the individual's thoughtful contemplation, but must serve as a backstage region, to use Erving Goffman's dramaturgical metaphor, for the staging of public action, political activity involving collective deliberation and cooperation.

Underlying this is the essential point that the public and the private are interdependent, which is why "the barbarian," or member of a tribal society, has neither.  Conceptions of both the public and the private are tied to the nascent notion of the individual, of identity separate from the group, which only began to form following the introduction of writing and the advent of literacy. Writing, as Eric Havelock put it, "separates the knower from the known," allowing for objective distance from one's tradition and tribe, and from one's own thoughts.  This inward turn opens the door to the idea of the private individual, while the act of reading and writing itself require a degree of isolation.  Readers read alone and apart from one another, even if they read the exact same text at the exact same time.  Listeners constitute a group, a collectivity, as an audience (which is a singular noun, whereas readers are plural).  A public then is dependent on the existence of the private individual, as the public is composed of individuals who govern themselves because they can think for themselves, speak their own minds, and deliberate as equals. Equality too is linked to writing, as it is with the introduction of codified law made possible by writing that we gain the idea that we are all equal in relation to the same set of rules and commandments.  Public and private then have their roots in antiquity, but do not become fully formed until the modern era, following the introduction of the printing press, which also opened the door for the modern ideology of individualism.

As public and private have a common origin, so too are they commonly at risk due to the same forces.  Politically, totalitarianism seeks to remove all of the barriers that make private life possible, at the same time that the public sphere is dismantled to create a single homogenous field of power through surveillance.  Economically, in ancient Greece, the center of public life was the agora, which also served as the marketplace, but only a few years before Arendt published The Human Condition, the modern marketplace began to be referred to as the private sector, as corporations usurped the human invention of private identity, and have systemically undermined the last vestiges of the public sphere as they seek to create a single homogenous field of consumption through the manufacture of desire.  We might well wonder why corporate executives for the most part have been allowed to escape the heavy media scrutiny that political leaders and other celebrities are subjected to?  Why are they allowed to hold on to the privilege of privacy where other prominent (and not so prominent) members of society are not?  Wouldn't we all be better off if they were held to the same standards of transparency now required of politicians and government officials?

Underlying the general blurring and dissolution of the private and the public that we have been experiencing is the electronic media environment, which has undermined, superseded, and shortcircuited the media environment associated with literacy and print.  In place of individualism, which was based on the compartmentalization of private life kept separate from the public sphere, we have personalization, which involves providing open access to personal data, history, and activity, and the persona itself.  In the absence of boundaries, honesty becomes of the highest value, but it's typically the honesty of self-disclosure, narcissistic self-revelation in the interests of self-promotion, as when celebrities go on talk shows to confess to personal problems as part of what is, or seems to be, an image revitalization strategy.  Openness in communication is treasured, even though indiscriminate openness can be damaging rather than healing depending on the context and manner in which it is approached.  Transparency is put forth as a basic principle for internet activity, and while awareness that we are being observed generally results in more ethical behavior than would otherwise occur, there are times when some amount of secrecy in politics is needed for successful negotiation.

Arendt teaches us that the modern concept of private and public is not immutable, and having changed before can and is changing again.  And having been born the year before Arendt published The Human Condition, I am not entirely comfortable with the increasing loss of the distinction between the public and private, nor can I completely relate to the post-individualism of younger generations.  But given our current trajectory, our options may be limited to living with surveillance carried out by powerful entities such as governments and corporations, or meeting surveillance with sousveillance, to use the term popularized by University of Toronto political scientist Ronald Deibert, with citizens pointing their cameras back at the cameras pointing at them.  Or more generally, our best option may be to work for a transparent society, to use author David Brin's notion, where our personal sacrifice of privacy is compensated for by transparency on the part of the rich and powerful. If we must be deprived of the boundary between private life and public activity, and instead live and work in glass houses, let's make sure no one gets to gets to mirror theirs, just because they have a great deal of silver.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Scientific Vs. Theological Justifications

As noted in our previous post, Thoughts on Torah Study, for the past few months we have been studying the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides. And in that previous post, we shared some responses to the text and the previous Saturday morning's discussion provided by Ludwik Kowalski.

Following yesterday's session, Ludwik shared with us a recommendation for the recently aired PBS documentary, First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty, which was the subject of our past post, Religious Freedom in America. And Ludwik also shared some further thoughts on the differences between science and theology, which we are happy to share in the post:

At the end of Chapter 2, discussed at our 12/22/12 Torah meeting today we read that "What's been said in these two chapters is like a drop on the ocean compared to what has to be said to [fully] explain it."  The explanations of the concepts in these two chapters is mystical and esoteric speculation. 
The word "mystical" will be discussed next week. It will probably generate many questions. The word "speculation," in my vocabulary, refers to a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a statement that calls for additional evidence. Scientific claims are validated by using deductive and inductive (laboratory-based) kinds of evidence. This is not true when claims about our spiritual world are debated; theological claims are validated only by logical deduction. Only some ignorant atheists call for laboratory experiments designed to validate existence (or non-existence) of God.

Ludwik, and we, welcome your comments on these thoughts. Is there empirical evidence for the existence of God, or that God does not exist? Are their experiments or tests that have been or can be carried out to test such hypotheses? Is it possible to prove or disprove these theological claims?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Religious Freedom in America

The topic of religious freedom vs. theocracy has come up repeatedly in our Saturday morning Torah study sessions led by Rabbi Schwartz at Congregation Adas Emuno, and also in our rabbi's Friday evening Shabbat sermons. And as an American congregation, affiliated with the Reform Judaism movement in the United States, the subject of religion and religious freedom in America is very close to our heart.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the recent PBS documentary, First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Freedom, is of great interest for us.  First aired just a few days ago on December 18th, the documentary relates the "story of how the most basic of human freedoms - freedom of conscience - was codified for the first time in human history as an inalienable human right protected by law."  It can be viewed on the PBS website through this link.  Or you can watch it right here on our congregational blog:

Our thanks to congregant Ludwik Kowalaski, a regular participant at Torah study and a contributor to this blog (see our previous post, Thoughts on Torah Study), for letting us know about this program.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Response to Tragedy

Dear Friends, 

The violent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was a tragic shock to our nation. But it did not have to happen at all. As Jews who believe each life is created in the divine image of God, we are compelled to do all we can to prevent future such massacres. 

We are signing the petition from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs calling for comprehensive reforms to end gun violence and ensure access to mental health care for all who need it. And we are asking you to sign it also. With a concerted effort from all of us we can demonstrate our community’s resolve against gun violence and avoid a return to complacency. Join us in signing this petition at, sharing it widely, and making it a national priority to end the violent scourge we saw in Connecticut. 


Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz 
Dr. Lance Strate, President

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on Torah Study

As mentioned in some of our previous posts, this year's Saturday morning Torah study sessions at Congregation Adas Emuno have been devoted to the thought of the great rabbinical scholar Maimonides.  And this has made for some pretty lively discussion, indeed!  

In fact, one of our congregants and participants in this adult education program, Ludwik Kowalski, has asked us to post his thoughts relating to our most recent session, this past Saturday, December 15th.  Ludwik is a retired physicist and teacher, and here are his "Thoughts to Share":

I am interested in dangerous conflicts between theists and atheists--can they be avoided? If yes then how? My short article on that topic can be found in:

1) The purpose of this year's Torah Study sessions is to read and understand Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (written in the 12th century). Today we started to study his BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE.

2) I had several conceptual difficulties. One of them was the use of essential words by our leader, such as "proof," "science," and "prophet." Should we use such words as Maimonides understood them or should we use them as they are used today by scholars? In my opinion the term "proof," as used today, belongs to logic, not to science. Scientific claims are validated by performing reproducible experiments. Mathematical claims (theorems) are validated by derivations; to derive something means to show that it is logically consistent with what has already been accepted (axioms and already derived theorems).

3) Theological claims are also justified by logical reasoning. Existence of God, and descriptions of God found in the Torah (five books of Moses), are theological axioms--we accept them as such. Later theological claims (such as those found in the Talmud) must be logically derived. Yes, I know that those who are not scholars accept them on the basis of the authority of scholars. But that is a different topic.

4) And I understand that in a workshop devoted to the study of Mishneh Torah, words like science and proof should be understood in the way that the great rabbi Maimonides used them, in the 12th century. But this should be clearly stated, to avoid possible confusion. I am probably not the only one who is often confused by multiple meanings of some words.

And so, we invite others to respond to Ludwik's post, whether you agree with his concerns, or differ or disagree with them.  Readers, whether you have attended this past Torah study session, or any of our other sessions, or none at all, you all are entirely welcome to add your comments to this post. Or if you prefer to send Ludwik a private message, feel free to do so at kowalskiL at

And please feel free to join us as we continue to explore the thought and writing of Maimonides on Saturday mornings at 10 AM. Our Torah study group is free and open to the public, and there is no problem starting in at any point in our ongoing conversation.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hanukkah Adyo!

Last night we lit the eighth and final candle of Hanukkah, which means that our holiday is coming to a close.  But let's not be too hasty. Let's let the spirit linger. After all, today is still the eighth day of Hanukkah, so there's still time for a little more song and celebration.

So as we prepare to say farewell to our festival of lights, let's say it in Ladino, the Sephardic, Judeo-Spanish dialect:  Adyo!  No doubt you notice the resemblance to adios, which literally means, to God, appropriate enough for a holiday that celebrates the defense of our religious heritage.

And let's celebrate the end of our eight-day cycle with the Ladino Hanukkah song, Ocho Kandelikas.  Here's a lovely version of the song written by Florry Jagoda, performed by a group called Los Des:

And here's a swinging version from Kenny Ellis:

And for good measure, let's also include a rock version from The LeeVees performing live at the Highline Ballroom in New York City:


So, let the melodies of Hanukkah linger, and let the glow of the Hanukkah lights continue to shine on us all! And let's say once more, Happy Hanukkah, and blessings of the season to one and all!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where Would You Spend Hanukkah?

Where would you spend the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, if you had to choose? Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? Paris, the "city of lights"?  At home, here in New Jersey, or across the Hudson in New York City?  Well, here are Tom Lehrer's thoughts on the matter:

Where you spend Hanukkah may determine what your dreydel says.  If you're outside Israel, your dreydel should have the four letters:
 nun נ
gimel ג
hei ה
shin ש
which stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, a Great Miracle Happened There!

But in Israel, the fourth letter is a
pei פ
which stands for Nes Gadol Hayah Po, a Great Miracle Happened Here!  

Which brings us to this jazzy video featuring Israeli rapper Sagol 59's "Take Five"-inspired Hanukkah melody:

And so, wherever you may be right now, we wish you a happy Hanukkah, as we prepare to light the eighth and final light of the holiday!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hanukkah Machines

How about this Hanukkah greeting from the fabled Technion in Israel? Hanukkah 101 - Rube Goldberg Machine - Technion Israel is based on the convoluted inventions that sprang from the imagination of Jewish cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and took form in his syndicated newspaper comic strip.  His name became synonymous with the kinds of machines that are depicted here, in this year's Hanukkah video from Israel's Institute of Technology:

And here's what they have to say about the video:

Technion students Eyal Cohen and Tomer Wassermann from the Mechanical Engineering faculty and Matan Orian and Dvir Dukhan of Industrial Engineering and Management take on the challenge to build a Rube Goldberg machine that lights the Chanukah menorah. Hanukkah is the holiday of miracles and here is another one. 
Eyal Cohen and Matan Orian are winners of the annual Technion Dr. Bob's TechnoBrain competition, supported by Dr. Robert Shillman in memory of Technion student Neev-Ya Durban. 
The film was made in the Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Robotics Laboratory in the William Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management

Now, maybe you're saying, how in the world did they do that?  Well, you're in luck, because they also have provided us with a "making of" video, Hanukkah 101 - Behind the Scenes - Rube Goldberg Machine - Technion:

Whatever you may think of their efforts, they're certainly a bit more advanced than this American "Auto Menorah":

Well, fortunately, there's no need to reinvent the wheel, or the menorah, so keep on lighting those lights as we continue to celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah, and look forward to kindling the Shabbat lights tonight as well!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hanukkah Shine!

Whether it's lamps burning olive oil, or candles of various sizes and colors, or electric lights, we know Hanukkah as the Jewish festival of lights.  But maybe the latest version of the Hanukkah "miracle" expressed in the cartoon below is going a little too far in trying to modernize the holiday? What do you think?

Well, for a bit more of a traditional spirit to the contemporary celebration of Hanukkah, how about this brand new video from The Maccabeats - Shine - Hanukkah:

And here's some information from the write-up on YouTube:

Music video for "Shine," an original song by the MaccabeatsVideo by Uri Westrich
Join the Miracle Match Campaign:
This and all Maccabeats music is recorded a cappella.

And here are the lyrics:

Original Artist: The Maccabeats
Lyrics and Music: Julian Horowitz with Isaac Raisner and Ari Lewis 
I see a light, reflection refraction;
Is it nothing more than a chemical reaction;
It flickers and grows, nobody knows;
How much we feel how quickly it goes; 
Turn off the dark and vanquish the night;
Show the whole world for eight days at twilight;
Then and now they fought and we fight;
Fight for the right to live by our own light; 
Let me see the light;
Give me something to live by;
Let me see the light;
I need something to live by; 
Help me see myself in my reflection;
Shine tonight;
Let me shed the light in each direction;
Shining bright;
I wanna see the light; 
A million times the speed of sound;
Fast enough to go around;
the world that we live in, so much cold and strife;
One little light to warm another life; 
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light;
Cause its time for you to shine;
A little dedication, a small illumination;
Just one person to change a whole nation; 
Let me see the light;
Give me something to live by;
Let me see the light;
I need something to live by; 
Help me see myself in my reflection;
Shine tonight;
Let me shed the light in all directions;
Shining bright;
I wanna see the light;
Is this spark that we sing of anything;
Hiding somewhere in between everything;
Let the colors burn in a brilliant burst;
Like a shooting star falling to the earth; 
Help me see myself in my reflection;
Shine tonight;
Let me shed the light in each direction;
Shining bright

And with that we say, Happy Hanukkah, and Shine On!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Heifer at Hanukkah

For something a little different, and maybe a little more significant, than the eight nights of gifts and gelt, Heifer International has its Heifer at Hanukkah campaign.  Here's what they have to say on the web page devoted to this holiday-time social action appeal:

Looking for meaningful Hanukkah gift ideas for that special child in your life? Why not give the joy of helping a family in need. 
Donate a flock of chicks, tree seedlings, a goat, a water buffalo or maybe even a heifer to a family somewhere in the world. Your gift will improve their nutrition and help them generate income in sustainable ways. 
Watch this fun video as Hollywood celebrities Ed Asner and Mark Feuerstein tell you why a gift to Heifer is the perfect Hanukkah gift!

And here is the video:

On their web page they have a nice little spiel about tzedakah that's worth sharing here:

Giving to charity (tzedakah) is a mitzvah – a good deed in Judaism. It’s one of the most important things we do as Jews. 
Your family’s gift to Heifer is special. Not only will you and your children experience the joy of helping others, your gift will also multiply as recipients give their first female offspring to another family in need – what we call “Passing on the Gift”. Thanks to your family, the recipients will experience the joy of giving as well.

And they also have a few words to say about tikkun olam:

It’s our responsibility as Jews to help repair the world – to fix what’s broken (tikkun olam). That’s what Heifer does, every day all around the world. 
Our work helps families rise from poverty to self-reliance, what Maimonides considered the highest form of charity. With your generous Hanukkah gift, a family or perhaps an entire community will acquire the resources and training it needs to do so.

They have a whole catalog of gift ideas, and as they explain

You’ll have an opportunity to personalize a Hanukkah gift card for your children or grandchildren. We’ll also send you the link to a special Hanukkah video message from Ed Asner and Mark Feuerstein to your children. 
On that special Hanukkah night, show your children the gift card, play the special Hanukkah video message from Ed Asner and Mark Feuerstein, and share with them in the joys of tzedakah and tikkun olam.

And we might as well take a look at this other video:

And let's see what Heifer International has to say about themselves:

Heifer International does so much more than put food in the mouths of hungry people; we help them feed themselves. This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief has always been at the heart of our mission and has continued for almost 70 years. Today, millions of families in 128 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope. 
The goal of every Heifer project is sustainability – project partners achieving self-reliance through training and a starter gift of livestock. Partners receive training in our Twelve Cornerstones, support to form community organizations and women’s groups, and the necessary tools and knowledge to properly care for their gifts.
Year after year, as Heifer project families Pass on the Gift of knowledge and one or more of their animals’ offspring to others in need, they become links in a network of hope, dignity and self-reliance that helps hundreds of others care for themselves. Heifer at Hanukkah is here to help you donate a sustainable gift that can last throughout the season.

Their slogan is:


and if Lou Grant says it's true, it's gotta be so!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hanukkah A Cappella

StandFour, an a cappella group consisting of four former members of a group called The Maccabeats, have a new video on YouTube entitled  StandFour - Eight Nights - Hanukkah Mashup, and it seemed like the perfect thing to share with you this Hanukkah morning. 

According to the write up, the song is a "parody mashup of Some Nights by Fun, Die Young by Ke$ha, and Live While We're Young by One Direction. The members of the group are David Block, Noey Jacobson, Nachum Joel, and Immanuel Shalev, and the video was produced by LNC Productions. And they explain their intent as follows: "After graduating from Yeshiva University we wanted to continue to make music that is both fun and inspiring. We believe in bringing out the meaning present in all things - that's what we stand for".

And here are the lyrics to the song:

Eight nights I stay up starin' at those candles,
They tell the story that occurred,
Eight nights we're thankful for that small miracle,
Our prayers were answered and our voices heard

When One night turned to eight, that's why we celebrate,
In the dark of night the candles stand for,
Oh the candles stand for,
The candles stand for.
Eight nights that we know [cuz it's finally here]....
we're not alone. [cuz it's finally here]

C'mon, its Chanukah we've waited for a whole a year
Just light a spark in the dark and spread the cheer,
Cuz on these holiday nights,
Grab your friends, celebrate, cuz it's finally here
Eight nights remember the war we won
The Greeks tried to erase who we are
Eight nights we're thankful to God above
Who showed he's even with us in the dark

When one night turned to eight,
that's why we celebrate,
In the dark of night the candles stand for,
Oh the candles stand for,
The candles stand for.
Eight nights that we know....
[not alone] [no we're not alone] [cuz it's finally here] not alone.

Let's go Dreidel! Dreidel! Dreidel! Oh I shall play
I dropped a jelly donut on my pants, oy vey!
Cuz when you're flipping latkes you can't go wrong
Making random Jewish references in a Chanuka song
Dreidel! Dreidel! Dreidel! Oh I shall play
I dropped a jelly donut on my pants, oy vey!
Cuz when you're flipping latkes you can't go wrong
Making random Jewish references in a Chanuka song

Eight nights I stay up starin' at those candles,
They tell the story that occurred,
Eight nights we're thankful for that small miracle,
Prayers were answered, our voices heard

When one night turned to eight, that's why we celebrate,
In the dark of night the candles stand for,
Oh the candles stand for,
The candles stand for.
Eight nights that we know...
[Cuz it's finally here],
Eight nights that we know,
[cuz it's finally here] eight nights that we know - no we're not alone

So Happy Happy Hanukkah, and if you like a cappella performances, be sure to join us on the evening of Thursday, January 10, as Congregation Adas Emuno hosts the only Bergen County appearance of the Jewish singing group from Yale University, Magevit!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Have A Zazzy Hanukkah!

"Hanukkah Zazz" is an app for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android devices featuring Zazzy Katz, the holiday party cat! We're not involved in endorsing it, but they do have a pretty neat Hanukkah video on YouTube that we're happy to share with you here, in celebration of the second light of the season:

And here's another neat video with a bit of a promotion that we have no stake in or connection to, but that may be of interest, and may be worthwhile. The video features three Hanukkah songs, The Chanukah Song, Burn Little Candles, and Hanukkah, Happy Holiday. The songs are lovingly performed, displaying lyric and chords so you can learn to play them yourselves. And most significantly of all, they are presented in the video along with music therapy applications. On the YouTube page it says that you can download the songs for free at the music page!

And with that, we conclude by saying, have a very zazzy, and loving Hanukkah!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Hanukkah!

On this first day of Hanukkah, let's celebrate last night's lighting of the first light with a brand new Hanukkah song, Happy Hanukkah, by Matisyahu, aka Matthew Paul Miller, the Jewish-American reggae and rock sensation:

Over on the YouTube page for Matisyahu "Happy Hanukkah" (Official Video) - New Song, it explains that

All Proceeds through the End of Hanukkah will be donated to Hurricane Sandy Relief.
For more info visit:
Donate and download at
Available on iTunes:
Available on Amazon:
Matisyahu & William Paid: Get an exclusive acoustic Matisyahu track, recorded live from Vancouver, for giving us a try:
Directed by: Jungle George Pimentela

And in case you were interested in reading the lyrics, or as much of them as listeners were able to make out and post online, here they are:

Matisyahu – Happy Hanukkah Lyrics
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Today is the day, tonight is the night
Sons of twilight had done come along, take flight
High and twinkling, and swindling and a shooting in the sky
I’m shining, and I’m feeling alright
Lite a candle for the one you love
Peace and light from below to above
Eight nights, celebrate till I flying in the sky like a dove
Let me unwind as I light up a flame in the name of the lion of Judah
Drop like a hammer when I feel like the Rimson shovel
Feel like a rubber when I hit like a train
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
To get into the cosmos flows in top
When I write to excite, now I’m fighting back
In the …(?) to divine, as it’s a better thing to spine (?)
It’s a battle from the ancient line
So now can ever, maccabee (?) till the end of time
You’re my light in the saddest time
Yes you bring piece to my mind
Won’t you please let me unwind
As I light up a flame in he name of the lion of Judah
Droṗ like a hammer when I feel like the Rimson shovel
Feel like rubber when I hit like a train
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Celebration, get your hands up high, get your hands up high
Celebration, get your hands up high, get your hands up high
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Happy Hanukkah! I wanna give a gift to you
Light up the night, my love shine through
From mount Zion, this is what we do, bring love to you
Celebration, get your hands up high, get your hands up high
Celebration, get your hands up high, get your hands up high

By the way, appropriately enough, Matisyahu, which is the Hebrew name that he grew up with, is an Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation of a Biblical Hebrew name מתתיהו (Mattityahu), which is rendered in Greek as Mattathias, the name of the leader of the Maccabees back in the 2nd century BCE. You can read more about the singer over on his Wikipedia entry, if you're interested.

And did you catch him on Leno the other night, performing Happy Hanukkah live for the Tonight Show audience? If not, here it is:

And with that, on behalf of Congregation Adas Emuno we say, Happy Hanukkah to one and all!