Author Archives: Julie Wiener

Julie Wiener

About Julie Wiener

Julie Wiener is managing editor of MyJewishLearning.

Hanukkah Gift Ideas for Newcomers to the Tribe

When is Hanukkah 2015? Click here to find out!

Do you have friends or family members who are new to the Tribe? Maybe they recently converted, married a Jew or became newly interested in their Jewish roots? Or maybe you’re the newbie and are wondering what to put on your wish list.

Whatever the particulars, MyJewishLearning has you covered, with Hanukkah gift ideas designed to please the Jewish newbies in your life.



Amelia Saltsman’s The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen ($20.23), Leah Koenig’s Modern Jewish Cooking ($23.33) and chef/restaurateur Michael Solomonov’s Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking ($21) all offer traditional Jewish and Israeli standbys adapted to contemporary tastes and sensibilities. Each was published in the past year (reducing the possibility that your recipient already owns it!) and garnered positive reviews in mainstream, as well as Jewish, publications.

Meatballs and Matzah Balls ($27.95) is not quite as new (it came out in 2013), but will be of particular interest to Jewish newcomers since its author, Marcia Friedman, is a Jew by choice who combines Italian (she is half Sicilian) and Jewish cuisine in creative and tasty ways.

Other Kitchen Goodies

Maybe your Jewish newbie wants to make challah, but is a bit intimidated by the braiding. A silicon challah mold ($14) simplifies the process. Meanwhile, someone making the transition from Christmas cookies to Hanukkah cookies might appreciate a set of Hanukkah-themed cookie cutters ($1.60).


Modern Tribe menorah, Hebrew name necklace, Hanukkah cookie cutters.

Hanukkiahs, or Hanukkah Menorahs

What’s more fitting for Hanukkah than a Hanukkah menorah? Just make sure you give this one early in the holiday, so the recipient gets to use it this year.

Jennie Rivlin Roberts, owner of online Judaica retailer ModernTribe, describes this $48 one as a “great starter menorah,” adding that it is “traditional-ish but design-forward and inexpensive.”

An even less expensive option ($29.07) is a compact travel menorah, perfect for someone who wants to celebrate the holiday outside the home.

Kiddush Cups

This silver brass kiddush cup ($23) is a good, basic cup with “nice weight,” according to ModernTribe’s Roberts.

For something a little flashier and more unique (or for someone who is a bit germ-phobic), try a Kiddush Fountain, which pours the wine or grape juice into individual cups. We’re fond of this one ($141.62), but Amazon and other retailers have a wide variety of styles and price points.

fotor hanukkah1

Kiddush fountain, hand-embroidered challah cover and pewter candlesticks.

Challah Cover

FairTradeJudaica offers a wide variety of Judaica items produced by artisans in developing countries. These certified fair trade items, including this hand-embroidered challah cover ($31) are not just beautiful, but you can rest easy knowing the workers received fair pay in safe conditions and that no child labor was used.

Shabbat Candlesticks

You can feel extra good about these copper wire candlesticks ($25), because they are not only fair trade, but made from recycled wire (and thus environmentally friendly).

For something more traditional and less expensive, try these pewter ones ($14.99), which, sensibly, come with a plate for catching the wax drippings.

one more

Jerusalem mezuzah, Star of David pendant, blue metal mezuzah with scroll.


We like both of these basic, but attractive mezuzahs: a simple blue metal one ($48.70) and  intricate one decorated with a Jerusalem scene ($80). Bear in mind that the Jerusalem one does not come with a scroll, so you (or your recipient) will need to purchase that separately.

hanukkah last

Silicone challah mold, “Modern Jewish Cooking,” dreidel leggings.


A silver Star of David is simple and matches everything. And this one ($23.60) is inexpensive.

And a custom-made Hebrew necklace ($34) is a great option for a Jew by choice who wants to show off her new Hebrew name (and newfound Hebrew literacy).


The “Not In the Tribe, But I Dig the Vibe” T-shirt ($48) is perfect (albeit a bit on the pricy side) for someone who is married to a Jew or simply likes hanging out with them, while these dreidel-print leggings ($28) allow Jews and non-Jews to subtly (and comfortably) demonstrate their Hanukkah spirit.

9 Things You Didn’t Know About Hanukkah

Hanukkah, which starts at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 6, is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays in the United States. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing new to learn about this eight-day festival. From the mysterious origins of gelt to an Apocryphal beheading to Marilyn Monroe, we’ve compiled an item for each candle (don’t forget the shammash!) on the Hanukkah menorah.

Hanukkah gelt

1. Gelt as we know it is a relatively new tradition — and no one knows who invented it.
While coins – “gelt” is Yiddish for coins, or money – have been part of Hanukkah observance for centuries, chocolate gelt is considerably younger. In her book On the Chocolate Trail, Rabbi Deborah Prinz writes that “opinions differ” concerning the origins of chocolate gelt: Some credit America’s Loft candy company with creating it in the 1920s, while others suggest there were European versions earlier that inspired Israel’s Elite candy company. Prinz notes, as well, that chocolate gelt resembles a European Christmas tradition of exchanging gold-covered chocolate coins “commemorating the miracles of St. Nicholas.”

READ: What You Need to Know About the Story of Hanukkah

etrog sukkot

2. The first Hanukkah celebration was actually a delayed Sukkot observance.
The second book of Maccabees quotes from a letter sent circa 125 BCE from the Hasmoneans (the Macabees’ descendants) to the leaders of Egyptian Jewry, describing the holiday as “the festival of Sukkot celebrated in the month of Kislev rather than Tishrei.” Since the Jews were still in caves fighting as guerrillas on Tishrei, 164 BCE, they had been unable to honor the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, which required visiting the Jerusalem Temple; hence it was postponed until after the recapture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple. Many scholars believe it is this – and not the Talmudic legend of the cruse of oil that lasted eight days – explains why Hanukkah is eight days long.


3. The books of Maccabees, which tell the story of Hanukkah, weren’t included in the Hebrew Bible – but they are in the Catholic Bible.
There are different theories explaining why the first-century rabbis who canonized the scriptures omitted the Maccabees, ranging from the text’s relative newness at the time to fears of alienating the Roman leadership in control of Jerusalem at the time.

Marilyn Monroe

4. Marilyn Monroe owned a music-playing Hanukkah menorah (the Marilyn Monrorah?).
When the Hollywood star converted to Judaism before marrying Jewish playwright Arthur Miller, her future mother-in-law gave her a menorah as a conversion gift. The Hanukkah lamp, which the menorah’s current owner says Mrs. Miller brought back from Jerusalem, has a wind-up music box in its base that plays Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. It’s featured in the Jewish Museum in New York City’s exhibit “Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn,” but sadly you can’t wind it up.

chanukah hannukah dreidels dreydels

5. The game of dreidel was inspired by a German game played at Christmastime, which is itself an imitation of an English and Irish one.
Our Eastern European game of dreidel (including the letters nun, gimmel, hey, shin) is directly based on the German equivalent of the British totum game: N = Nichts = nothing; G = Ganz = all; H = Halb = half; and S = Stell ein = put in. In German, the spinning top was called a “torrel” or “trundl.”

Cheese latkes

6. Oily food (think latkes and sufganiyot) isn’t Hanukkah’s only culinary tradition.
Traditionally, Hanukkah has included foods with cheese in recognition of Judith, whose liberal use of the salty treat facilitated a victory for the Maccabees.  To combine the two unhealthy but delicious traditions, try this recipe for cheese latkes.


7. On Hanukkah, we celebrate a grisly murder.
The aforementioned Judith had an ulterior motive for plying Assyrian general Holofernes with salty cheese: making him thirsty so he would drink lots of wine and pass out, enabling her to chop off his head and bring it home with her. The beheading – particularly the fact that a woman carried it out – was said to have frightened Holofernes’ troops into fleeing the Maccabees.


8. The next “Thanksgivukkah” (sort of), is only 55 years away.
In 2013, the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on Nov. 28 inspired everything from turkey-shaped menorahs to a giant dreidel float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. While experts say a full day of Hanukkah won’t coincide with the fourth Thursday in November for thousands of years, the first night of Hanukkah will fall in time for Thanksgiving dinner (assuming you have the meal at dinnertime rather than in the afternoon) on Nov. 27, 2070. So, hang on to this recipe for sweet potato latkes with toasted marshmallows!

Hanukkah Menorah

9. The largest menorah in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records is 32 feet high and weighs 4,000 pounds.
The Shulchan Aruch stipulates that a menorah should be no taller than about 31 feet. Incidentally, Guinness lists at least three other Hanukkah-related records: most dreidels spinning simultaneously for at least 10 seconds (734), most people simultaneously lighting menorahs (834) and largest display of lit menorahs (1,000). We’d like to know the most latkes ever eaten in one sitting.

Intermarriage: Jewish Attitudes

The following article is reprinted with permission from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In September 2000, vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman came under fire from many Jewish organizations for telling a radio talk show host that there is no Jewish prohibition against intermarriage. 

But according to a survey released in October 2000, Lieberman’s comments reflect the beliefs of the majority of American Jews. In short, according to the survey, “the Jewish taboo on mixed marriage has clearly collapsed.”

More than half of American Jews disagree with the statement, “It would pain me if my child married a gentile,” and 50 percent agree that “it is racist to oppose Jewish‑gentile marriages,” according to the American Jewish Committee’s 2000 Survey of American Jewish Opinion. It was the first time the annual phone survey of 1,010 Jews–which tracks Jewish attitudes about Israel, anti‑Semitism and political issues–asked for attitudes about intermarriage.

attitudes towards intermarriageFindings on Israel and political matters were consistent with recent years—showing strong attachments to Israel, concern about anti-semitism and generally liberal political views, with 75 percent reporting they planned to vote for Al Gore for president.

On intermarriage, 78 percent of respondents said they favor rabbinic officiation at Jewish‑gentile marriages “in some form and under some circumstances,” while only 15 percent are opposed to this. But the majority of American rabbis do not officiate at intermarriages: Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are forbidden to do so, while an estimated half of Reform rabbis refuse to officiate [A majority of Reconstructionist rabbis do not officiate at intermarriages. A significant minority will do so as the sole officiant under certain circumstances; their professional association prohibits co-officiation with clergy from other faiths].

Only the Orthodox, among the various groupings of American Jews in the survey, maintain strong opposition to mixed marriage–and they do so by a large majority. 84 percent of the Orthodox Jews surveyed said they would be pained if their child intermarried, compared to 57 percent of Conservative Jews, 27 percent of Reform Jews and 19 percent of those who said they are “just Jewish.” (The denominations are self‑identified and do not [necessarily] mean the respondents are actually affiliated with synagogues belonging to that movement.)