Category Archives: Holidays

Hanukkah Songs 2011

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If you’re getting ready for Hanukkah — lighting candles? doing seasonal meditation? throwing a party? — and you need the perfect soundtrack, please let me be the first to encourage you to check out our collection of free holiday mp3s!

That said, sometimes you just need some original music. Partly to combat all the Christmas songs that the radio’s playing, and partly just because this is a really awesome holiday that gets all the wrong kind of press. Here are a few:

This really sweet duet from The Wellspring is a Hanukkah song without actually being a Hanukkah song. It’s really cute, but it’s also thoughtful and clever, and its lyrics hug the boundary between “aw, cute winter song” and “oh! I know they’re secretly talking about Hanukkah.” (The track costs 99 cents to download…but, once you do, you can download their whole debut album for free, so it’s really a bargain. And cool.)

Our friends at G-dcast have another free mp3, the soundtrack to their Hanukkah episode, by the band DeLeon. First watch the movie. Then go and download it from G-dcast’s page (at the bottom, click the “mp3″ box).

And then there’s my band, Chibi Vision. Here’s our Hanukkah single:

And then Raymond Simonson, one of the geniuses behind Limmud UK, wrote this plea on his Facebook wall. (Warning to my editor: There is British spelling.)

Please please please, before you go and post any ‘hilarious’ Channukah parody video clips, watch this and ask yourself, ‘is the clip I’m about to post even close to being as funny and brilliant as this?” If the answer is “NO”* please do me a huge favour and don’t post it!

And this is the clip he posted:

Do you have any favorite Hanukkah songs? Anything we left out? Let us know!

Posted on December 8, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Shabbos is Coming!

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Last week was the first week of early Shabbat. Once the clocks go back, Shabbat jumps back an hour, too. So candlelighting in my zipcode today is at the somewhat startling time of 4:18pm. How to get everything done in time? (Seriously, I don’t know.) On these short Friday I wake up and it’s like a clock is counting down the time before sunset, urging me to get everything done as quickly as possible.

I love the rhythm that Shabbat gives the week, and I even kind of love when Shabbat comes in early, despite the stress that comes with it. This means that at least in theory, my dinner will be cooked and ready today at 4:30pm. My guests aren’t coming til 7:30, so that leaves plenty of time for rest and relaxation before the meal even begins. Yay!

Anyway, this cool video I spotted today has a gorgeous demonstration of the varied sunrises and sunsets over the course of the year. It’s a time-lapse video, instead of looping through 365 days in one video, each day gets its own little movie in a grid. Gorgeous, and weirdly moving.

Posted on November 18, 2011

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Got Gelt?

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What’s your way of giving tzedakah?

Our friends at American Jewish World Service are launching an exciting new project. Where Do You Give? aims to engage the Jewish community in thinking critically about different Jewish questions:

* What are the recipients ?
* Why are these places a priority for us?
* How do we contribute to their tzedakah — monetarily, in volunteering, or are there other ways?

Just in time for Hanukkah, AJWS is launching a related campaign, Got Gelt? It’s geared for middle school students, but adaptable for most ages including adults. Got Gelt? is fire for discussions for families and Jewish educators during a time of year when many people are focused on material gifts — and it helps us keep the focus on what’s important.

Posted on November 16, 2011

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Halloween, Brooklyn Style

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So yesterday was Halloween, a holiday that causes me no end of consternation.

You know how the Official Jewish Community is always talking about being Jewish on Christmas, and feeling peer pressure, and not knowing how to deal with it? Well, Christmas is easy to ignore — all my non-Jewish friends are non-Christian anticapitalist anarchists of the Occupy Wall Street variety, anyway — but Halloween is not. Creepy music! Costumes! The macabre! Back before I was religious, it was a religious holiday.

Yesterday, the Kveller staff asked me for any Jewish-related Halloween memories. I started writing something. Then I changed my mind and drew it as a cartoon instead. You can read the whole thing over at their blog, if you want. Can I recommend that you do? I’m pretty proud of it.

Posted on November 1, 2011

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We Have a Winner

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Thank you to everyone who entered our High Holiday Photo contest. We were on the hunt for great pictures of  Jews celebrating the holidays, and we got some amazing entries. Almost all of the entries will be featured in MyJewishLearning and Kveller articles in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for pictures of real Jewish families enjoying the holidays.

In the meantime, we have two winning photos taken by the same photographer. Congratulations LenzKap! Email tamar@myjewishlearning.com so we can award you your prize.

Thanks again to all our amazing entrants!

Posted on October 27, 2011

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She-mix-ni Atzeret

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Tonight starts Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the final round of Jewish holidays — for this month, anyway! Here’s a little mix that I stumbled into putting together, song by song.

This morning at synagogue I was getting ready for Shemini Atzeret, which starts tonight, looking ahead in the prayerbook — you know, like peeking at the ending. One thing I always forget is the Prayer for Rain, Tefilat Geshem, which is the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. Which immediately stuck this song in my head. It’s not exactly a part of the traditional liturgy, but I’ve been singing this song longer than I’ve been praying:

And the celebration kept coming, and so did the songs. The new Y-Love video, the first song from his upcoming album, is out today. (And the album has a shout-out to my book! And it features Andy Milonakis, who’s the weirdest and most original thing on MTV right now.

And, just to tie everything together, our house guest just wandered through the room and heard the song. “Oh!” he said. “Is that the new Drake video?”

I had no idea what he was talking about. “I thought you’d know,” he said. Apparently, the platinum-selling hip-hop artist Drake has a new single, too, and in the video, he and his companions are drinking Bartenura Moscato D’Asti — which my older daughter calls “blue wine” and which is the only kind of wine my mother drinks. It’s bubbly and sweet and basically like alcoholic soda. It makes family meals tons more fun…and is there any wonder that it’s the beverage of choice among Jewish soul singers?

Once again, here’s the money shot:

Happy Shemini Atzeret!

Posted on October 19, 2011

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A Sukkah Occupies Wall Street

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Earlier this week, Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote about  Sukkot and social justice and asked, “Does place matter?

As I write this blog post, I am preparing to teach at Occupy Wall Street on Monday. Following a successful Kol Nidrei service, a Jewish contingent there has constructed a sukkah — the temporary hut in which Jews traditionally eat — and even sleep — during Sukkot.

Since I don’t use the subway during the holidays or Shabbat, I won’t get to see the sukkah in person until tomorrow. But sitting in my own sukkah these past few days, I have been thinking a lot about the paradox of protection and vulnerability that characterizes Sukkot.The sukkah represents both of these poles—on the one hand, the fragile skhakh (covering of leaves, branches, and other natural materials) that constitutes the roof of the sukkah leaves us almost entirely exposed to the elements. Over the past few days, we’ve endured quite a few drizzles and gusts of wind, as well as bugs and the general banging and clanging of the Manhattan streets. (When the rain gets serious, though, there’s no obligation to remain in the sukkah—the holiday is supposed to be enjoyable.) On the other hand, the skhakh also reminds us of the anenei hakavod (clouds of glory)—the Divine Presence said to have accompanied the ancient Israelites during their trek to freedom. Sukkot doesn’t try to resolve this paradox—rather, the sukkah forces us simultaneously to experience both fragility and divine protection. Through this experience, we learn that the seemingly-strongest structures can sometimes fail to protect us, while the most fragile structures can help us feel protected.

The movement to Occupy Wall Street (and many other places around the world) has also played with these two axes of fragility and strength. In placing themselves physically in the centers of financial power, these protests force us to question our assumptions about what is strong and what is weak. We often assume that those with wealth and power will always have wealth and power, that corporations will always be able to call the shots, and that those with less access to wealth will never have power.

But the occupiers, who make themselves vulnerable by camping outside and by exposing themselves to arrest, have developed more strength than many of us might have expected.

I will teach tomorrow from a tiny, fragile sukkah. It will be cool and windy. It may rain. And yet, even within this vulnerability, I will feel myself protected by the strength all around me.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the author of Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On-Guide for Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community and There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition. She has been blogging for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all through Sukkot.

Posted on October 18, 2011

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My Favorite Etrog

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Happy Sukkot! This year, I managed to snag a great etrog — my brother-in-law, who’s a rabbinical student, picked it out. He knows all about the intricate system of bumps and blemishes, and what each of them means for me, spiritually, in the coming year. I’m clueless. But I’m okay with that. I like surprises.

Still, my nifty new etrog has nothing on the etrog that Heshy Fried and I picked out last year. Check out this video of us plundering Crown Heights and terrorizing its innocent etrog dealers…all in search of that one elusive diamond.

Posted on October 17, 2011

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Building a Great House on Sukkot

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“We live, each of us, to preserve our fragment, in a state of perpetual regret and longing for a place we only know existed because we remember a keyhole, a tile, the way the threshold was worn under an open door.”
Nicole Krauss

Thousands of years ago, after our first exile in Babylonia, the Jews returned to a land and a covenant that was distant from them. Ezra the Scribe gathered the people and took out a Torah scroll and read to them what they had been missing. And the exiles wept for all that had been lost. Ezra and Nehemiah told them not great houseto cry but to rejoice for it was Rosh Hashanah. “This day is holy to the Lord your God: you must not mourn or weep.” They were told to eat, drink and give of their portions to those who had none. The mood changed from one of guilt and sorrow to one of celebration.

A few weeks later, the people were told to go to the mountains and bring leafy branches to construct sukkot, booths to remind them of life in the wilderness. “The whole community that returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths – the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun to that day – and there was very great rejoicing.” It must have been a remarkable scene, watching the Israelites after years of exile, rejoicing together in their sukkot, recreating Jewish life from fragments.

Nicole Krauss, in her novel Great House, captures some of the joy and the pain of a house you once knew that is reconstructed in your memory, the only place in which it exists. We live, she says, to preserve a fragment of a memory and those fragments are made up of the small pieces of our lives that we are trying somehow to return to.

Each year when we build a sukkah, we are trying to recapture the fragments of ancient life in a wilderness, a historical landscape we never experienced. It is a house of our imagination but also built on real memories. We take out the faded decorations that were made by our children years ago. And we understand that building this strange house is the way we erect an altar to layers of memory. We physically put ourselves inside this memory house and live in it for a week.

There is a custom to begin building a sukkah right after Yom Kippur is finished. I personally recommend breaking your fast before getting out the hammer, but the sentiment makes a great deal of sense. Yom Kippur drains us physically and mentally. It puts us in close contact with our mortality. It sobers us up. When we are finished petitioning God and beating our chests with our wrongdoings, we need to rebuild ourselves and we do so by building a house of joy. Every year at this time I quote Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who famously explained this custom this way: “If you’re a new person, you need a new house.”

Not just any house. The house that we build will only be temporary and not fancy in any way. It is a house where we are mandated to invite a lot of people to join us precisely because our new house is not fancy. The sukkah reminds us that the core of a Jewish house is the table and the people around it. It’s never the carpet, the paint or the furniture. Those are just incidentals. The sukkah helps us filter what is essential to a Jewish house and what is not. And we have a custom on Sukkot to read ushpizin, prayers that welcome our ancestors into our sukkah. Our guests are not only the living but also our historical role-models, and this invitation makes us pause. Is my house a home where Abraham and Sarah would feel comfortable? Is it a place where Torah is shared and joy is doubled through song?

“And there was very great rejoicing.” Those who built sukkot for the first time after exile must have experienced the tang of newness and the slight cringe of having lost something that they were trying desperately to recapture. Once built, they understood that the sukkah is our Jewish house of memory and joy.

Posted on October 11, 2011

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Sukkot and Social Justice

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the author of Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On-Guide for Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community.

My initial venture into Jewish social justice came my first year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Determined to learn something about Harlem — the rabbi jill jacobs neighborhood that bounded my school to the north and east—I got involved with a community organizing effort to help residents avoid eviction and ensure safe living conditions. At the time, New York City was in the process of ridding itself of thousands of buildings that had defaulted to city ownership when landlords abandoned them during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. In the late ’90s, as housing prices in Harlem were rising, the city began selling these buildings to for-profit landlords, who often found ways to evict long-term tenants or to push them out by refusing to turn on the hot water, or to do needed repairs.

Several times a week, I would walk ten minutes east of JTS, to 123rd and Harlem, and spend time with elderly women trying to get their landlords to turn the hot water on, or families fighting eviction as rents rose. I would then walk back to school, where I would break my teeth over Aramaic grammar, and immerse myself in conversations about Shabbat and Jewish mourning practices. All of these felt important, but I struggled to understand the connection between what I saw in Harlem and what I was learning in school.

My peers and my teachers supported my work, but couldn’t guide me toward anything that would help it all rabbi jill jacobsmake sense. At the time, nobody in my world was talking about Jewish social justice. Most of the organizations that now define the Jewish social justice landscape either did not yet exist, or were tiny players in the Jewish landscape.

I started studying Jewish texts about the relations between landlords and tenants and, to my surprise, found dozens of rabbinic conversations from 1500 years before, about when one is allowed to evict a tenant, what repairs the landlord must do, and what repairs fall under the tenant’s responsibility.

I took a risk and wrote a short piece about my own experiences both organizing in Harlem and tutoring children in a transitional housing center nearby. I wrote about the Jewish paradigm of the sukkah — the temporary structure meant to be lived in only for a week—and the ma’akeh — the guardrail built on the roof of a home to prevent falls. I wrote about an eleven-year-old boy I had met who was exceedingly bright — but who had never learned to read probably because his family’s frequent moves meant that he never stayed in one school long enough to learn. I wrote about the need for stable, long-term housing that protects the physical and emotional health of its residents.

On a whim, I sent this piece to Tikkun Magazine. I was 23 years old, and had never published anything in a national publication. To my surprise, they took it. To my greater surprise, people read it. And, to my amazement, numerous people told me that they, too, had been looking for connections between Judaism and social justice.

This all happened before such publications had an on-line presence, before blogging existed, and before we could facebook or tweet articles to the world. So it was shocking that so many people read a paper publication, and then e-mailed or called me to tell me what they thought.

This initial experience led me through a long process of working in social justice organizations, both inside and outside of the Jewish world. I wanted to know more about urban politics, so I got a degree in Urban Affairs. And, eventually, I decided to write more. I kept getting calls from people looking for a book that would provide a Jewish approach to contemporary issues. I couldn’t find a recent one to recommend, so I decided to write my own. This led to the publication of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition, which came out in 2009. This book looked at criminal justice, housing, labor, the environment, and other justice issues through the lens of Jewish text, social science, and real people whom I have met in my work.

And then I thought I was done. Writing a book is quite a project—especially when one has a full-time job. I spent Sundays, late nights, and early mornings crouched over my computer writing and editing. I drafted my husband and several friends into editing. So I promised not to write another book for a very long time.

But then, I started touring with There Shall Be No Needy. I went to Barnes & Nobles, synagogues, Board of Rabbis meetings, and JCCs around the country. And, at every stop, someone raised his or her hand and said, “It’s good to hear that Judaism has so much to say about social justice. But my synagogue’s social justice committee is struggling. What should we do?”

And so I realized that I needed to write another book. Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide To Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community starts where There Shall Be No Needy leaves off. It gives the theoretical background for why Jews should do social justice work. It walks through how to choose where to focus one’s justice work. And then I get practical. Based on my own experiences, as well as textual precedent, I talk about how we can do effective service, organizing, and advocacy in our own communities. I talk about how we can form strong partnerships with other religious, ethnic, and social welfare organizations. I talk about how we can use power effectively.

I’ve told everyone I know that I’m really not writing another book for a very long time. But I do look forward to hearing from individuals and institutions about your own experience implementing the ideas in Where Justice Dwells.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the author of Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On-Guide for Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community and There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition. She will be blogging here all through Sukkot.

Posted on October 11, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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