Today is Tu Bishvat, the birthday of the trees. There are many ways to celebrate—you can plant a tree if you live in a temperate climate, you can hold a Tu Bishvat seder, you can do some awesome Tu Bishvat crafts with your kids, and of course, you can eat some delicious Tu Bishvat foods (I recommend this amazing banana cake studded with dates, figs, nuts, raisins, and chocolate).
Looking for some Tu Bishvat reading? Try these articles on Theodore Herzl’s tree, kabbalists, mystics and Tu Bishvat, a lesson in abundance, eco-judaism, or Tu Bishvat and the Transformation of Eating.
Just want to sit back and veg out to a Tu Bishvat video? Todd, God, and Al Gore have got you covered:
Tuesday night is Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees. To celebrate it, our great friend and supporter Edgar Bronfman wrote about road-tripping with his brother Charles. Just the idea of the two of them on a let’s-discover-America campaign is brilliant and otherworldly, like an Easy Rider of Robin Hood-type do-gooders instead of druggies, but his essay makes some great points for American conservation — and for insisting that conservation is both (a) spiritual and (b) have some pretty strong roots in the Jewish religious tradition.
In all seriousness, it’s a great story with a great message. Check it out in the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” blog — and, while you’re there, check out my post for their blog as well, if you want to) :
When I was about to turn 21, and my brother Charles was 19, we took a road trip across the United States. As young Canadians, we were eager for an adventure through the American West. We experienced the stunning vistas of Utah, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the great redwoods of Yosemite National Park in California. It was a formative experience for me, and solidified my love of this country which I have called home for nearly my entire adult life.
It’s no coincidence that my love of America blossomed as I witnessed its natural wonders and vast open spaces. There is a deep beauty to be enjoyed in the magnificence of nature which leaves us humbled, and aware of how all life is interconnected. There is nothing more authentically spiritual for me than witnessing nature in its glory and power—when it is beautiful, and even when we are imperiled by it.
For someone whose life is writing on the Internet, Patrick Aleph still has a lot of secrets.
Aside from running the alterna-Torah site PunkTorah, the “online minyan” OneShul, the collection The G-d Project, and a bunch of other sites, Aleph is an astoundingly prolific blogger and YouTube video-maker. As a convert, his perspective on Judaism — and on Jews — is that of both an insider and outsider, and his observations on Jewish life and belief are often reflective of that. The things he loves, he loves. And the things he finds disquieting or hard to swallow — well, he doesn’t have any hesitation about making note of that, either.
If you’ve never encountered Aleph before, or if there’s too much of his stuff out in the universe for you to know where to start, here’s a great place. He’s just released — for free — an e-book collection of his writings, titled, appropriately, PunkTorah, named after both his punk do-it-yourself principles and his website. The two dozen or so essays touch on everything from the actual nuts-and-bolts of Jewish practice to the more aesthetic and eschatological wtf-nesses of belief (how weird is it that we believe in an intangible, invisible G-d who doesn’t actively interact with humanity, anyway?). And he really isn’t afraid to break boundaries or mess around with tradition: In one piece, Patrick talks about working with queer Jews, self-proclaimed Jews who’ve neither traditionally converted nor been born into the religion. And the next piece is titled “Everything I Needed To Know I Learned From Chabad.”
Actually, his essays are almost all amazingly-titled. OK, let me just give you my five favorites:
* Indie Rock Is My Shacharit Siddur
* Walgreens and Tempeh Reubens Brought Me Closer To God
* Star Wars and Andy Warhol: PunkTorah’s Non-Jewish Influences
* Diary of An Angry Convert
Full disclosure: Patrick cites me in a few of the essays. But I didn’t remember that until after I was almost finished writing this, and I still think it’s a pretty damn great book. And it’s free, so you aren’t wasting any money — or any trees, for that matter.
Hanukkah started last night, and one candlelighting, one family Hanukkah party, and one early-morning Hallel later, I’m channeling the spirit strong. And actually enjoying the Hanukkah music, which is weird. Didn’t Jewish music used to be incredibly cheesy?
Instead of looking at Jewish music videos as a competition — which one will score more hits, the new Jon Stewart video or our own beloved Mayim’s beloved Maccabeats — I’ve just decided to look at the whole YouTube results page for “Hanukkah” as a playlist made for me by the entire universe. (And, of course, the plethora of free Hanukkah music would be like a stocking stuffer from the universe.) But here are some of our favorite late-arriving videos:
“8 Nights,” by Naomi Less and Glenn Grossman (and visual artist Andrea Ausztrics)
Danny Raphael’s clever, tricky comic-book (excuse us, “graphic novel”)-styled rendition of the Hanukkah story:
And, just to kick the old-school jam, here’s Bible Raps & MyJewishLearning’s collaboration, “Light Is In the Air”:
This Hanukkah enjoy the holiday with more than just latkes and dreidels. MyJewishLearning is hooking you up with a Hanukkah mad libs that you can play with your family. As with all mad libs, these work best when you go with the craziest words you can think of. Enjoy!
Same Name _________
Same building __________
Same liquid __________
A long time ago in ________ place, the Syrian emperor ________ Name came to power. ________ Same Name decreed that Jews could not celebrate _______holiday, learn ________noun, or _________verb their children. He also stormed into the _______building in Jerusalem, and placed ________noun inside. Jews were encouraged to worship _______ noun, and punished when they did not.
A man named ______name and his ________number sons started a revolt against ________ Name1. Though they were a small group of warriors, they were very strong, and many other Jews joined their fight. Armed only with ______ noun, and ________noun, and ______noun from the terrain, the Maccabees, as _______name2 sons, particularly Judah, came to be known, fought a guerilla war against the Syrian army.
In three years, the Maccabees cleared the way back to the ________same building, which they reclaimed. They cleaned the _______building and made a new altar to replace the old one. Most of the _______liquid they found had been tainted and was no longer pure enough to be used for the golden menorah that stood in the Temple. One small container of ________same liquid was found, with just enough to last for a single day of flames. Miraculously the oil burned for ________number days, during which the Maccabees _______verb and praised God for their victory.
Today we light a _________number-branched hanukkiyah to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. Some families give each other _______noun. We also eat foods fried in _______liquid, sing Hanukkah songs, and spin the dreidel, a game of luck that involves _____verb a top.
It’s the end of the year and a lot of us are thinking about money—how much we can afford to spend on gifts, vacations, and charitable donations during this holiday season. Many Jewish homes have a tzedakah box in them, a little box with a slot on top for depositing coins and bills that will eventually be given to tzedakah.
Today, this seems like such an old fashioned way of doing things. I do have a bag of change on my dresser that I give to tzedakah once or twice a year, but honestly, I don’t have a tzedakah box per se. Anyway, most of the charitable donations I make are done via credit card and don’t involve any physical money at all.
So if tzedakah today doesn’t look like a tzedakah box, what does it look like? The American Jewish World Service just launched a new blog that talks about how and where and why people decide to give money to tzedakah. They’re also launching an amazing design competition, focused on philanthropy and social change. Where Do You Give? challenges artists to create a 21st century icon inspired by the values and imagery of the traditional Jewish tzedakah box. The organization is encouraging designers to consider the tzedakah box in the context of an increasingly interconnected, global and technologically accelerated world. The grand prize winner will receive $2,500 and a trip to visit AJWS’s partners in the Americas, Africa or Asia. Pretty sweet.
This is an awesome way to combine your love of design with you love of giving and doing good. To learn more about the competition, visit: www.wheredoyougive.org.
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!
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.
What’s your way of giving tzedakah?
* 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.