As a Nutritionist, Hanukkahis not always my favorite holiday. It’s all about the oil. While I don’t believe in super low fat diets, I also don’t believe in 8 days of deep fried potatoes smothered in sour cream and sweet, sticky, doughy donuts. I’m constantly asked for healthy latke and donut recipes, or just how many latkes is reasonable to eat with brisket (10, right?), or if its okay to down a whole bag of gelt. (For the record- non-fried latkes and healthy donuts just don’t taste great, so just have 1 or 2 small latkes with a tablespoon of sour cream).
Now, I know you are expecting some sort of magical latke recipe that doesn’t use a lot of oil and is still incredible, but that’s just not possible. And although greasy latkes and sufganiyot can be delicious, food on Hanukkah doesn’t have to be just about the oil. So, in the spirit of the holiday, I want to offer you some food ideas that have nothing to do with oil (GASP!)
While one miracle of Hanukkah is the oil, another is the unexplainable and unpredictable victory of the Macabees over the Greeks. There are so many texts in the Jewish tradition that speak of celebrating victory by being a poor winner (For example, when the Israelites danced after crossing the Red Sea and witnessing the deaths of all of Pharoah’s soldiers). One of the many ways that we can respect our tradition is to challenge it, and this is a concept that I think deserves a challenge.
Both at camp and at home, we should be teaching our kids to be respectful of the other side when they win to avoid hurt feelings and shaming. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Macabees should have invited the Greeks into the Temple for a festive meal following their victory, but when we look at the story in hindsight it is important to remember the value of the lives that were lost and all that was destroyed in the battle. We must teach our children that the world is not a black and white place filled with winners and losers, but that best way to be a mensch is to respectfully shake your opponent’s hand and wish them well. With that in mind, have your latkes one night, but why not also have a Greek themed meal to honor those whom we defeated to teach our children what it means to be a gracious winner. Below you will find a delicious Greek white bean stew that will help your family honor all who fought in the story of Channukah.
Greek white bean stew
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic
- 4 medium sprigs of fresh oregano
- 2 14 ounce cans white beans
- 2 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
- 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- Dice onion
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepot over high heat. Add onion and saute about 5 minutes, until translucent and starting to brown.
- Meanwhile, mince the garlic.
- Add the garlic and the oregano to the pan and continue to cook 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is lightly browned and fragrant but not burnt.
- Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans well.
- Add the beans and tomatoes to the pan and season with salt and pepper (lightly because the feta is salty).
- Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes.
- Mix in dill and top with feta and enjoy!
2. For your camper who always masters the challenge course
For the kids that loves a good challenge, nothing is better than the opportunity to tackle the ropes course on camp. Why not challenge them at home with a custom camp map puzzle?
Custom Camp Map Puzzle ($17.99 from Create Jigsaw Puzzles)
Check out Day 1.
Inclusion at camp is not about Chesed, it is about Tzedek. It is not about creating something for “others”; it is about creating the best possible camp community for all. Hope, Abril and Becca, three fifteen year old campers at Capital Camps in Waynesboro PA shared their insight on how having an inclusion program has been a special part of their camp experience. As Hope noted “we have grown up with these kids and would not have it any other way”. When an inclusion program becomes a normal part of every day life at camp, everyone benefits.
It is a win-win situation. As Hope points out, “At Capital Camps it is a double win, for us and those who are in the program because we love having the people with disabilities and they have an incredible time at camp.” Jewish overnight camping provides numerous opportunities for personal growth and identity building. Abril, elaborated on how the Atzma’im program* has changed her by adding, “Before camp I had little exposure to kids with special needs. I didn’t know much about them and didn’t understand how they could possibly make connections with other people. This perception completely changed after going to camp. Not only was I exposed to people with special needs, but I made connections with them. I learned that interacting with them isn’t very different from interacting with your other camp friends.” These ideas are echoed as well by Becca: “The special needs program at Camp has taught me so much! It has taught me to accept others differences…. Before going to camp and seeing kids [with disabilities], I didn’t quite realize that even if we look different on the outside we can still be the same on the inside. These kids have given me such a different look at people.”
The counselors at Capital Camps also benefits from being part of an inclusion program. As Rachel, an Atzma’im counselor states, “I have learned how to have patience for others and to give them the benefit of the doubt…. I have also learned to be much more aware of the significance of inclusivity. The Atzma’im program instills counselors with a can-do attitude. I personally feel prepared to tackle challenges that might seem impossible, but with a little creativity and positivity can be solved. With full sincerity, I can say that being a counselor for the Atzma’im team has genuinely made myself, and fellow Atzma’im counselors, much more caring, considerate and inclusive people.”
Our campers and counselors take what they learn as part of an inclusion program home with them at the end of the summer. As Abril shared, “I now participate in best buddies at my school and interact with kids with special needs on a daily basis. They’ve become a part of our society and they need to be treated like any other part of our society would be.” Counselors have gone on to work in the field of special education, educational policy and Jewish camping where they are striving to build more inclusive camp communities.
Heading into its twelfth summer, the Atzam’im program is most remarkable because it has become unremarkable; it is just part of the fabric of camp. Creating these types of programs begins with the can-do attitude Rachel said she learned by being part of an inclusion program. Including campers with disabilities in all Jewish camps will make our camps an even better place for our young people to grow, connect and build Jewish value based identities.
*The Atzma’im (“independence”) program at Capital Camps provides a fully inclusive experience for campers with disabilities. Enrollment is based on individual campers’ respective skill levels not their disability type or school placement. The Atzma’im campers receive 1:1 or 2:1 support from specially trained counselors under the direction of an experienced special educator live in the same bunks as other campers and are involved in all aspects of camp as fully integrated members of the camp community.
When the weather is cold and damp, the camp season seems incredibly far away. That’s why Hanukkah is the perfect time for summer camp inspired gifts. Check back every day for a new camp inspired gift!
1. For your camper whose favorite activity is Arts & Crafts
For so many campers, Art & Crafts is the activity they most look forward to. It is always their first choice and their first stop during free time. Keep the spirit of camp in all of their artwork during the year with a set of colored pencils that look like twigs.
Branch and Twig Colored Pencils ($3.99 on Amazon)
In the camp world, we are more about actions than words. Our days are full of learning and exploring through movement and activity. So, I say this Hanukkah season, let’s bring a little bit of this camp spirit into our lives and our homes and take a Hanukkah challenge. Let’s not just talk about light or use matches to light our Hanukkah candles, let’s get fired up and be the light we want to see in our world! I challenge you to be exceptional, go above and beyond the norm, and embody the number eight.
In Jewish mystical teachings, the number seven symbolizes perfection – the creation of the world happened in seven days, there are seven weeks between the holidays of Pesach and Shavout, there are seven Patriarchs and Matriarchs, there are seven wedding blessings, the menorah that was housed in the Holy Temple had seven branches, and so on. The number eight then symbolizes a higher state, above the natural order. Hanukkah is seeped in a tradition of miracles, where we commemorate exceptional acts of bravery, faith, and heroism. On the eight days of Hanukkah, we should strive to go above and beyond personal limitations and become more than we think we can be.
8-day Hanukkah Challenge
Day 1: Write a letter or postcard to someone in your life that has impacted you in a positive way but may not know it – teacher, religious leader, coach, soldier – tell them why you appreciate them.
Day 2: Serving others for a living is not always easy, leave a big tip for your waiter/waitress.
Day 3: Having three meals a day is not something to be taken for granted, help fight hunger in your area and give a time and/or food donation: .
Day 4: Inspire others to perform random acts of kindness, pick up the tab for the person behind you in line for coffee and ask them to pay it forward for someone else in the coming year.
Day 5: Volunteer to shovel snow for seniors in your area – team up with Volunteers of America and get matched up with seniors who live within two miles of you.
Day 6: Help improve our community by partnering with residents of specific Denver neighborhoods to complete home and neighborhood improvement projects – extremecommunitymakeover.org
Day 7: Become active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources and take part in gardening, landscaping, and trail building and maintenance – http://www.voc.org/volunteer
Day 8: Put a smile one someone’s face, bake cookies to share with co-workers and teachers at your child’s school.
A big part of my job is working on the interfaith program between my school, The Davis Academy, and a local Catholic school called Marist. It’s also one of the most interesting and energizing parts of my school responsibilities. Months of planning go into each meeting, which starts in 7th grade with an introductory program, continues with a second learning meeting the fall of 8th grade, and culminates in service learning together in the winter. In fact, this is not my first post about Interfaith learning. In fact, you can read about our volunteering (and snow) day from last January here.
Our most recent event was the 2nd in the cycle – the kids met in the spring at Davis, and we have a chance to do more learning together, this time at Marist in November. In the midst of a crazy fall, there were oases of awesome – meeting with the Marist partners to plan a really great program for our students. Last year’s Sukkot-based programming wasn’t going to work (but oh, how I wanted them to stand in a rectangle around a football field once more, arms around each other, building their own Interfaith sukkat shalom, shelter of peace…), but Thanksgiving was coming soon and that gave us plenty of material.
My partner at Marist, a teacher named Mrs. Justus, is one of those teachers who is just filled with ideas and excitement. I am forever toting a Diet Coke, and she’s like a Mentos candy – once we start talking about Interfaith, the ideas are overflowing. In one meeting, we discovered the commonalities between Birkat HaMazon (the grace after meals) and Eucharist, which is the Mass ceremony, where the host – the unleavened communion wafer – and wine are consumed by Catholic worshippers. We talked about the language used in worship, and looped in idea for a translation activity. I went home with Missalettes, which are like Catholic Siddurim, or prayer books. I loved them.
When we arrived at Marist, we had quite the day planned. Icebreakers were planned and enjoyed, and our students tentatively started to re-mingle, having only met for a single school day last April. They did a blessing activity based on MadLibs (which throws back to my first job out of college – in publishing!), finding similarities between Christian, Catholic, and Jewish blessings for before and after eating food. Students volunteered to open and close our shared lunch in their cafeteria, and then we continued with a translation activity.
Shema Yisrael is the foundational prayer of Judaism. Quoted directly from Deuteronomy 6:4, this text is also the basis for Jesus’s teachings. Marist students memorize it in their 7th grade religion class. Davis students recite it regularly in school from their very first year. Students read multiple translations – from the Jewish Publication Society’s to the Christian Good News Translation, and wrote their own translations. In the end, we constructed this prayer with words submitted by different groups. Groups sent up all sorts of words, such as calling God “Homie G to the D” (I’m barely paraphrasing) and “Allah”, and calling for attention in Latin!
And then, one group sent up “Trinity” for “Adonai” – the name for God. We’d asked them to have consensus in their group, making sure that all students were comfortable with the words they chose. Hearing the Shema translated, stating that the “Trinity is One” was a powerful moment. To the students, I said, “That is not the usual response a Judaics teacher expects.” That was our interfaith programming all in one moment. The understanding of different ideas of God, the acceptance that one person’s Trinity doesn’t line up with your single, formless God, the sharing of these ideas in a non-threatening environment.
After these activities, we learned so much about Catholicism – where another Interfaith partner, Mrs. Calabrese, briefly addressed the concept of the Trinity, and the inherent mystery of having a God who is one and also split into three – and then shared a prayer service.
We gave thanks that we were able to experience this amazing interfaith learning activity, and look forward to having more moments of gratitude and shared understanding.
I recently had the pleasure of touring the NY School for the Deaf in White Plains, NY with Alexis Kashar, the president of its board. Alexis is an attorney specializing in special education and disability rights and has dedicated herself to activism and pro bono work on behalf of the deaf.
For a few hours, I had a glimpse into the world of people who are deaf. Alexis is Deaf, she uses sign language and also speaks so I found it relatively easy to communicate with her. I had a few moments at the school where a child was attempting to communicate with me and I had no idea what they were saying. It felt a bit uneasy. If there were words that I didn’t understand I asked Alexis to repeat them and I found it quite helpful when she signed (although I do not speak American Sign Language).
Many of the students at the NY School for the Deaf have moved out of the public school system and into the school because they were not being successfully educated there. Some students found it difficult to learn and to make friends because they were not able to have meaningful dialogue with teachers and students from the hearing world.
For Jewish children who are Deaf the experience is similar but also comes with a few additional layers. When a Jewish child leaves the education system, they find that the Deaf school has very few other Jewish students. Their access to Jewish schools, synagogues and Jewish programming is very limited. If the family is very involved in the Jewish community and if they have access to interpreters, then perhaps their child will be a part of that community. For the majority of Jews who are Deaf, that is not the case. Alexis feels that as a community we need to bring Jews back home. If we can ensure that Jews who are deaf will have access to Jewish life through accommodations such as sign language interpreters in synagogues, federation events, camp programs then not only will be working to bring them back home but their families will come with them. It is what Alexis calls the Ripple Effect.
When I asked Alexis to share her thoughts on how we could best serve children who are deaf at camp her answer was, “It is not cut and dry.” Alexis grew up attending public school and summer camp in the hearing world. She understands the benefits of that upbringing for a person who is deaf but Alexis feels that a child can also benefit from being in a world where they relate to other people who are deaf. They will be among role models who understand their deaf background and communicate in their native language.
Children who are deaf have joined Jewish camps in the past, but what Alexis is suggesting is that we first focus on what would best meet the needs of the children who are deaf and then go from there. One idea would be to have children who are deaf live in cabins with other campers who are deaf. These cabins could be located on the grounds of any Jewish camp so that the children would still have access to the exact same activities and experiences available at camp. They would be a part of the larger community and attend the same programming. They could be fully included throughout the day. Alexis further suggested that there could be programs tailor made for the campers who are deaf that the hearing campers would be invited to participate in. A play performance would be a good example. There might even be campers who are hearing involved as actors in the play.
As we have noted in other contexts, the term we are seeking is full inclusion. For a deaf camper, this doesn’t mean being present but unable to communicate, and it must not mean being merely on the same campus as the fuller camping program. It must be an atmosphere that provides the tools and peers for communication, challenge and exploration like any other camper.
For example, at Camp L’man Achai, one of the camps of the FJC network, there is a one program for boys who are deaf. The program was a great success in 2014. The boys had a Jewish experience in a totally supportive environment that was specially designed with their needs in mind. They also had full access to the hearing community at camp. That was not an issue.
During the school year there are many reasons why a student who is deaf might prefer environments that are less inclusive, but this must not happen at the sacrifice of Jewish involvement. The unique strengths of Jewish summer camping, with its informal educational tools, is a perfect place to break down those barriers and bring Jewish campers who are deaf into the fold. Visiting with Alexis helped me to understand how that may be made possible, and how important, that is.
When I left the school, I felt invigorated and I also felt that I had missed out. I would love to be able to say that I grew up in a world where I had children of all disabilities in my classrooms or in my summer programs and that I had a good friend who also happened to be deaf. There is no doubt that having close ties and experiencing community with a diverse group of people broadens our horizons in so many ways. Our Jewish community is quite diverse though it may not seem so because we have not yet achieved our goal of making it as open an as welcoming as it needs to be so that all Jews will feel that they are always able to come back home.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” -William Arthur Ward
One of my most amazing camp moments happened on a beautiful Shabbat afternoon. On this particular Saturday, I was leading a shiur (lesson) for our younger campers where we went on a short hike to one of our upper meadows that overlooks camp. Once we got to the top of the meadow, I asked the campers to find a quiet spot not too far away but far enough away so that they could just be by themselves. Once there, I challenged them to focus in on all their different senses – what did they hear, see, smell, and feel? I asked them all to take in these observations and come up with prayers about things they appreciated. After several minutes, I called everyone back together to reflect on what they noticed during their mini solo experience and gave them an opportunity to share their prayers with the group. After several campers shared some nice observations and prayers with the us, I was feeling pretty satisfied that the kids had really taken something away from this exercise. But then something unexpected happened that totally blew me away. The last camper to offer up a reflection on the solo was a boy from our youngest cabin group. He told us all that during his solo he had written a song about all the wonderful things he noticed and that he was going to share it with us right then and there. And then he did. The boy sang us his prayer song. I can’t remember the tune or the words that he sang that afternoon but what I do remember is that it was simply beautiful and I was so grateful to be a part of and share in that moment.
Gratitude is an incredibly important aspect of living a healthy and fulfilling life. At camp we help children practice this skill on many levels – saying thank you after being served food in the dining hall, appreciating the different campers that make up their cabin group, pointing out all the natural beauty of our campsite during the activity day, taking part in prayer services, and even creating your own prayers. Being grateful and expressing what we are thankful for really elevates everything in our lives and makes what would otherwise be ordinary extraordinary.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I welcome you to give thought and attention to articulating what you are thankful for on a daily basis and ask your children to do the same. Make your own “family gratitude challenge” and see how this simple practice enriches your life and turns fairly mundane things into blessings.