On their surfaces, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are simple holidays. We see the themes of light breaking through the darkness, a few banding together to beat the elements, and the power of having faith in community. We camp folk know that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. So let’s look deeper into the three miracles of Hanukkah. One miracle is that small group of zealots were able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple. When they recaptured the Temple they found one small jar of oil for the menorah in the Temple. The second miracle was that despite the fact that this small jar only had enough oil for one day it lasted for eight days. This story about the miraculous Hanukkah oil has allowed us to look past focusing solely on the military victory. This is important in that the war was not a black and white fight between the Jews and the Greeks. Rather, it was a civil war between a small group of religious zealots and a larger group of their Hellenized Jewish brethren. The third miracle of Hanukkah is that the story of the second miracle of the oil overshadows the first miracle of a civil war.
Now we turn our attention to Thanksgiving. It is a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year. This is traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. We retell the story of the first settlers to America who found salvation when they reached Plymouth Rock.
But is that the real story of Thanksgiving? On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday of Thanksgiving. There we read:
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
Like the third miracle of Hanukkah, Thanksgiving is not really a story about the Pilgrims, but rather the constitution of a ritual of reconciliation post-civil war. Both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving represent the recreation of national mythologies for the sake of mending the wounds of fighting between brothers.
We in camping appreciate the impact of a good story regardless of its true origins. Camp in its essence is a self-made community built on rituals, traditions, and history that is created by its members and need not be based solely on fact. It is here in this miraculous fabricated narrative that we create enduring memories of brotherhood. So while the story might not be true, the community could not be any more real. I hope you have a very meaningful Thanksgivukkah. Happy holidays.
We continue our series on giving.
Autumn is definitely my favorite time of year. I love the change in weather, the trees changing color, getting to wear comfy sweaters, and above all, I love the holiday traditions that span the fall months. Thanksgiving has got to be one of the best American holidays ever. Does it get much better than celebrating with friends and family, expressing gratitude, and sharing in a delicious feast? I think not. I also love that leading up to Thanksgiving, I see a lot of people on social media actively thinking and talking about they are grateful for and how they are celebrating the holiday through acts of giving.
Giving is a concept that is very deep-seeded in Jewish tradition (as is celebrating with loved ones and eating lots of food in the process) and one that I’d like to briefly explore with you here. In Judaism, we commonly use the word tzedakah to describe charitable giving. The Hebrew word tzedakah actually means “justice” or “fairness”. This implies that according to Jewish tradition, giving of one’s self to another, whether with money, time, or kindness, is less about going “above and beyond” and more about acting in a righteous way that that is really just expected of us.
At Ranch Camp, we provide opportunities for campers to take part in tikkun olam projects each summer. Our teen travel programs for instance, all have components in which campers go and volunteer in a variety of worthy settings. It is an important part of the trip program experience, giving our teens an opportunity to develop leadership skills, humility, and compassion. Our hope is also that their volunteer experience instills a sense of the importance of tzedakah in our campers and encourages them to undertake such work throughout their lives. After all, giving of yourself to others feels good. Camp is a great setting to develop a love and passion for tzedakah and tikkun olam – it certainly did for me.
The work projects I took part of through my childhood synagogue and at Ranch Camp made me love volunteer work, and in my adult life, I try to take advantage of any opportunities in my community to give back to others in need. In September, certain areas of Colorado were devastated by flash floods. It was heartbreaking to see homes, businesses, and synagogues in Boulder County destroyed knowing that so many in our camp community were being effected by this unprecedented natural disaster. The Denver JCC organized a group of staff to go up in the aftermath of the flood to one of the synagogues to assist in clean up efforts. Seven of us spent the day moving out sludge, taking down dry wall, and trying our best to wipe away the damage that four feet of water had inflicted on the synagogue’s basement. We worked side by side with men and women who call the synagogue home, both figuratively and literally. You see, this synagogue not only is a spiritual home for congregants but also serves as a community homeless shelter. These special workers were giving of themselves to a place and community that had open their doors them in their time of need – they were giving back. It felt incredibly good to be there that day and volunteer my time to this effort. I felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself and that I was making a difference, even if it was small.
During this holiday season, I ask you and your family to consider dedicating part your Thanksgiving celebration to giving. A donation of money, time, or kindness to those in the community that could use support or aid is sure to enhance your own holiday cheer. I have really found that there is something about getting involved in giving to others that is in turn very beneficial for my own sense of well being and psyche. As Maya Angelou noted, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving and Hanukkah season ahead!
Last month I wrote about new ways of looking at the same old foods as a way to take an important camp value and bring it home. In general, this speaks to the greater lesson of creativity and ingenuity that kids often learn at camp. It may sound odd at first to say this, but creativity is so important in Jewish tradition. The Israelites had to find innovative ways to sleep and eat while wandering in the desert for 40 years, the rabbis of the Talmud constantly had to find interesting solutions to complex legal problems, the Jews of the Inquisition had to find new ways of secretly practicing Judaism, and many of the modern Jews of our time have found unique paths that bridge the religious and the secular in a seamless and meaningful manner.
The confluence of creativity and tradition could not be more relevant than this month, when the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same night. Here is an opportunity to be creative with our Jewish tradition and to create new secular traditions. It’s an opportunity not only to make some interesting Hanukkah-Thanksgiving fusion dishes (see recipe below!) but to talk as a family about the meaning of both holidays and how we can integrate them in our minds and at our tables in order to understand and appreciate both in new and meaningful ways.
As a means of getting you started, try out these delicious low fat cranberry pecan sufganiyot (Israeli donuts traditionally eaten on Hanukkah) in muffin form- what could be a newer, more interesting pairing of cultures?!
Cranberry Pecan Pie Sufganiyot
Makes 24 mini doughnut-muffins
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup dark molasses
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons canola oil
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
2-3 tablespoons cranberry juice
¼ cup roasted pecans
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Spray 2 mini-muffin tins generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar to coat, then tap out the excess.
- Whisk flour, the remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and set aside.
- Whisk buttermilk, molasses, egg whites and oil in another bowl.
- Fold the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula just until blended, taking care not to over-mix.
- Spoon about 1 generous tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup, smoothing the tops.
- Bake until the tops spring back when touched lightly, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Loosen edges and turn the doughnuts out onto a wire rack to cool. Whisk confectioners’ sugar and cranberry juice in a bowl to make a smooth, thick glaze. Pour onto a small plate.
- Chop the pecans into small pieces.
- When the doughnuts are completely cool dip the tops in the glaze and place them on a wire rack (place wax paper or paper towels under the rack to make clean up easier!) to allow the excess glaze to drip off.
- Sprinkle the chopped nuts over and enjoy.
This holiday season, we have giving on our minds and in our hearts. How camp influences what it means to us, how giving is a part of our lives, how we teach our kids about giving, and more. We encourage you to use these blog posts dedicated to the theme of giving to start conversations with friends and loved ones. Happy holidays!
November Director’s Corner
Fall is one of my favorite times of year – the leaves are changing, the weather is crisp and I find myself concentrating my time on some of my favorite things. My mind wanders through wrapping up camp registration, ramping up summer staffing, kicking our annual scholarship campaign into high gear, planning my family vacation and looking forward to my daughter’s first Hanukkah. These things all have the same season in common and they also share one other very important characteristic. They all center around giving.
I think that most people tend to focus on giving this time of year, usually with a focus on giving (and getting) gifts. Admittedly, that is a nice part of this season and I look forward to watching my daughter’s face as we open Hanukkah gifts. However, the giving that I love so much is a bit different…
With registration wrapping up in September, we get to give 700 campers the opportunity to have the best summer of their lives at Beber Camp! We are part of a community that gives Jewish Identity, life skills, friendships, new experiences and memories that will impact our children for years to come.
With staffing ramping up, we get to give dozens of amazing young role models the chance to positively impact the lives of children. These staff members are committed to developing their campers and are also looking to be developed themselves. We often forget that we are in the staff development business as well and this season starts our intense gift giving through selection, training, preparation, development and staff support processes.
With our annual campaign kicking into high gear, we get to directly give all families the ability to send their children to camp through the generosity of our Beber community. We also get to give our annual scholarship campaign investors the opportunity to support something that they believe in passionately.
With my family vacation, I get to give time and love to my family that is separated by distance most of the year. People will be coming from all over the country to spend time together, reminisce, share and create new memories. I also get to give my family amazing quality time with my daughter Micah and in turn, I get to give Micah one of the greatest gifts I have – her loving, supportive family. It is important to note that one of the reasons that my extended family is so strong is that the kids all spend their summers together at Beber Camp.
Finally, I get to give my immediate family our first Hanukkah. I am beyond excited to share in the magic with my wife and daughter, as we continue to create our own Jewish traditions. The magic that I am anticipating isn’t all about gifts, rather it’s about community, family, love, appreciation and giving. These are things that my family learned directly from our Jewish summer camp experiences.
Hopefully, you are looking forward to this season as well and you are personally excited about giving. Please make sure to take a minute to think about all of the different ways that you can give this season. Maybe it will be the gift of family time or the gift of a summer at camp for your child. Maybe it will be a directed gift to the Jewish summer camp or the gift of encouraging your college-age child to return to camp as a staff. Maybe it is the gift of support, compassion and community…..or maybe it is the gift of another pair of dress socks for the first night of Hanukkah. Thanks in advance, mom!