Don’t Be A Grinch!


It is hard to believe that  2013 is coming to an end.  School is out and Winter Break is here.  Before we know it, we will be welcoming 2014!

A few weeks ago, we got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime Jewish event: Thanksgivukkah.  It was nice to be able to gather with family and friends and celebrate Chanukah and Thanksgiving together.  I know that a lot of our kids got a kick out of the combination of holidays.  It created a media frenzy.  There was a great buzz out there – everyone knew about Thanksgivukkah.

But now, everything is Christmas.  We are bombarded with Xmas trees, Santa and carols.  Well intentioned folks wish us “Merry Christmas!”  Some of us are getting a little “Grinchy”.  Catch yourself before you start spouting Ebenezer Scrooge’s infamous words: “Bah Humbug!”  We had our Thanksgivukkah fun.  Those who embrace Christmas are allowed to celebrate.  And remember, great Chinese food and movies await us next week.

In all seriousness, with Chanukah coming so early this year, I am noticing that this holiday season is particularly challenging for many of our kids.  As Thanksgivukkah becomes a distant memory and the excitement of Christmas grows, there are many Jewish kids who have got a case of the “Bah Humbug Blues”.  Recently, I was visiting with our preschoolers out on the playground.  We have a wonderfully diverse group of preschoolers who come from Jewish families, inter-faith families and non-Jewish families.  As I walked out onto the playground, I overheard one of our preschoolers telling some of his friends that Santa Claus is not real. I spoke to our preschoolers about this incident – explaining to them that there are many different holidays out there.  We talked about Chanukah and how special it is to us.  We agreed that we would not feel good if someone told us that the story of the Maccabees and the Menorah were not real or if our friends told us that playing dreidel and singing Chanukah songs was boring.  We also talked about the fact that while some of us don’t believe in Santa Claus, it is okay for other kids to believe in him.  We want to respect what our friends believe and celebrate – just like we want them to respect what we believe and celebrate.  It is okay to be different.

For those of you with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, I encourage you to check in with them over the next few days.  See how they are feeling about the holiday season.  Talk to them about what you as a family believe and practice in your own home at this time of year while stressing that some families do things differently.  When it comes to Santa Claus, my own children never believed in him, but they believed in the Tooth Fairy (and I think they still do – so shhhhhh!).  I explained to them that just like none of their friends had the right to tell them that the Tooth Fairy did not exist, they did not have the right to tell their friends that Santa did not exist.  It worked!

Cheryl, Abigail, Jonah and I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, a peaceful Winter Break and a Happy New Year!

Paraskavedekatriaphobics Need A Little Judaism

friday the 13th

Today is not a good day for paraskavedekatriaphobics – that is those who are afraid of Friday the 13th.  Today is Friday the 13th and many believe that this is a very unlucky day.  Most paraskavedekatriaphobics don’t really know why they are afraid of this day.  They are simply the victims of well-known superstitions.  These superstitions are most likely based partially upon teachings that assert that the number 13 is an incomplete number.  There are 12 tribes of Israel, 12 hours on a clock, 12 months in a year, 12 Olympic gods…13 is incomplete.  In addition, Christian sources teach that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.  Furthermore, at the last supper, it is taught that 13 people were seated at the table.  As a result, some believe that it is dangerous to have 13 people at a table.  In the 14th century, Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales taught “on a Friday fell all this misfortune”.  By the 1800’s, it was widely believed that it was unlucky to begin a new adventure, give birth, get married, etc on a Friday.

To all you paraskavedekatriaphobics out there, I have good news for you: for Jews, Friday and the number 13 are far from “unlucky”!  Friday is the day we prepare for Shabbat – our day of rest and joy.  Friday is a busy day, one filled with shopping, cooking and putting together other things that we will need to enjoy Shabbat.  Friday is the 6th day of the week.  The number 7 is considered a complete number in Judaism as it is the last day of the week – our Shabbat.  Judaism, interestingly enough, does not teach that 6 is an incomplete number.  Rather, it teaches us that 6 is the “lead-in” day – the day we get ready for greatness!  Friday, the 6th day, is our wonderful “lead-in” day.

13 in Judaism is far from an unlucky number.  Consider when our children become bar mitzvah – at age 13 – an age of responsibility and celebration!  God is described as having 13 merciful, caring, loving attributes.  And the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides taught that in order to be a true Jew, one must embrace 13 foundations of Judaism.  13 is a wonderful, powerful, holy and complete number in Judaism.

And, thus, I wish you a happy Friday the 13th and a Shabbat Shalom!

Crying For The Man Who Could Not: In Memory of Nelson Mandela


Today, the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela.  Even in Israel, a nation with which Mandela had a complicated, yet supportive relationship, his loss is felt.  “He will be remembered as the father of the new South Africa and as a highly important moral leader,” wrote Prime Minister Netanyahu who also stated that Mandela “worked to heal the tears in South African society and succeeded with his personality to prevent outbreaks of racial hatred.”  The tears have returned to South Africa and have spread across the world as the loss of Mandela is felt deeply by the global community.

As I read the many accolades that appeared online last night and this morning, I was struck by the words of singer and activist Bono who wrote in an article entitled “The Man Who Could Not Cry” that as a result of being forced to work long hours in a limestone mine while a prisoner, Mandela’s tear ducts were severely damaged by dust.  The damage left him unable to cry until surgery in 1994 which corrected the problem in at least one eye. Bono writes, “For all this man’s farsightedness and vision, he could not produce tears in a moment of self-doubt or grief.”

After reading all of the powerful words praising the late South African leader, I was struck by Bono’s willingness to admit that even Mandela, a man that the singer admittedly idolized, was imperfect.  And, I was impressed that Bono was willing to admit that Mandela’s inability to cry was a “flaw”.  Bono, like most people who knew Mandela, saw him as the epitome of strength and courage – willing to put everything on the line to stop injustice.  Many might argue that Mandela’s inability to shed tears is not even worth a mention – particularly since we often see tears as a sign of weakness.  Bono felt differently – he knew that if Mandela could have, he would have wept.
This week, we read about another great leader – Joseph – the son of our patriarch Jacob.  As many of you know, Joseph was treated terribly by his brothers who tossed him into a pit which resulted in him being sold into slavery and transported to Egypt.  Overtime, however, Joseph would rise to power in Egypt as he gained the trust and admiration of the Pharaoh.  Many years later, a plague destroys the produce of Israel and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of food.  They find themselves standing before their brother Joseph who forgives them, embraces them and, as he does so, cries.  Joseph’s tears are not seen as a sign of weakness – but rather a sign of just how genuine and compassionate he was.
By reminding us that Nelson Mandela was unable to cry – but had this flaw corrected in 1994, Bono is doing something very important.  Just like the Torah depicts the great and powerful Joseph weeping over his brothers, Bono allows us to imagine the countless tears that could have been shed by Mandela over the injustice he experienced.  His lack of tears were not a sign of strength – rather they were a result of his captivity.  As the world mourns his passing, it is important that grief be expressed freely – which means with tears.  Tears need not be seen as a sign of weakness.  Rather, they can be a beautiful reflection of pure, unbridled emotion.  Today, the world sheds the tears that Nelson Mandela could not shed – let them flow.
May his memory be a blessing.