Beyond The Turkey: What Actually Feeds Your Family This Thanksgiving?

I am a fan of Soul Pancake, a media and production company that gets us thinking about really important stuff. As we get ready to gather around the Thanksgiving table, I was struck by their “What Actually Feeds A Family” video which you can watch below.

Sure, turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie will be an integral part of so many of our Thanksgiving dinners, but Soul Pancake reminds us that the conversation around the table is what really nourishes our minds, bodies and souls. Don’t rush through your meal. Put the technology away and use the time to figure out what really matters to the people with whom you share the holiday. Listen to each other. Learn from each other. Most importantly, together, share what
you are thankful for. In doing so, you’ll make your Thanksgiving table a sacred space. And remember, when dinner ends Thursday night, you can recreate that sacred space all over again Friday night.

Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah join me in wishing you and your family a meaningful and happy Thanksgiving.

Strong Borders and Compassionate Hearts: Jewish Views on Immigration, Refugees and Asylum Seekers

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Rabbi Isaac Kook, one of the most important rabbis of the early 20th century, insisted that in order to truly love Israel, we must love, respect and honor all of humanity. Rav Kook taught that the nation of Israel, unlike any other nation, has the ability to provide everyone, not just Jews, with “a life filled with joy.” His belief reflects core Jewish values that have been part of our tradition for centuries. The Torah teaches:
When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The Torah demands that if one turns to us for refuge we provide them with a safe haven:

Don’t turn in a slave to his master, when he flees to you from his master. Let him dwell with you in your midst, in the place he chooses in one of your gates as suits him; don’t oppress him. (Deuteronomy 23:16)

The obligation to care for, love and shelter everyone is so central to Judaism that anyone who harms those in need faces the wrath of God: “Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Judaism’s insistence that we welcome anyone in need with open arms has encouraged us, as a people, to support the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Over the centuries, as we have fled from those who have tried to destroy us, we have been blessed by those who were willing to let us in and give us a new beginning. At the same time, we have been turned away and suffered tremendously because of this. As Americans, we are blessed to live in a nation that shares our desire to protect those less fortunate than we are.

As the world continues to be shattered by terror committed by Islamic extremists, most recently in France, Israel and just this morning in Mali, many in the United States are struggling with how to help those seeking refuge without putting ourselves in danger. While we are familiar with Judaism’s insistence that we help the stranger, we fail to realize that, despite our ancestors being slaves in Egypt, our tradition teaches us not to be foolish and naïve. There are dangerous people out there who want to do us harm. This is why Rashi, the great medieval Jewish scholar, teaches us that:

The mighty men of Israel would dwell in the border towns and lock the frontier so no enemies could enter; it was as if it (the border) were closed with locks and bars of iron and brass.

The Shulchan Arukh, written in the 16th century and remaining one of the most widely consulted Jewish legal codes, warns that enemies lurk out there who seek to cross our borders and undermine our society. Because of this, the Shulchan Arukh insists that those who live in a city on a border are obligated to violate Shabbat in order to defend the border from outsiders who seek to “take over the city and proceed from there to conquer the land.” For Jewish communities outside the land of Israel, it’s not possible to defend actual borders. In an effort to protect the wellbeing of their communities over the centuries, some Jewish leaders developed the now obsolete concept of chezkat hayishuv, a residence permit that was required by anyone who sought to live within a specific Jewish community. Communities that required residency permits had the power to deny entry to anyone who had the potential to cause them harm. In the State of Israel today, guarding Israel’s borders and closely monitoring who enters the country is paramount to the Jewish State’s survival.
As American Jews, we know that many of us would not be here today were it not for this country’s willingness to welcome immigrants and refugees. Our nation’s desire to welcome those who truly want and need to come to our shores and our Jewish obligation to help the stranger urge us to speak up in favor of welcoming refugees from Syria. At the same time, however, we can’t overlook our tradition’s reminder that not everyone who seeks to cross our borders has good intentions. Judaism pleads with us to open our borders to those who truly need us while, at the same time, doing everything in our power to ensure that the “locks and bars of iron and brass” that Rashi referred to centuries ago continue to be in place to protect us from those who seek “to conquer the land.” This is no easy task. May our national leaders find a way to balance the scales, staying true to the welcoming nature of our country while protecting us from those who seek our demise.

May this Shabbat bring much needed peace to the world. Shabbat Shalom to each of you.

Paraskavedekatriaphobia

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Today is not a good day for paraskavedekatriaphobics –those who are afraid of Friday the 13th. Most paraskavedekatriaphobics don’t really know why they are afraid of this day. The fear was just passed on to them and they fully believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day.

There are many reasons that the number 13 has gotten a bad rap. It is often seen as an incomplete number. The number 12 is often viewed as a complete, whole number: there are 12 tribes of Israel, 12 hours on clocks, 12 months in a year, 12 Olympic gods. Because of this, 13 is seen as excessive, unstable and thus, unlucky.

In the Christian faith, many believe that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. As a result, Friday became associated with bad things. 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 or get married on a Friday. Adding to the negativity associated with Friday is the teaching that there were 12 people seated with Jesus at the Last Supper. Clearly, there are powerful religious origins behind paraskavedekatriaphobia.

This Friday the 13th, I have good news for all of you who suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia: 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 us that 6 is an incomplete number. Rather, it teaches us that 6 is the “lead-in” day – the day we get ready for greatness!

The number 13 in Judaism is far from an unlucky number. Consider that our children become bar/bat mitzvah at 13. Thirteen has been traditionally seen as the 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 Fundamental Principles.

For Jews, 13 is a wonderful, powerful, holy and complete number and Friday is the wonderful day that leads to Shabbat. So, I wish you a happy Friday the 13th and a Shabbat Shalom!

The Kislev Calendar Returns!

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While it might seem a bit early to be talking about Chanukah, our Festival of Lights begins in a month – on Sunday evening, December 6! On the Jewish calendar, a day begins when the sun sets. As each of the eight days of Chanukah begins, we gather together with family and friends and light the Chanukah Menorah, also known as a Chanukiyah. The Chanukah Menorah and the light it gives off is a reminder of the Menorah, the elaborate, seven-branched candelabra that stood in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. More than 2,000 years ago, in the year 164 BCE (Before the Common Era, which begins with the year 0), a small group of Jewish heroes known as the Maccabees stood up to the Seleucid Empire that had taken over the land of Israel. Antiochus IV, one of the Seleucid rulers, made it illegal for the Jews to practice their religion. Under his reign, the ancient Jewish Temple that stood in Jerusalem and served as the heart and soul of ancient Judaism, was taken over by the Seleucid Empire. The Temple, the holiest place for the Jewish people, was desecrated. The Jewish people were told that they had two choices: they could convert to the religion of the Seleucid Empire or be killed. The Maccabees, a small group of Jews deeply committed to their faith, revolted against Antiochus and his tremendous military. Amazingly, the Maccabees were victorious. On the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev in the year 165 BCE, the Maccabees regained control of the Temple and began the process of cleaning it up and rededicating it as a sacred place for the Jewish people. As part of this rededication, the Maccabees had to rekindle the Menorah that stood in the Temple. Jewish practice dictated that the Menorah needed to be lit each night, but the Maccabees only found a small flask of oil – enough to light the Menorah for just one night. Miraculously, however, this small amount of oil lasted for eight full days, enough time to create new oil and keep the Menorah burning on a regular basis. This miracle, along with the strength and courage of the Maccabees, is what we celebrate during Chanukah.

While Chanukah is not a major Jewish holiday, it is one of the most popular holidays among the Jewish people. Certainly, this has a lot to do with the fact that Chanukah usually falls during the Christmas season. The practice of giving gifts is a relatively new Chanukah practice that took hold in the mid-20th century in America. It is clearly a practice that we took from Christianity and incorporated into our own tradition. This type of borrowing is not unusual in the religious world. The very practice of giving gifts on Christmas was a custom that Christianity borrowed from the Norse religion and Germanic paganism. Lately many Christians have begun to incorporate a Passover seder into their religious practice. The African-American holiday of Kwanza, while not a religious holiday, was introduced in 1966 and adopts African traditions and Judeo-Christian holiday traditions. Some scholars argue that Buddhism and Christianity have influenced each other. It is evident that throughout history, religious and cultural communities have learned from each other, adopting traditions into their own practice that do not threaten their own fundamental beliefs. On the contrary, the traditions that are borrowed from other faiths and cultures bring new meaning to these fundamental beliefs and, thus, reinforce them.

Last year, I introduced the Kislev Calendar – a special Chanukah countdown calendar based on the Christian Advent Calendar.  The Kislev Calendar is back! It is designed to expand the joy and excitement of Chanukah and give those of us who celebrate a better understanding of the history and meaning of the holiday.  The Kislev Calendar begins on the first of Kislev, the Jewish month in which Chanukah falls, and counts down the twenty-four days that lead to the Festival of Lights, offering some wisdom and/or a little surprise each day. In addition, on each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Kislev Calendar has a special gift for you and those with whom you celebrate the holiday.   This year, Kislev begins next week on the evening of Thursday, November 12.  To use The Kislev Calendar, please visit www.chanukahiscoming.com, click on the appropriate day and enjoy!  The calendar will be live online beginning November 12. It is free and accessible to anyone who wants to count down the days to Chanukah!