Let’s Chanukah!


With only eight days left till Chanukah (Hanukah. Hannukah, Hanukkah, or however you prefer to spell it), it’s time to Chanukah! In my family Chanukah and Christmas both can be verbs. Because preparing/celebrating for these holidays is an active activity. 🙂 I’d like to invite you to share your favourite ways to get ready for the holiday you celebrate at this time of the year, be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, or anything else, whether you take a secular or religious approach to your holiday. If you don’t mind, I’ll update this post with your comments. 🙂

One of the things I did as a new thing is making fake marzipan from walnuts. We love walnuts, and yesterday I learnt a recipe from a friend who had just learnt the same recipe from a friend. I made the first batch in less than an hour.

The recipe I used was:

150 g or powdered sugar
150 g of ground walnuts
eggwhite from one small egg

Put everything in a zip loc bag, mix and knead till a uniform consistency forms. Add more sugar and walnut mix if it’s too soft. Roll out, cut with cookie cutters. If it lasts long enough before it’s all eaten, dip in melted chocolate. Very yummy.

 Jon: I do the whole tree decorating. For the last several years I have rotated different themes. This year I am going back to my Disney theme tree already because it’s just going to be me and Maggie. Dad got an invite to spend a few weeks with my brother and his family down in Georgia. So the tree is up, but not decorated yet. :o So far behind this year. :o
Also need to get Christmas cards going. I did get a few over seas ones mailed, but nothing more.
Also need to get some gifts mailed too. Yikes. :o

CiskaNo matter what my Christmas looks like (at home or on a holiday, having friends over or visiting friends, my own home or not), I always make sure I have an advent wreath. It doesn’t have to be fancy (this year, I just put four candles together on the table), but I really need it to have a real Christmas! Other traditions: putting up a tree, decorations, a stable, lights and Christmas music on (or after) Gaudete Sunday. And EATING ALL THE FOOD!!!

Jill P.: I love sending out Christmas cards, making treats and taking them to neighbors, and singing with my family.

7 Quick Takes


— 1 —

It’s been a long time since I listened to Harel Skaat’s Lauf.

With Chanukah only about a month away, we have more and more ads for Festigal. And this will be the first year since we moved here that none of us will actually go to Festigal. While my kids always enjoyed it, we can’t justify the cost and the costumes are weird. The two are not related, but I asked my dad not to surprise us with tickets this year. None of the kids expressed much of an interest to go, so we will do something else for Chanukah. I will have a few days off, so we might take a little trip somewhere in the country. Maybe take my brother Chaim up on his offer and visit him, and camp out in his garden. Or, depending on the snow and war situation, a ski trip to the Golan can happen. We shall see.

— 2 —

Mentioning Chanukah. My dear Christian friends, it’s adorable that you are planning to do Chanukah crafts/activities with your kids, but when you kidnap the activities and add all kinds of Christian symbolisms, it is no longer Chanukah. Chanukah has its own very specific history and symbolism, and adding Christ in the mix (beyond a mention of  John 10:22) is not only meaningless, but it’s also offensive to many Jews. When adding non-existent Messiahnic meaning to Jewish holidays Christians send the message that they degrade Judaism to the status of being a prelude to Christianity. Of course many Muslims consider Christianity to be that for Islam, and I’m sure most of my Christian readers would disagree. Now, if you want to recognize your religion in the tradition, you are very welcome to do it, just please rename the holiday appropriately. Like Christian Festival of Lights. Or whatever.

Christians can celebrate Chanukah, and some people believe they should. I think it is a wonderful celebration of the survival of the children of Israel and our faithfulness to G-d’s word and refusal to assimilate. Celebrating with us makes the party only better. 🙂

Couple of years ago one of my LJ friends posted videos and photos of their Chanukah tradition. They were very enthusiastic to celebrate this holiday that their saviour celebrated. I remember telling S that… they weren’t doing it according the Jewish tradition. She eagerly picked my brain to find the proper way to light the candles and recite blessings, and they changed the way they celebrated Chanukah. They, however, also loved their own family tradition that they continued to do in addition to the Jewish way of celebrating. Their own tradition became a cherished family festival, carrying all the layers of meaning added to it during the years–both personal and Christian religious. The two traditions continue side by side for them, and I think they have doubled the fun!

— 3 —

A couple posts down I wrote about our holiday plans, including Chanukah and Russian style New Year celebrations. One of my readers chatted me up on Facebook, and asked a very valid question. She didn’t want to ask in a comment, because she wanted to avoid any kind of potential drama, but she agreed to me answering it publicly: If we are so secular, why do I not let my kids celebrate Christmas at my BIL’s?

My answer to that is very simple, and it is very much the same message that religious Christians are trying to send: Jesus is the reason for the season. As commercialized it has become, Christmas is a religious holiday, celebrating the birth of, from the Jewish POV, a false messiah. It’s kind of like Christians not celebrating Krishnashtami. At the same time the absolutely secular Christmas replacement of the Russian New Year is part of some of my kids’ culture, so I can convince myself easier to celebrate it.

Of course we also live in a country where Christmas is no big thing. Every Jewish family in the Diaspora has to make the decision about what to do with Christmas. Some will write Christmas songs. As Wolowitz says in TBBT: “Must be the one Christmas song not written by a Jewish guy.” Some choose to ignore the day. Some make some fun traditions since it’s a day off… or just volunteer to cover the holiday shifts for their co-workers who do celebrate.

— 4 —

We are busy getting ready for Chanukah. I haven’t learnt to sew, and I still can’t afford buying gorgeous Chanukah stockings on etsy, so I made up my own crochet stocking patterns. And I made some stockings.

2014-11-14 13.33.24Yes, I believe they can be used for Christmas, too. 😀


— 5 —

Why is it that I start to write seven quick takes on Wednesday, write three in quick succession and then I’m stuck? Here I am on a Friday afternoon, and considering including cartoons and a cute video for quick takes 6 and 7. Of  course I spend a lot of time writing, because it’s November, but then this blog is getting little to no inspiration. I’m sorry about that.

— 6 —

Last year at Rosh Hashanah I promised myself I wouldn’t knowingly eat pork and not-kosher seafood. 5774 happened to be a long year, with a leap month. At times it was hard, because I love shrimp and bacon. Now 5775 has come and now I could eat all these without breaking my resolution, but suddenly… I don’t really miss any of it. Weird. Maybe finding the best fake bacon helped. 🙂 Today I’m making chicken liver and prunes wrapped in turkey bacon. Good thing I have help in the kitchen, because we can eat a lot a lot of it!

— 7 —

Writing so much about Chanukah put me in a great Chanukah mood. Did you know that the best Chenukah song was not written by Adam Sandler but by Steve Page of the Barenaked Ladies?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

The Santa Bunny Fairy Problem


xmasbunnyIn the week before Easter I saw several blog posts by Christian parents about the difficulty in addressing the Easter Bunny tradition. These were not unlike the posts before Christmas, when the Santa dilemma was widespread in the blogoshphere. This made me remember that Judaism was exempt from the problem: not only do we not celebrate these holidays, our traditions associated with the holidays we do have lack the imaginary gift giving figures. We have no Father Chanukah, and there is no Purim leporid. We don’t even have a tooth fairy! At least we don’t have a tooth fairy in Israel… and there wasn’t one in Hungary either.

In Jewish traditions gift giving is pretty straight forward: you know who gives the gifts and you thank that person, instead of some overweight senior citizen of the Arctic region, or a small, furry mammal, who really shouldn’t have anything to do with eggs. And when your tooth falls out, you don’t get money for it. It’s not like a first haircut or the great achievement of turning 12 or 13. There are no magic reindeer defying the laws of physics, flying through the night to deliver presents. The elf doesn’t live on Jewish shelves, and there are no mischievous leprechauns. The tags on the gifts are honest: this is frome Mom, that’s from dad, and the neatly wrapped package is from Bubbe.

“But doesn’t it take away from the magic of childhood?” a friend asked over tea a couple months from my rabbi.
“Not at all,” he replied. “The magic of their childhood is not lying in some false image of generosity, but in the knowledge that their parents love and cherish them, and that they provide not only neccessary things, but things that are purely for fun. They can put their trust to have their dreams fulfilled in their parents instead of Santa.” That trust and love is the magic of childhood.

I miss the stockings

Hanukkah stockings by ModernFair. Click image for Etsy listing!

Hanukkah stockings by ModernFair. Click image for Etsy listing!

I’ll be honest here. There are two things I really miss from Christmas: adult gifting and stockings. Chanukah is more like a time when we gift the children, not other adults.Having stockings was fun because I kept buying stocking stuffers throughout the year to fill them, resulting in an interesting collection of items. They just don’t look the same piled up next to the chanukiyah.

This morning I had the opportunity to have breakfast with my rabbi, and I asked him whether Chanukah stockings were acceptable. He told me that his family always had dreidel shaped Chanukah bags for the first night, and he doesn’t see a problem with actually using stockings for that purpose… And now I’m thinking how I should make them. I checked Etsy for them, and they were either awful or so expensive I wouldn’t be able to pay for 20 of those. Of course, chances are, I couldn’t think of the spelling for the holiday that would have brought up just what I needed. Since I have only 11 months and 1 day till Chanukah, crocheting that many big stockings is also out of the question. Maybe I should lern to knit and invest in yarn in bulk? All the patterns I looked at call for at least 2 skeins of yarn/stocking.  Or maybe I should learn to sew.

Opening a stocking was a favourite, though rather rare activity for me on Christmas day. The family that raised me was really big on the naughty or nice thing, and I usually didn’t make the nice list. “Santa” only filled the stockings of nice kids. Oh there were other gifts from siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles… but there were empty stockings for the naughty ones. After I spent an afternoon drawing all over the driveway with coal one year, there wasn’t even coal to be found in my stocking. Growing up Christmas was no fun more than it was fun. Chanukah, on the other hand, has been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to next year. Luckily the wait is shorter this year: Chanukah begins the night before Thanksgiving (US).

So, if anyone can point me towards some nice stocking patterns, not too complicated ones, I’d greatly apreciate it. The McCall pattern I found is a bit too complicated for my non-existent sewing skills, and a bit too small for stocking stuffing habit.

Oh, btw, it seems Amazon is having some great year-end sales. It seems to be mostly electronics, clothes and the such that are showing up in detail, but you can also get some great books with big discounts as well. There’s a link below and on my sidebar. I think I’m gonna buy the Heat Wave books by Richard Castle. Yes, I’m a Nathan Fillion fan!

Christmas Shoebox Projects


Christmas is coming up and more and more organizations will urge you to prepare a Christmas shoe box for a child, who otherwise wouldn’t have a Christmas gift. My family has participated every year for the past 8, and we were delighted to know some child received a neatly wrapped gift for Christmas/Chanukah.

Then we realized one year that the destination locations for the organization’s shoeboxes were Mongolia, Malaysia, two areas in India, Tajikistan and Kosovo. You know what’s common in these countries? They are non-Christian majority, and most of the children do not celebrate Christmas, because they celebrate the holidays of their own religion! The statement of the organization was true: they were distributing gifts to kids who otherwise wouldn’t get a Christmas gift…because they simply don’t observe Christmas! However, children received a pamphlet with/in their gifts to promote Christianity, and many also got to sit through a sermon on the plan of salvation. These children were evangelized without the consent of their parents, and gift givers were also not alerted of the evangelization nature of the project. And don’t you think it happens abroad only: religious minority groups are targeted domestically as well.

If you shrug thinking it was still something nice done for those children, just think how you would feel if an Islamic organization handed out shoeboxed for Eid, with proselytizing pamphlets looking to convert your children without your consent? What would you feel like if the Scientologists did the same (and you might want to check with your kids’ school whether they carry any literature or drog prevention programs or learning enhancement programs with one of the many Scientologist organisations, like Narconon)? How would you react to a shoebox on Purim, with a pamphlet pointing out why you go to hell if you believe in the deity of Christ?

There are many alternatives to Operation Christmas Child and other, unethically proselytizing organizations. Some of those are Christian organizations, who believe that they let their actions and love for the least of these reflect the message of their saviour rather than a pamphlet. There are local organizations that work in your own community, and those might be the best. There are organizations  who don’t call their missionary efforts charity work, but really do charity work–and call their missionary work just that: missionary work.

Please double check the programs and the intent of the organization you choose to align yourself with: willingly supporting unethical organizations does distort participants’ ethical view.

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