An Orrin Hatch Hanukkah

At the end of the video, writer Jeffrey Goldberg nonchalantly says: “So it’s just… all it is is a Hip Hop Hanukkah song written by the senior senator from Utah. That’s all it is.”

Well, even more than that, it’s a funky Hanukkah song written by a 75-year-old Mormon senator who wrote the song as a gift to the Jews.

Senator Orrin Hatch Hanukah HanukkahSo, how did Orrin Hatch come to write a Hanukkah song anyway? The story goes that Jeffrey Goldberg (national correspondent for The Atlantic) “felt that the song canon for Hanukkah is sparse and uninspiring, in part because Jewish songwriters spend so much time writing Christmas music.” He explains how Senator Orrin Hatch came to write a Hanukkah song for Tablet Magazine:

Ten years ago, I visited Orrin Hatch, the senior senator from Utah and a prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Capitol Hill. I was writing for The New York Times Magazine and Hatch was thinking of running for president. We talked about politics for a few minutes, and then he said, “Have you heard my love songs?”

No senator had asked me that question before. It turned out that Hatch was a prolific songwriter, not only of love songs, but of Christian spirituals as well. We spent an hour in his office listening to some of his music, a regular Mormon platter party. After five or six Christmas songs, I asked, him, “What about Hanukkah songs? You have any of those?”

The article in Tablet got picked up this morning by the New York Times, which recognized just how many borders were being transcended with this story. “Adding to the project’s only-in-America mishmash is that the song is performed by Rasheeda Azar, a Syrian-American vocalist from Indiana. But Mr. Hatch is the song’s unquestioned prime mover, or macher. He is featured in the video, sitting stoic in the studio, head bobbing slightly, donning earphones and contributing backup vocals.”

At the end of the video, the senator unbuttons his dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace dangling from his neck. The Times article also notes that “Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah” and that he keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” Senator Hatch said. “I feel sorry I’m not Jewish sometimes.”

Here’s the video of Senator Orrin Hatch’s Hanukkah song being performed:

The man who normally writes Christian music was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “This song means more to me than most of the songs I have ever written. People need to know the story of Hanukkah. It was a miracle.”

Senator Hatch said his ultimate goal would be for Barbra Streisand to perform one of his songs. Well, I’m sure seventy years ago many Christians weren’t really sure what to feel when the Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin released “White Christmas.” That’s sort of how I feel now. But, a nice Hanukkah song is still a nice Hanukkah song. So, on behalf of Jewish people all over the world: “Thanks for the song Senator Hatch!”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israeli Dog in Montana

Yesterday morning, my synagogue president did something he doesn’t typically do. He read an article from the morning’s paper during his Shabbat morning announcements. He explained that he was really touched by this heartwarming story from the New York Times about a police dog, a Chabad rabbi, and a menorah lighting in the Montana State Capitol.

As soon as he finished reading the article, I knew the story would be going viral. And indeed it has.

Miky Police Dog MontanaThe story takes place in Montana, where in 1993 in Billings, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism ended thanks to the show of solidarity.

The NYT article, written by Eric Stern (the senior counselor to Montana’s governor), is titled “Yes, Miky, There Are Rabbis in Montana.” Miky is the name of the police dog who made his way to Montana from Israel via Holland. In Israel, he was a bomb dog trained to respond to commands in Hebrew. Now in Montana, his police partner’s Hebrew just wasn’t up to snuff. And that’s where the Chabad rabbi comes into the story.

The Chabad rabbi met Miky the bomb-sniffing German Shephered at the State Capitol. The rabbi helped the police officer with his pronunciation of some of Mikey’s Hebrew commands.

They worked through a few pronunciations, and the rabbi, Chaim Bruk, is now on call to work with Miky and his owner as needed. Officer Fosket has since learned to pronounce the tricky Israeli “ch” sound, and Miky has become a new star on the police force. The two were even brought in by the Secret Service to work a recent presidential visit.

So all is well in the Jewish community here because the Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog. It is good news all around. The officer keeps the Capitol safe, and the Hebrew pooch is feeling more at home hearing his native tongue.

But the big winner is the rabbi, a recent arrival from Brooklyn who is working hard (against tough odds) to bring his Lubavitch movement to Montana. He has been scouring the state for anyone who can speak Hebrew, and is elated to have found a German shepherd he can talk to.

This is truly an uplifting story as the Hanukkah festival approaches. If nothing else, it reminds us of the tiny Jewish communities in places like Bozeman and Whitefish, Montana. While I’m sure that the Chabad shlichim (emissaries) who are sent to these far off communities don’t expect to be commanding police dogs in Hebrew, I’m also sure that nothing surprises them anymore.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Tiger Woods

Originally posted at Kaplan’s Korner: On Jews & Sports. Thank you to Ron Kaplan, of the New Jersey Jewish News, for asking me to guest blog on this topic for Kaplan’s Korner.

The Takeaway from Tiger’s Triple Bogey

When it was first reported that Tiger Woods was injured in a single car crash on Nov. 27, many suspected there might be more to the story. This was based on the fact that no one would believe that Tiger’s wife was simply testing the durability of the SUV’s windows with Tiger’s Nike driver.

Tiger WoodsNow, after days of refusing to come clean to the media about any personal indiscretions, Tiger Woods has admitted to marital infidelity. Like the public confessions of adultery often made by disgraced politicians, there will be those who argue this is a personal matter that should remain within the confines of the Woods family, as well as those who take the side that celebrities’ dirty laundry is to be aired in the free-for-all that is the public domain.

Tiger is a mega-celebrity and there’s no way around his private transgressions becoming public fodder. That’s the downside of celebrity. It sort of makes you wonder why “Average Joe’s” like the Balloon Boy’s dad, the White House party crashers, Joe the Plumber, and reality TV wannabes would really want to put their life in the spotlight. I’m sure Tiger learned long ago that fame and fortune would follow from his extraordinary talents on the golf course, but that the downside would be that his private life would no longer remain private. His lapses in judgment, while no worse than many a common man’s, would be the headlines on the covers of newspapers, websites, and tabloid magazines. Certainly, one lesson he has learned as a result of this event is that he really does need a press release for private matters. The public will fight until the story is revealed and that means no celebrity is free to take the Fifth when the media come calling.

No matter what your opinion of whether the media — and therefore the public – should allow Tiger Woods and his wife some privacy to deal with their “issue,” the fact remains that his adultery is now part of the public discourse. So, what is there to be learned from his mistake? Much like the time a decade ago when our president admitted his disregard for his marital promise of monogamy, the public will be discussing the issue of adultery yet again.

From the Jewish perspective, adultery is clearly a sin; the seventh commandment prohibits adultery. Judaism unambiguously categorizes marriage as a holy act (kiddushin in Hebrew).

In Genesis, Joseph admonishes his seductress, Potiphar’s wife, telling her that adultery is a sin against God. Perhaps the most well known act of adultery recorded in the Torah is when King David bedded Batsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. That act led to the tragic murder of Uriah at the hand of David.

Adultery truly begins a slippery slope of negative actions. It leads to additional lying and cheating through denial. Furthermore, adultery never ends well because it is usually several people who get hurt.

We live in a time when the magazines in the checkout line portray celebrities as “just like us.” These icons supposedly grocery shop like us, drink their morning coffee, ride their bicycle, and yell at their kids in the park just like we do. They have lapses in judgment just like us, too. But of course, they are much different than us in reality because the average guy doesn’t have to issue a press release when he’s accused of cheating on his wife.

It is indeed sad that the greatest golfer in the world can’t keep his private affairs from the eager claws of the TMZ generation, but that’s just the dark side of life in the spotlight. Poor Tiger is desperately trying to fight his way out of the toughest sand trap he’s ever faced and we wish him well. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from his ordeal.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller