A Rick Perry Hanukkah

Governor Rick Perry made it clear in his “Strong” campaign commercial that he believes kids can’t celebrate Christmas in our country. Apparently, however, governors can celebrate Hanukkah each year in the Capitol building with members of the local Chabad Lubavitch.

Here’s a video I uploaded to YouTube showing Rick Perry’s dismay that kids can’t celebrate Christmas followed by his Hanukkah dancing and menorah lighting:

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

Candlestick Park Lacks Light Before Hanukkah

Irony. On the night before Hanukkah, tonight’s Monday Night Football game was delayed because there was no light in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. As if it’s not funny enough that a stadium named Candlestick had no electricity, it brings to mind the story of Hanukkah.

Perhaps if they could just find enough electricity at Candlestick Park for one quarter of the football game, it would miraculously last for all four quarters?

Here is the article I wrote for Patch.com about the “Five Things You Should Know About Hanukkah”:

While Christmas is among the top two Christian holidays in terms of importance, Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, it has become one of the more widely celebrated Jewish holidays and it is certainly a favorite among children. 

Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE (Before Common Era) and is celebrated by lighting one additional candle in a candelabrum, called a hanukkiah (or menorah) for eight days. The holiday is also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah means rededication and refers to the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE (or BC). 

History
Beginning in 167 BCE, the Jews of Judea rose up in revolt against the oppression of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire. Judah the Maccabee was the leader of the Jewish army. Judah and his followers were able to capture the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a pagan shrine. They cleansed it and rededicated it to God. Following the rededication, they observed an eight-day celebration, which was patterned after the autumn harvest festival of Sukkot. The Jewish people were not able to properly celebrate Sukkot during the siege and thus observed it in the winter, which later became Hanukkah. 

The Miracle of Oil Story
A much later story written by the rabbis of the Talmudic period claims that the eight day festival of Hanukkah was to celebrate the miracle that a small amount of oil that was only enough to keep the menorah burning for one day actually lasted for a full eight days. 

Home Rituals
For the most part, Hanukkah is a home-based holiday with many rituals that take place in the home rather than the synagogue. Central to the holiday is the lighting of the hanukkiah, an eight-branched candelabrum. Each night of the holiday (beginning this year on the evening of Dec. 20) an additional candle is added to the menorah. It is also customary for children to play a dreidel (spinning top) game during Hanukkah. 

Food
To celebrate the legend of the miraculous cruse of oil that kept the menorah lit for eight days, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil. The most familiar Hanukkah foods are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Small pieces of chocolate in the shape of small coins are also traditional treats during the holiday. 

Gifts
Likely as a response to the gift-giving custom of Christmas, Hanukkah has evolved into gift-giving holiday as well. Some families exchange gifts during each night of the holiday, while other families may only give one gift over the course of Hanukkah. It is customary to send Hanukkah greetings cards to friends and family.

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

Happy Birthday Adam Sandler

Happy Birthday to Adam Sandler, who turns 45 today. Sandler doesn’t always get the respect he should as a comedian, actor and writer but I’ve always been a fan. I recently watched “Funny People” for the second time and was left impressed with Sandler’s range as an actor. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Waterboy and Big Daddy remain my go-to movies when some mindless humor is in order.

I had a chance to meet Adam Sandler in November, 1999 when he was filming “Little Nicky” on the Manhattan streets just around the corner from my apartment. Walking from 110th Street and Broadway up to the Jewish Theological Seminary at 122nd Street for morning minyan on a brisk November morning at 7:00 AM I did a double-take when I spotted Adam standing by himself on 112th Street trying to stay warm. We started talking. He told me about his brother who studied in a traditional yeshiva. After talking for about twenty minutes, he invited me to come back around lunch time to watch him shoot the movie.

There was a crowd of people trying to watch the filming when I returned to the set around noon with my rabbinical school classmate. Sandler recognized me and told his assistant to let us move up to the front so we could have a good view of the action. Over the next couple days I had the chance to be on a movie set (my first time) and shmooze with Adam Sandler between takes. On his final day of filming I presented him with a suede yarmulke with the Jewish Theological Seminary logo on it and we took a photo together.

For those who think that Adam Sandler’s only talent is making movies with sophomoric humor and silly voices, you should watch “Spanglish,” “Funny People” and “Reign Over Me.” Not only has he made some very good movies, he’s also educated people about Hanukkah with his series of Hanukkah songs and the animation “Eight Crazy Nights.” And not only did he try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his humus-loving Zohan character, he donated 400 PlayStations to Israeli children whose homes were damaged in rocket attacks.

Happy Birthday Adam Sandler!

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

Jimmy Kimmel Against the Rabbi

What’s the deal with Jimmy Kimmel and rabbis? This year alone, ABC’s late night talk show host has featured three rabbis (or almost rabbis) on his show. Kimmel used to date comedian Sarah Silverman whose sister Susan is a Reform rabbi living on a kibbutz in Israel.

Back in April, Yuri Foreman was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The WBA super welterweight champion was introduced by Kimmel as a future rabbi who studies Talmud. The video of the future rabbi’s interview with Kimmel can be seen here.

Last week, Jimmy Kimmel explained the Hanukkah story to his millions of viewers and then showed the video of Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Cunin of California with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kimmel wished a “Happy first night of Hanukkah to our Jewish viewers. Tonight is the first night of eight nights of celebrating and misspelling hanukkah. Or maybe there is no correct way to spell it.” He even suggested that the Jewish holiday could be spelled Chaka Khan. The video is of Rabbi Shlomo Cunin and Governor Schwarzenegger at the 17th annual menorah lighting at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

Those rabbinic appearances seemed to go okay, but now Jimmy Kimmel is in some trouble for a video shtick he did in August. Kimmel is being sued by Rabbi Dovid Sandek, the flamboyant ultra-Orthodox rabbi who goes by the “Flying Rabbi” and whose YouTube videos have become popular. Rabbi Sondik claims his image was used without his consent when Kimmel used a YouTube video segment on the show that poked fun at basketball superstar LeBron James’ free agency decision this past summer.

Yahoo! News reports that, “According to a complaint filed in New York Supreme Court on December 10, Kimmel in August was trying to make a joke about reports that LeBron James had met with Rabbi Yishayahu Yosef Pinto for business advice. Kimmel claimed that he himself had met with Rabbi Pinto for advice and showed the audience a video of the exchange. The rabbi shown speaking to Kimmel appears to be Rabbi Sandek, not Rabbi Pinto.”

Rabbi Dovid Sandek The Flying Rabbi

Sandek claims he was made to “look foolish” and presented as a “laughingstock.” While the late night show did get permission to use the TMZ owned footage of LeBron James with Rabbi Pinto, it never licensed the YouTube clips of Rabbi Sandek. Oops! Now the video of Jimmy Kimmel getting advice from the rabbi (Sandek) has been removed from the Web as the lawsuit is pending.

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

Bringing Light to Humanity on Hanukkah

Here is my Hanukkah message that was published on the Read the Spirit website. Read the Spirit’s editor David Crumm introduced my message by connecting it to the Retik family. Ben Retik, who lost his father in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, lit the White House menorah last week. Crumm wrote:

Ben’s mother Susan might have retreated from the world in her grief. Instead, she and another 9/11 widow founded BeyondThe11th, a nonprofit group that works with widows in Afghanistan whose lives have been devastated by war and terrorism. Talk about shining one’s light to the whole world! Despite their loss, the Retik family has made the planet a better and safer place through their charitable work in helping widows half a world away rebuild their families’ lives.


Hanukkah: From Darkness to Light

A Chasidic story is told of a man entering a dark room. He is overwhelmed by the darkness.
“Don’t worry,” said his friend. “The darkness hits only at first. Soon your eyes will grow accustomed to it, and you will hardly notice the dark.”
“My friend,” replied the man, “that is our problem. Judaism teaches us to distinguish between lightness and darkness. But unfortunately, by becoming too accustomed to the situation, we begin to think of the darkness as light!”
Distinguishing between lightness and darkness is so much a part of who we are as the Jewish people. Each Saturday night, we bid farewell to Shabbat by distinguishing between lightness and darkness. But we make other distinctions as well. We acknowledge the separation between holy and secular, and between the six regular days of the week and the holiness of the Sabbath. We also proclaim that God has separated the Jewish people from all other peoples. For we have been chosen by God to be a holy people.
But what does this “chosenness” really mean? After all, it might even make some of us feel uncomfortable being the “chosen people” around our non-Jewish friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I’m reminded of the famous scene from Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye calls out to God: “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
Jewish people shouldn’t feel uneasy or uncomfortable with the notion that we are chosen. After all, it’s not about superiority or status, but rather responsibility. Jewish people have the responsibility to seek out justice in the world. We have to help repair our fractured world. The man in the Chasidic story wasn’t comforted by the fact that his eyes would eventually adjust to the dark—and he was on to something. It is our responsibility, as individuals and as a community, to see the darkness in the world and to create light.
This is what it means to be a people chosen by God. And this, I strongly believe, is the message of Hanukkah. Each night, we commemorate the miracle by increasing the light in this dark world. The rabbis of the Talmud taught that we increase the holiness; we don’t diminish it. Each night of Hanukkah, we increase the holiness in the world—and that is why God holds the Jewish people accountable. Why God has chosen us to be God’s people—responsible stewards of the earth, partners in fixing a broken world, and pursuers of shalom (peace) and tzedek (justice).
Jewish people have the responsibility to bring light to humanity through social justice. As a light unto the nations, we are obligated to think of ourselves and our actions as an example for the entire human race, outside of our own community. We must live our lives according to the words of God as articulated in our holy Torah: I the Lord have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will protect you, and make for you a covenant, to be a light unto the nations.
To be a “light unto the nations” means that when there is darkness in our world, we must be the guiding light, the symbol of leadership, the beacon of hope, and the impetus for change. We must lead the way out of the darkness and into the light. We do this by realizing that our efforts at both justice and righteousness must extend beyond our own people.
SPEAKING OUT; REACHING OUT
As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out, and to take action against ethnic cleansing regardless of the ethnicity, race or religion of the people being victimized. We have experienced horrific darkness, but we have always persevered and found the light. If “Never Again” is to be our watchword, reminding us of our persecution, then we must remain true to it. We must live up to that phrase, and when we see darkness engulfing other humans, we must not stand idly by and be passive. We must act.
My teacher, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg teaches the following about Hanukkah: “Pessimists and assimilationists have more than once informed Jews that there is no more oil left to burn. As long as Hanukkah is studied and remembered, Jews will not surrender to the night. The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches, is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle.” If all peoples light a candle, our world will be a much brighter place for all of us.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

8th Night of Hanukkah

Last night was the final candle lighting of the eight-day Hanukkah holiday. It was also the only night that I didn’t have a chance to light the menorah with my children. I went straight from a private tutoring session to teach an adult education class, grabbing a quick bite to eat in between.

When I returned home at 9:30 p.m., my wife joined me to light the candles together. It reminded me of the Hanukkahs we celebrated together before children (“B.C.”). There was something quite spiritual about watching the flickering light of the fully lit menorah reflecting in the window.

We often think of Hanukkah as a children’s holiday with the dreidel games and gifts each night, but for just one night of this eight day Festival of Lights this year I really enjoyed being able to focus on the glowing candles without worrying if one of my kids was going to accidentally get burned while lighting the flames. It was nice to not immediately transition from the candle lighting to the materialistic gift giving, worrying that my children would enjoy and appreciate the presents we bought them. While I love sharing in the ritual menorah lighting with my children, the eighth night this year was a special gift.

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

Florida Panthers Fans Angry with Kippah Giveaway at Hockey Game

I saw this one coming. I originally blogged last week about the decision by the NHL’s Florida Panthers to give out yarmulkes (kippahs) to the fans at its Hanukkah game this past Tuesday night. One of the team’s representatives left a comment on my blog explaining that not every fan in attendance at the game would be receiving the free blue leather kippah embroidered with the Florida Panthers’ logo. Rather, only those who had purchased the Hanukkah game package would get the kippah. I suppose that’s still a better idea than “the first 5,000 Jews who enter the arena.”

Something told me that the majority of the fans at the game did not know that they had to buy the Hanukkah package to get the kippah. Before the game, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (a brother of the Jewish AEPi fraternity by the way!) even referred to the giveaway, saying “If there’s a hat trick tonight the fans will throw yarmulkes like they’re Frisbees.”

Frank Reinstein, a local Detroit-area CPA who went to elementary and middle school with me, thought everyone at the game (man, woman and child) would be receiving a kippah and it was Frank’s boss who was the one who came up with the Hanukkah promotion.

Sure enough, not everything went as planned as the Sun Sentinel’s blog “The Business of Sports” explained. Blogger Sarah Talalay writes:

The news release sent out last Tuesday said the yarmulkes would be “given to all ticket-buyers.” What the release apparently didn’t make clear was that should have said “Panthers yarmulke given to those who buy a special ticket pack.” That’s how the Panthers amended the news item on floridapanthers.com, but only after the news release had been sent to the media. The media did not receive a corrected release.

Fans found out the hard way when they arrived at the game expecting the sweet dark blue yarmulke with the Panthers logo. “Two friends and I decided to check out the game because one of them loves to collect the crazy giveaways that hockey teams tend to promo,” Panthers fan Caity Kauffman said. Kauffman tweeted about her experience trying to get to the bottom of “yarmulke-gate” during last night’s game.

When Kauffman and her friends didn’t see arena employees handing out yarmulkes at the arena’s entrance, they asked around. They were told it was a group sales item and were unaware of the release that said “all ticket buyers.” Kauffman saw yarmulkes being given out a few seats away, but again was told they were for group sales.

With curiosity in full swing, Kauffman went to client services, where she gave her name and phone number, after being told the team would send out some yarmulkes. She ran into at least one other fan, who was irate, and they were far from the only ones.

“All in all, we just wanted to check out the yarmulke giveaway because it was a pretty unique promo,” Kauffman said. “We only pursued it because no one at the BAC [BankAtlantic Center] seemed like they knew what was going on, and couldn’t get solid answers. I’m not offended, just annoyed. It was just a promo that was falsely advertised, poorly carried out and then they didn’t own up to the poor execution.”

Panthers spokesman Matt Sacco said about 1,500 yarmulkes were given to group ticket buyers, who were pleased with the promotion.

“It was for people who bought the tickets for Jewish Heritage Night group night,” Sacco said. He said he could understand the confusion, but the team quickly changed the item on the team’s website.

Panthers President Michael Yormark issued this statement: “Based on the success of the biggest Hanukkah Party in South Florida last night during the Panthers-Avalanche game at the BankAtlantic Center, we are definitely considering expanding the program in years to come. Also, any fans that were at the game but did not get a Panthers yarmulke, I’d urge you to call our ticket sales department and speak to one of our sales representatives.”

Sounds to me like what was a well intentioned gimmick is now worthy of the penalty box!

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

Florida Panthers Hanukkah Hockey Night

As I blogged about last Thursday, the Florida Panthers hockey team hosted its first Hanukkah Night tonight at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. It turns out that the black Panthers yarmulkes will be given out to the fans who pre-purchased the Hanukkah package, but the team will not discriminate between men and women.

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment listed all the special offerings for the celebration and encouraged fans to “join the biggest Hanukkah party in South Florida.”

On the list of what’s in store for the special Hanukkah game, I couldn’t figure out the last one’s connection to Hanukkah. Here’s the list:

  • A giant menorah lighting on the JetBlue Tarmac at 6:45 p.m.
  • Jewish music provided by Avimagic Entertainment
  • Kosher food available throughout the game in select locations
  • Panthers yarmulke given to all ticket-buyers
  • Postgame on-ice slap shots
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Let’s Ham It Up On Hanukkah (Again!)

Here’s my recent post on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)

Just like the return of the clothing fashion styles of yesteryear, many things on the Web tend to make a comeback too. It seems like every few years the same hoaxes, urban legends, videos, jokes and funny photos get recycled around Cyberspace.

I noticed that this is the case with a photo of ham — yes, ham! Through Facebook, hundreds of users are recirculating the photo of the boneless spiral ham on sale at a store with the sign “Delicious for Chanukah.”

It appears however, that someone decided to write their own midrash about the photo by including the caption: “Dear Walmart, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. Love, The Jews.” Based on the name on most of the reposted photos on Facebook, it appears that Kathy Ohsman Hoffman of Scottsdale, Arizona is the one who penned the Walmart statement.

The photo is actually from 2007 and it had nothing to do with Walmart. It was taken at Balducci’s, a specialty food store in New York City (of all places… shouldn’t they know better?). I blogged about this FAIL marketing idea at Balducci’s back in December 2007 and even included some faux holiday sale signs from other stores in my post. A quick search for “Hanukkah Ham” on snopes.com will also let you know that this poor choice in advertising occurred not at Walmart, but at Balducci’s.

In my Facebook news feed I noticed that Shir Yakov Feinstein Feit, the musical director at NYC’s Romemu, posted the Walmart/Ham accusation to which Jay Michaelson responded with a link to an article on the satire site The Onion from 1997 explaining that the 6,000 year old Jewish ban on ham has been lifted by the Jewish elders.

One of my Facebook friends added this comment to the Hanukkah Ham posting: “Nothing like a good sprial sliced smoked ham to go with latkes and applesauce….and a good glass of whole white milk. Yum”.

I suppose that just like the old holiday fruitcake, we can expect that the Hanukkah Ham photo will get passed around yet again during future Hanukkahs.

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

My Family’s Dancing Hanukkah Video

With the help of JibJab.com and Adam Sandler’s voice, I made this video to wish our friends a Happy Hanukkah. Enjoy!

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