December 1, 2013
Lighting the Menorahs at the End of the Housewarming
I’m feeling tired and happy. A lot of work came to fruition in the past few days.
First, I came very close to my goal of posting to this blog every day for the month of November, despite the move, despite everything. I missed one day near the beginning, but otherwise, good. I think the alternative was letting it lie fallow while I went crazy with everything else.
Second, we had the housewarming, the first Shabbat Afternoon Open House. The whole neighborhood was here, and a lot of students, friends, family. Our “Abraham’s tent” with four sides open wide is launched. I’ll continue blogging what I learn about doing Judaism with friends, teaching the process of keeping a hospitable Jewish home.
What did I learn yesterday? That not everything has to be perfect. There were a number of things that were not picture perfect, but that was OK. People had a good time. The neighbors had a chance to compare notes on Linda and me, on the house, and to update each other on all the news. My students know how to find me now, and they are looking forward to classes here at the house. My friends were here with love and support.
We finished the day with havdalah (hahv-dah-LAH) and menorah lighting, very appropriate. Chanukah means “Dedication” – it’s a memorial of the rededication of the Temple long ago – and yesterday was a celebration and dedication of our new home.
- Opening the Tent of Hospitality (coffeeshoprabbi.com)
- Pass It On. (coffeeshoprabbi.com)
November 30, 2013
(Photo credit: heat_fan1)
Tonight is Night Four of Chanukah: one whole side of the menorah will be lit, and then other half left in darkness.
Two great teachers had an argument about lighting the menorah. Shammai argued that we should light all the candles on the first night, and then decrease by one candle each night. Hillel disagreed, saying that we should begin with just one candle. The academy voted, and Hillel’s view prevailed. Later his students taught that we light that way because in matters of sanctity, we always increase.
Tonight we will be at the middle point, where light is balanced with the dark. We have seen the lights increase for the past four nights, but there are still as many empty sockets on the lamp as there are candles burning. Chanukah takes its time! We are not allowed to rush it, to light more candles than the day provides.
We are accustomed to speed; Chanukah calls us to slow down. We light the candles, and we may not perform work by their light. So life stops for a little while, and we pay attention to one another, or we play. For eight nights, we have to stop and enjoy ourselves: poor things! We have to stop working!
In the age of smartphones, this is no small thing. Perhaps the best gift of Chanukah is the habit it offers us: for a little while, every night, we pause– to play.
November 29, 2013
Some people ask if the Coffee Shop Rabbi has a favorite coffee shop. This is it: Cafe Sorriso in San Leandro, CA. The Vietnamese coffee is jet fuel, the atmosphere is mellow,and they serve killer won ton soup. Best of all, my little friend Gabi can keep me company if we sit on the porch.
The East Bay is home to many great coffee shops. This is just a personal favorite.
November 28, 2013
(Photo credit: hang_in_there)
I know what it’s like. I’ve been there: Unhappy Thanksgiving.
The details are private and personal, but the larger picture: the family gathering that is more painful than fun, the lonely Thanksgiving far from people you love, the holiday when there is an empty chair at the table – I’ve been to all those Thanksgivings, and they were miserable.
One of the blessings I count today is that this year is a good year for me: I’m surrounded by family, in a happy home, with food on the table, and the turkey is paid for. I have what I need, and more.
Not all years were like that. And I know, for someone reading this, this year isn’t like that. I’m truly sorry that you are having an Unhappy Thanksgiving this year. If I had a magic wand, I would heal all the hunger, and the loneliness, and the poverty, and the broken hearts – but I have no magic wand.
All I can tell you is that this is just one day. If the sun is shining, take a walk. If you can identify a blessing, give thanks for it. Gratitude is often the beginning of something good, weirdly enough.
But know that I know you are there, and I’ve been there. I wish you better years ahead.
November 27, 2013
Tonight is my favorite night of Chanukah: the first night, when two little candles shine in the dark.
We light the first, the shamash (SHA-mash) “helper” candle, then use it to light the first of the eight candles of the festival. The two are almost silly looking, standing up tall and proud in an almost-empty menorah.
Every year, those little candles inspire me. They stand up bravely, lighting up the night, holding up the hope for brighter nights to come. They don’t apologize for standing almost alone.
They remind me of the people who stand up for what is right, long before it is popular to do so. They shine their light regardless of who is looking or who might laugh. They shine and shine until their wax is gone and they sputter out. And then the next night – a miracle! – we light again, and there will be THREE candles standing against the dark.
Let us all be brave as those candles of the first night: Shine your light no matter who shines with you. Stand tall and be proud to stand, no matter how dark the night.
November 26, 2013
A deep-fried turkey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Kitchens around the country are warming up: Thanksgiving is coming. Chanukah is coming.
(Deep-fried turkey, anyone?)
Around some tables, there will be talk about Pilgrims and Indians. And around some tables, we might talk about our ancestors and Thanksgivings past. Perhaps at some tables (I hope!) there will be conversations about the unique relationship between the United States and its Jews, and about what Chanukah might mean here. And here’s another view of the Thanksgiving holiday, shared by Michael Twitty (@KosherSoul) an expert on the foods and lives of enslaved African Americans.
If you are about to click away nervously, thinking that you don’t want a load of guilt dumped on you — don’t. Really. Mr. Twitty is not about guilt. He is about enlightenment and education, and fascinating facts.
Read and enjoy: An African American Thanksgiving Primer
November 25, 2013
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I noticed it last night – I logged in to maintain things here on the blog, and spammers had been everywhere, leaving “comments” to advertise things. The tsunami of advertising for the holiday season is upon us.
What do the people you love really need? What do you genuinely need? These are good questions to ask right now, before the advertisers take over our brains. Most of us do not need more gadgets, more clothing, more dust-catchers. Some are already drowning in things they do not need.
When I am in a public place, I can’t help but notice the children who act out to get attention. I was lucky in my new motherhood that someone pointed out to me that I only paid attention to my toddlers when they did things I did not like – so they were very aggressive about doing things I didn’t like. It took some practice, but I learned to use my attention as the potent reward it was, paying attention to behavior I wanted to encourage and removing my attention (with time-out, if need be) to discourage misbehavior.
Children need attention. The very best time to give them attention is when they are doing things that we want to encourage. But if the only attention they can get is negative attention, they need attention so badly that they’ll settle for that. The choice is up to the parent or caregiver.
We all need attention. When was the last time you felt like someone truly listened to you, and took in what you were saying? When was the last time you sat quietly and listened to someone else? What if, instead of giving gifts, we paid attention to the people we love?
What if instead of receiving gadgets and tchotchkes, we got the pure undivided attention of those we love most? How lovely would that be?