Chanukah: More Dedication!

4189089032_fa0e037be5_bI’m glad that so many people have been reading my post, A More Meaningful Chanukah. I thought I’d add some more possibilities for dedication, some larger projects that you can launch during the week.  Who knows, by next Chanukah, that aspect of your life may be transformed!

We tend to think of “dedication” as a nice intention or a ceremony, but real dedication is more than a sterile event. When we say of someone “Rachel has real dedication to x” we mean that Rachel spends her time and her money and her nerves focusing on a particular thing. It might be “her art” or “Torah” or “her dog” but the word “dedication” means Rachel is invested. The activities I’m suggesting are meant to give you a chance to invest yourself.

These additional dedications are geared less to families with young children and more to households with teens or households that are all adults. They are larger projects that you won’t finish in a day or a week – but you can make a good beginning.

1. Lo ta’ashok et re’echa – Do Not Oppress Your Neighbor

Read “In the Mississippi River” from the Jewish Women’s Archive blog. It concludes with five ways to join the struggle for racial justice:

  1. If you are white, educate yourself about appropriate and responsible ways to take action and parse your own privilege. Check out the organization Showing Up For Racial Justice, which is posting articles and holding national training calls for white allies.
  2. If you are Jewish, recognize racial diversity in the Jewish community—not every American Jew has white skin or comes from an Eastern European immigrant family. Michael Twitty and Carolivia Herron have shared extremely personal and powerful reflections about their experiences as Jews of color. Reach out to people in your community and talk with one another. Also, take some time to learn about and grapple with the history of the American Jewish community. After this quick article, you may want to read Karen Brodkin’s How Jews Became White Folks.
  3. Strive to understand the racist policies and systems that have created the current national crisis around mass incarceration and police brutality. This article by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander’sThe New Jim Crow are easy to understand and fairly comprehensive.
  4. No matter who you are, allow black voices to come to the fore. Follow black folks who are leading the movements on the ground inFerguson, New York, and in your own community, even when it is hard to concede your own knowledge or experience.
  5. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Be critical of what you hear, diversify your news sources, and be curious about others’ experiences. Stand and be counted—movements are made of individuals.

2. Bacharta b’chaim – Choose life

Life is full of choices. One set of choices we don’t like to talk about are the tough choices when someone gets sick or dies. Yet those choices can affect our families in profound ways, sometimes for generations. If we want any voice in those decisions, and want to save our families additional pain, we need to think about these things ahead of time.

1. Do you have an advance directive for medical decisions? To whom can doctors look for decisions if you cannot voice your own wishes? You can download the forms for your state at this web site. But filling out a form is not sufficient: it is critical that you discuss your wishes with your family. For more info, read Do You Need an Advance Directive? from the Patients’ Rights Council.

2. Do you have a will? Every adult needs to have a proper will. Otherwise, should you die, the courts decide everything, and they will take months to do so. If you have no children, no real estate, and few assets, maybe all you need is a simple will that you can produce with generic forms. Once you have children, property, or more than a few assets, then it’s good to pay for at least a conversation with an attorney.

3. Have you thought about organ donation? If you’ve thought about it, that’s not enough: you need to talk to family. Even if you’ve marked a box on your drivers license, organ donation requires the consent of family, and it will make a hard mitzvah a lot easier if they have heard that it’s what you want.

3. B’tzelem Elohim – In the Image of God

Look around your life: who is there that you have overlooked? Are there people at your synagogue or at the PTA that you avoid because they are different and talking to them is uncomfortable? Someone in a wheelchair? Someone lesbian or gay? Someone Deaf? Someone with a mental illness? A developmental disability? Someone transgender?

You can dedicate yourself to developing some new skills for relating appropriately with these neighbors:

1. Even if you think you already know plenty about a particular life situation, take time to read up on current information. For instance, many people think persons with mental illness are dangerous, and that’s not true: most people with mental illnesses are dangerous only to themselves, if that. Google the thing you need to learn about, and find a good book or article. That will demystify the situation. But don’t stop there!

2. Acquire small talk skills. Imagine for a moment that you have a magnificent nose, a Cyrano nose. Imagine what it would be like if every new person who said hello to you immediately began talking about your nose. (Hint: you would not enjoy it, if only because it is boring to always have the same conversation.) That is also true for any other distinctive characteristic. So we use small talk as a bridge past the obvious (past the Cyrano nose) to more fruitful conversation. For a primer, read The Power of Small Talk.” The great thing about learning small talk is that you can practice it just about anywhere, on anyone!

3. Be sure to listen as well as talk. Ask questions about the everyday. Get to know this person as a person, not as a category. Find out what they are passionate about. Find out what makes them laugh. Until you know more about them than about their Cyrano nose, you aren’t done.

 

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“I’d Like to Dedicate This…”

candlesChanukah means “dedication.” The holiday has that name because it recalls the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. Today we don’t have a temple in Jerusalem. Ever since year 70 of the common era the primary locus for Jewish life is in our homes, which we refer to as a mikdash me’at, a little sanctuary.

From Thanksgiving until January 1 in the United States, this sense of home as sanctuary is heightened for many Jews. Out in the world, we are surrounded by “the holiday season.” That phrase can mean a number of things, including:

  • For observant Christians, it is a remembrance of the birth of Jesus, preceded for some by the penitential season of Advent. Obviously, that’s not a Jewish celebration. We can enjoy Handel’s Messiah or the neighbor’s lighted creche, but for us, Jesus was at most a gifted teacher, not the messiah.
  • For most Americans, it is a once-yearly season of parties, gift-giving and family gatherings. When students tell me, “I don’t see Christmas as a religious holiday,” I know they see Christmas as a once-a-year season of warm feelings and nostalgia.
  • For some Americans, it is a season of excess: shopping, eating, and drinking too much, borrowing too much, envying too much, building towards a massive hangover in January. All of those things are a problem in terms of Jewish values.
  • For some Jews, it can be the season of feeling crowded by other people’s holidays. Or it can be a season of feeling left out.

“Aw, rabbi!” I can hear some readers saying, “Are you going to be a party pooper?” That is not my intent. What I’d like to do is to encourage you to think clearly about what you are doing this “holiday season.” How and what you celebrate is ultimately up to you.

This is the first of several articles I’m going to post about the season and for now I shall leave you with a question:

When you light your menorah for Chanukah, what are you dedicating, and to what are you dedicating it?