Rosh Hashanah 5783

Shanah Tovah U’metukah! Happy Jewish New Year! As Rosh Hashanah comes to a close this evening, the Ten Days of Teschuvah begin (actually they start with Rosh Hashanah and then end at Yom Kippur). This period of time is a starting off point to reflection, growth, and returning to being the best that we can be. It’s a chance to jump start your growth and goodness for the year ahead. It’s a process that is meant to be continued year-round, but specifically these ten days are spent making right with relationships and our community. 

Last year’s post is really detailed about Rosh Hashanah and what we do, how we celebrate and what my thoughts were going into the past year- all of which you can read HERE. I’ll just add a little fun fact for this year. On Rosh Hashanah we wish each other a GOOD new year, whereas in the English New Year, you with a HAPPY New Year. This can serve as a reminder that by doing good, being “good”, happiness will follow. 

I normally post my Rosh Hashanah post prior to the holiday beginning, having spent the month of Elul (the last month on the Jewish Calendar, meant as a time of deep reflection and introspection) reflecting on the year, however this year I delayed. It’s been a bit of a weird time. Nothing truly major, nothing truly bad, just a forced time of reflection that had me…not really wanting to share things. I wanted to do some deep inner work and make things right in and with myself before I felt comfortable looking forward and turning outward. 

5782 was a year full of so many highs, a few lows, and a lot of…meh. Not meh necessarily, just a lot of stressful situations that, to be honest, I could have easily avoided or saw my way out of. And I should have. I let a lot of “out of my control” things affect my own self and that is not something that I really liked about myself. It’s not something that is directly in my nature, until I’ve been pushed to a point, and there were a couple of times that I was pushed to that point (and I shouldn’t have been). 

But I’m a deep believer in something higher than us, guiding our way, and placing things in/out of our lives to continue to guide and show us the way forward. And, while 5782 held both good and bad, I feel like I really deepened my own feelings and truths about my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about relationships. And that is how I spent my month of Elul- deep in introspection over the prior year. I’m not going to be sharing too many of those thoughts, mostly because they are private and not something I want to put out into the world. 

All that being said, I was thinking and reflecting all the way up until Erev Rosh Hashanah. I was trying to figure out where I wanted this year to take me, it’s a year of change for us after all in so many ways, and I what I felt would be best for me, my family, and our community. And when I heard that Shofar Blast, that awakening to a new year, I felt those familiar shivers and goose bumps, and something locked into place for me. It’s a new year, a Shanah Tovah (a good year), and I’m READY. 

So, what does all this really mean???

Well, I’ve got a new…word for the year- really a new mindset. I’ve always been a “find the good” kind of person, but I found that in 5782 I struggled with it a bit more than I have in the past. That may not actually be fair to say…I’ll change that thought. I focused more of my time and intentions and energy on the negative, on the toxic, than I should have, than I normally would have. That’s more accurate. 

So, in 5783 I’m choosing הַכָּרַת הַטּוֹב (Hakarat ha’tov) or quite literally “recognize the good”. I’m also choosing שִׂמְחָה (simcha) or joy. It’s simple- there is no place in my life for the toxic, for the negative, for the bad energy. I recently read a quote that really just…resonated with me and fed into this feeling of needing this to lead my year- “At this big age, I’m only interested in progress and peace. Anything that costs either has to go”- We the Urban. If it does not serve my families progress or peace, if it does not feed our joy, our lives, then it has no place. 

Now, that does not mean that bad days do not come. It does not mean that we do not struggle. In fact, this year (5783) is going to be full of challenges for our family, but it means that either I will toss out of the negativity- treat it with a light laughter, turn it into something humorous, OR I will cling to the good moments when the bad come. 

None of this is really new to me- I’ve always been someone who tries to find the good, find the happiness, in fact this is something I touched on last year when my word was “mechaye” – something that gives great joy or life. This has always been who I am, but sometimes it can get a little lost in the everyday and this is my way of bringing it back to the forefront a little more. 

Beyond that – my goals for 5783 are in flux right now. I have things that I want to accomplish, as I do every year, and I feel like this year could really be a big year for those goals. Both boys are in school, so I have a bit more free time- though I’m rapidly filling it with commitments. However, I’m trying to keep an open mind to really welcome any new opportunities that knock on our day and find new ways that I can help those around me and in my community. 

So, with all those words said…I really just want to with everyone a Shana Tovah U’metukah- I hope 5783 is everything and more. 

Pesach 5782

***A little aside here at the outset- I don’t really know what this post is going to be, what it’s going to say, or anything really, I’m just putting some thoughts to paper (as it were) and sharing. I do this from time to time when it feels right and right now, I’m clinging to my culture and me Jewish-ness.***

We are currently, as of the time that you are reading this, right smack dab in the middle of Pesach. And it has struck me that while Pesach has always had a big role in my childhood/early adolescence, I’ve never really spoken about it. More so in a passing “oh it’s the holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people and we don’t eat bread”- which is more for others benefit than actual statement of what the holiday represents. It’s the basic phrase that I’ve answered for more years than I care to admit, the easy way to please someone without overloading them with information and leaving them confused or not caring. 

And in truth, it’s a basic answer. It details what the holiday celebrates and how we honor that celebration. But in reality, Pesach is so much more than that and its meaning and importance from ALL of my childhood Jewishness is much deeper than a simple sentence can convey. So, let’s unpack all of that.

First off, what is Pesach? And I’m going to call it Pesach, even though the English is a word much more familiar- Passover. At its core, Pesach tells the story of the Jews liberation from slavery and Pharoah in Ancient Egypt. It is a celebration of our freedom. As ridiculous as it is, I always like to point to the movie The Prince of Egypt because this movie tells the most basic, easy to understand story of Pesach. The Jews were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, building his temples, his homes, doing back breaking labor for nothing. Pharoah was a truly horrible leader to his slaves, killing sons so that the population was controlled. The story of Moses birth, then upbringing in Pharaoh’s home is one told again and again. His eye-opening experience finding out he is one of the Chosen, a Jew. His task given to him by Hashem, to free the Jews. 

Moses goes to Pharoah and asks him to “Let his people go”, however Pharoah refuses (whatever will he do without all that free labor to build his grand temples and homes?). Of course, his refusal then leads to the 10 Plagues, with the final plague being the death of the first-born son of every non-Jew. At this, Pharoah tells Moses to get the Jews and get out. The Jews leave quickly, not even allowing enough time for their bread to rise (this is important) and make their way out of Pharoah’s Egypt. But of course, Pharaoh, in his grief, chases after them, cueing Moses parting the sea and the Jews escaping to safety. They then wander the desert of Egypt for 40 years before finding their way to Canaan, Israel. 

So, how do we celebrate this joyous event? Well by not eating any Chametz, or leavened bread, and by hosting a Seder. First, the foregoing of the leavened bread. We abstain from eating any form of gluten (this includes bread, pasta, flour tortillas, ANYTHING that expands when contacted with water) for 7-8 days (depending on how you practice). You are supposed to cleanse your house of all Chametz and do a full cleaning so not even a crumb is left. It’s important to note that there are varying levels of practice, as with anything else in Judaism, and how one practices does not reflect how Jewish one is.  However, no matter how you practice, the tradition of the ridding of Chametz, the eating of Matzah, is to ritualize and remember the breaking away from slavery. The idea of cleansing the house of Chametz, then going forward to 7-8 days with only Matzah (or unleavened crackers) is to symbolize our effective breaking of ties to Egypt. Eating the Matzah (while not always fun) is a symbol of our journey as Jews in the desert. 

As with any other Jewish holiday, Pesach is steeped in ritual. Aside from the cleansing of Chametz and eating Matzah, we also have a Seder. The seder is a very orderly, ritual reading of the Haggadah, telling the story of the freedom of the Jews, feast. This feast has a strict and precise order and details out everything from how many glasses of wine will be consumed during the formal portion (it’s 4), to the washing of hands, to the game of finding the Afikomen. It is a joyous, happy occasion and often times one full of laughter and a true sense of community. As part of the seder we invite both those we know and those we don’t know to join our table as a way of honoring that we were all strangers at one point. Typically, there is a Night One Seder and a Night Two seder as we celebrate the first two nights of the weeklong holiday. 

Starting the second night of Pesach, Jews typically “Count the Omer”, in which we count and pray on the days between Pesach to Shavuot (the next holiday). This is a 50-day period that links the freedom of Pesach and the handing down of the Laws at Shavuot. There is also Yom HaShoah, falling 5 days after Pesach, which is the Day of the Holocaust. This is a day of mourning for the Jewish people to commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. 

Pesach for me is a holiday that I have the fullest, fondest memories of. Of course, giving up gluten for a week is…well torture, it is also one of the few very physical ways to honor that struggle that our ancestors went through to gain our freedom. A freedom that cannot be taken away, no matter how much struggle we have been through since as a people. But I also have some of the best memories of family seders as a child. We always did a night one Pesach Seder with some really close family friends and their extended family. It was a loud raucous night full of singing, laughing, and some great readings of the Haggadah. There was always a spirited hunt for the Afikomen, and the evening ALWAYS ended with a second, third, whatever round of Dayenu. I always loved the holiday of Pesach as it is not only a story of freedom, but also a celebration of finding home. Of having community in each other. Of struggling and triumphing together as a people. 

AntiSemitism and Judaism

I’ll be honest- I’m really conflicted about writing this blog post. I feel like this is something that I NEED to talk about because it is RAMPANT right now in our world, but I also…don’t want to oversaturate or focus too much on it for a variety of reasons- some of which I’ll touch on in this blog post. I’m going to try and edit this blog post, but it is also going to be a bit freeform, going from point to point and just a bit stream of consciousness as I work through my thoughts and feelings. 

I feel like there are incidents that occur with regular frequency against the Jewish community (anything from physical assaults to vocal microaggressions) that don’t get talked about. I’ve come to expect this, but when there is a large news making incident against and involving the Jewish community that quickly gets deflected away from the Jewish community, that is, by and large, swept aside by the non-Jewish world, then we need to talk about it. 

By the time this will actually be posted the Synagogue Hostage situation in Colleyville, TX will have probably been completely “resolved” – and by that, I mean the news cycle has moved on and everyone has forgotten about it…except the Jews. There have also been several additional instances of Jew Hatred ranging from a woman yelling slurs and spitting on children, to rhetoric and swastikas being written on subway signs in NYC to name just TWO of the things that I’ve seen. So, let’s bring everything back up. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the bigger issue at hand…antisemitism. 

But first, let’s talk about the word antisemitism. 

Antisemisism was first used in the late 1870’s by a German to describe the anti-Jewish campaigns that were occurring. It really and truly gained traction during Nazi Germany as a way to…placate those who may have questioned the anti jewish state the country was heading toward. The definition and examples have been expanded as the years go (and the ADL has some great resources in regard to this), but at its core it’s hostility or discriminations to the Jews, whether its towards them in a religious or racial way.  There are a couple things to note about the word…

  1. Jew Hatred stems further back than the introduction of “antisemitism”. It is the oldest hatred that we know, dating back to before Christ. This is a known and documented fact. 
  2. The word Antisemitism is actually not “correct” as it refers to “Semites” which, in some instances, can also include Arabs and other groups, not just the Jews. However, “anti-Semitism” was created to specifical relate to the Jews. Often times this fact gets shoved in when talking about “antisemitism” as a way to discredit or minimize actions.

So, in all honesty, I hate the word antisemitism. I hate it for a couple reasons; the first being that it was really brought to popularity by people who wanted to put a “stomach-able” label to the true horrors they were inflicting on others. While the Jewish community has really kind of taken over ownership of the word and have used it as a way to light upon certain hatred and hostility, we CANNOT ignore the origins of the word and who brought it in to regular use. It has by and large been used as a label to “hide behind” instead of blatantly stating what’s happening. The second reason that I hate the word is that, to be honest, it’s just becoming overused and watered down as a tool. While words have power, if a word is used to often (even if it’s justified) it becomes less powerful. I’ve long felt like “antisemitic” or “antisemitism” has lost its “effect” on the non jewish world and this has just become more obvious to me over the past year. I’ve, by and large, tried to cut that word out of my vernacular. I really want to start giving a bit more power to my words, choose them a bit more carefully, and really call things as they are. So, let’s start calling it what it is- Jewish Hatred. 

There is no actual place in Judaism for or that refers to Antisemitism. Let me kind of explain what I mean. Jewish holidays celebrate a few different things, some are in regard to the earth and what we are given by Hashem (such as Tu B’shevat which just passed- this is a celebration of the trees), some are in regard to Jewish triumph (such as Hanukkah), and some are a celebration of Jewish freedom (such as Passover). Our highest holidays of the year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are days of atonement and judgement. While holidays like Passover and Hanukkah reference hatred, control, slavery, a desire from outside forces for Jews to submit/change, there isn’t a direct reference. It’s more of a celebration of the Jews moving forward and continuing to survive. In fact, a lot of Judaism is a celebration of tradition, survival, justice, and the beauty of our world (and thus taking care of those things). While the hatred of Jews or othering of them is implied, it’s almost just an after statement in a way. 

There is no place in our celebration for hatred from others (or towards others- in fact you can argue that we just want acceptance for who we are and anything that has been done has been not done from a place of hatred, but that’s a whole separate post for a separate day). It’s a celebration of our traditions, our very people, surviving, moving forward, continuing on. It’s a celebration of our world, of the beauty that is in life. And so, most of the time, for most Jews, that’s what we want to share, that’s what we want to focus on, that’s what we want others to SEE when they see US. We don’t want to see, on our end or on others, the sheer amount of hatred there is. Judaism is so beautiful in so many ways and that’s what we want to focus on, share about, and just live. 

So, why can’t we? Please refer to my previous post for more thoughts and words HERE

They Saved Themselves…

I’m going to preface this post (rather this series of posts), with a bit of a disclaimer. I never thought that I would be here talking about this level of Jew Hatred. This is something that I’ve shared about on social media and maybe briefly mentioned on the blog, outside of talking about Holocaust sites that we’ve visited, but never something I’ve outrightly discussed. There are several reasons for this that we will get into in another post, but I feel like I’ve reached a point that I can no longer NOT talk about it. I’ve been feeling this pressure within to talk about it more for the past year or two, but it’s really starting to reach a crescendo. 

I want to start this off by saying that almost every single Jew has experienced some form of “othering”, of hatred, SOMETHING. Every. Single. Jew. It’s actually not hard to believe when you realize that Jews make up 0.19% of the world population. I’m not going to spit facts at you this entire post, but that’s an important one to know. Ask any Jew that you know, and they’ll talk to you about some incident. In fact, a recent number has come to light that in 2021 an average of 10 antisemitic incidents were REPORTED a day. 10 A DAY. And that’s just a) what’s reported (often they go unreported) and b) what can actually be reported. In just the weeks following the hostage situation at the Synagogue in Colleyville- which we will be getting into in this post- I’ve seen numerous incidences both in a micro aggression commentary sense, but also in physical attacks. In NYC a woman yelled holocaust and Hitler slurs at two young Jewish children and spat on them. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal talked about how the only Jews that had to fear antisemitism are those that are “outwardly Jewish” or “frequent Jewish institutions”. This is beyond false and actually very dangerous rhetoric. Two instances right there in two weeks; examples of both physical (though mild as most are truly physical assault rather than just spitting on someone which is still bad and disgusting) and micro verbal nonsense spewed in a “reputable” news source. 

For me? The first time I experienced it was when my family moved from TX to CO, and I started a new school. I was the “weird girl who talked funny and didn’t celebrate Christmas”. Oh, and I also was the girl “who had that weird birthday celebration at the school” aka a Bat Mitzvah. This othering is not unusual by any means (and nowhere near close to some of the other things I’ve experienced), but at 11/12 in a new community and a new school it had an impact. Later in life I’ve experienced some micro aggressions and truly horrifying things said to me that I will not repeat (because they are truly horrifying). I’ve always kind of written them off as people coming from a place of ignorance or not understanding. But honestly that’s a lie and it’s a dangerous mindset to have. I see so many comments, words of ignorance, and statements becoming commonplace that are actually scary to hear as a Jewish person. 

The reality is that people are quick to write off the Jewish community. In terms of social justice, they are considered “white”, but in terms of white supremacy they are the antithesis of “white” (and in reality- Jews are NOT “white”, but at most white passing). The history of the Jews is long and storied and since it involves SO MUCH it must have been exaggerated or falsified- even though there is documented proof. There are always “bigger issues” to contend with OR “not enough information” to comment on what is happening. And, as a Jewish person, it is hard to watch my very people, my community, my home be wiped to the side as quick as dirt being swept on the floor. 

Sometimes it’s easy to see, like in the most recent incident that made international news- a gunmen entered a synagogue, took 4 hostages for 12 hours before finally being killed by the FBI without any other casualties. 

First off, this is an annual occurrence. There is some form of massive violence against the Jewish community every year. We see it in Synagogue shootings, hostage situations, stabbings in Kosher supermarkets. And these are the “major” events, the news making stories, this is not counting “minor” physical assaults and verbal attacks that Jews face EVERY SINGLE DAY. But we’ll focus on these major ones for the sake of conversation (just remember- Jew Hatred is not limited to these annual major occurrences, but rather happens every day). 

Now, let’s get into the specifics of this most recent hostage situation because I feel like they paint a pretty accurate picture of the state of Jewish Hatred. 

First, I personally saw the news break from an Israeli News Organization. I then saw the Jewish community rally and share details before lastly seeing our standard news outlets sharing information. I don’t have cable so I can’t say what the coverage was in that sense, but I will say I first heard and saw the hostage situation NOT from our American Mainstream Media. 

Second, the ONLY people I saw sharing it, talking about it, updating others was the Jewish community. This is going to sound a bit like a call out, and maybe it is in a way, but I didn’t see ONE person who was NOT a member of the Jewish community share. It was like crickets outside the Jewish community. The sad fact, is that a lot of the folks that were talking about it, sharing it (again- within the Jewish community) were sharing it and the fact that they KNEW that they would get no support from outside the community. That’s SAD. When there were finally comments being made from outside the community, they were…stilted to say the least. I saw everything from a “praying for the hostages” to “please don’t let this lead to a rise in Islamophobia” to the White House not even stating (in their initial comment- I know Biden later released a full statement condemning Antisemitism and what not) what was going on- just that the president had been “briefed about the developing hostage situation in the Dallas area”. Let me make something absolutely clear here- this is one of the things that HURTS the Jewish community when it comes to Jewish Hatred. Not immediately saying exactly what it is is a detriment, ESPECIALLY when it is BLATANTLY clear. 

When the hostages escaped (and we’ll get to that next), the FBI’s initial statement from the Dallas Special Agent in Charge was that this was “not specifically related to the Jewish Community”. Yes, read that again. We’ve learned a lot in the days following this hostage situation and there were some rumors, but we’ll put that aside for the purposes of this (and we’ll get to them- I promise). If we look at what we knew when this statement was made what we KNEW was that this man had taken these hostages in a Synagogue with the intent on getting someone (who also hated Jews and wanted the jurors at her federal trial genetically tested to determine if they were or were not Jews) freed from Federal Prison. He had the Rabbi call another Rabbi in another state to continue pushing his case for freeing this person. And the FBI made a public statement that this was “not related to the Jewish community”. Let that sink in. This is a government organization. A federal government organization saying something directly opposite of what we all saw. And, while most of us can see the flaw in that statement, there are people who, because this is the FBI, will believe it. 

Now the FBI has come out and corrected that initial statement and most people are talking about how outrageous and false that statement is, it’s still a damning heartbreaking statement to make literally on the heels of the entire Jewish community praying, daring to hope, and sitting on edge for the entirety of a Sabbath day. 

In the days following the Hostage situation we started to get a clearer picture of the events, which makes the entire situation clearer, more heartbreaking, and more damning. 

First, we hear confirmation that the hostage taker had the Rabbi call a Rabbi in New York to push his agenda forward. Not every rabbi knows every rabbi, and they are most definitely not connected in this sense to the justice system. The entire concept of “Jews control the Justice System” connects to an antisemitic trope of “Jews control the world”, which is…quite obviously false. False as it is, this is a narrative that is pushed forward quite regularly.

Second, we hear that 3 out of the 4 hostages escaped through their own self-defense tactics, knowledge, and training, rather than being “freed” or “rescued”. This is one of the most important factors to look at, after we look at the fact that this is obviously an attack on the Jewish Community, and we need to recognize what led to that. When the 3 hostages noticed that the attacker was getting more agitated, they used the training that they had received not long before this attack to escape. The Rabbi threw a chair at the attacker and the Vice President of the congregation had lined both himself and the other hostage up with the exit. These were tactics they had learned through a self-defense that they took in response to a rise in Jew Hatred and Jewish attacks. They saved themselves. 

They saved themselves. 

This is what Jews have been doing for thousands of years. 

Now, I’m not going to comment on what/how the FBI operates. I am sure they have trained tactics and five million different options, and they just try different things to do what they need to do. I’m not going to comment because I am just not aware and have not done any training for those situations. 

What I will comment on is the lack of awareness/sharing/” justice”, as well as what the commentary WAS when it happened. 

I saw a lot of the Jewish Community, once the hostage situation had ended with the hostages escaping, saying that they didn’t even think to look outside the Jewish community for anything. Where previously we would look to those outside our community to share information, bring situations to light, stand in solidarity, speak up…in this situation none of that happened. It wasn’t even expected. A lot of the community didn’t even hope for it. In fact, a lot of posts that I saw were “we know we have to do this ourselves”. What a dark place to be in. When you are trying so hard to say, “look here we are, we’re under attack, please just say something, anything” and to be rebuked, to be met with crickets. It’s heartbreaking. We don’t exist outside our own community. 

Think about this, your community is under attack, your family is under attack, you’re shouting to the world that this is happening, and you’re met with silence. Or, maybe more frustratingly, you’re met with “well let’s not turn this into this” or “well how did this one part of the issue happen”. Because that’s what happened. Outside our community it was a cry of “don’t let this lead to hatred in the other direction”, or “how did he get in the country?”, and “obviously something in gun control is flawed here”. All of these are things that need to be looked at, obviously. All of these are valid points. All of these are important questions. But there weren’t a lot of questions or headlines about the obvious…he attacked Jews. He thought that these Jews, this small community of people, had the power to accomplish his goal. So much so that he not only attacked them but had them call another separate Jewish community to push the agenda further. And yet, somehow, this is not really being talked about beyond our community. In fact, I’m not really seeing any real headlines at all at this point (we’re a few days out when I’m writing this). 

As I said the day after the attack, I don’t want false platitudes, I don’t want just a share and move on (though even that would be nice in some ways- show you care, ya know?), the Jews know how to fight and take care of themselves and their community…obviously. We’ve had to learn. We’ve had to learn the hard way. Because it was SILENT. It was silent during the attack, it was silent after, and it seems like it will continue to be silent. 

And that’s heartbreaking and enraging. It’s not ok. I am not ok.  

Hanukkah 2021

Last night at sundown started the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. This is a minor holiday that was added to our holiday list after the Tanach was established. However, this holiday has a mighty, important story that we should all learn and know. To be honest, Hanukkah is my absolute favorite Jewish Holiday, with Rosh Hashanah being a very (almost tied to be honest) second. It has nothing to do with the gift part of it (which many people would assume), but with the story of the miracle of light. The miracle, the holding out of hope, the celebration of this one little miracle (as opposed to some of our other miracle celebrations). The entire holiday just gives me the warm fuzzies and makes me feel just…hopeful, grateful, and good. 

So, at its basic level, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. It celebrates the rededication of the 2nd Temple of Jerusalem. 

In the 2nd Century Antiochus IV and the Seleucids ruled over the territory and attempted to force the Jews to assimilate. They took over the temple of Jerusalem, sacrificed pigs and welcomed prostitution within the walls, built an alter to Zeus on a holy spot of Hashem, and outlawed several Jewish laws and practices. The Maccabees, Jewish warriors, refused to assimilate. They not only revolted against the Seleucids and drove them out, but they also revolted against those Jews who had assimilated. They waged a Civil War within the Jews and fought hard to bring back the Jewish beliefs and practices. Now, when the war was done and they went to rebuild and rededicate the temple, there was only one bottle of oil for the menorah (a 7-branch menorah- different from the hanukkiah we light during Hanukkah that has 9 branches). A miracle upon miracles, that oil lasted for 8 days, giving the Jews time to make fresh new oil to continue lighting the menorah every day. 

So, the story of Hanukkah is twofold, one is the miracle of the oil; the small pot of oil lasting for 8 days. The second is the fight against the assimilation of our people, the fight to keep our beliefs and traditions despite those who would destroy it and us. And for both of those reasons, I hold the holiday very close to my heart and it’s one of my favorites. 

Ok, so now that we know the history and such, let’s talk about the…” Christmas-ization” of Hanukkah. This is something that I’m a bit…well I have complicated feelings over. I’ll start by saying that as a family we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, which most definitely plays a role in some of my opinions, but also as a child who experienced being “othered” for not celebrating Christmas/being Jewish, AND someone who is re defining what being “Jewish” and using my voice means/looks like, I feel like how I approach this is…notable. 

First off, by now you should know/realize that Christmas and Hanukkah are not the same. At all. And I’m not even saying in a commercial/capitalistic sense, but also just in a basic story of each. Christmas is the story of the birth of Jesus, who would go on to become the savior. Hanukkah is the story of a revolt against those who would have us change our ways, change our beliefs, change who we are, who would crush us into the ground. So, not really the same story at its most basic level. 

Second, these two holidays are not celebrated in the same manor. Hanukkah is celebrated over 8 nights, with fried foods, dreidel games, gelt and gift giving, and song and dance. When the Jews immigrated to the US they included gift giving as a way to offer something to Jewish children who go to school and hear about gifts/Santa (however some could argue that this is just an extended version of the tradition of gifting gelt that dates back to the early 1900’s). Hanukkah is also celebrated on a bit of a simpler “stage” than Christmas. At its basic-ness, we simply need a hanukkiah (the Hanukkah menorah- 9 candles instead of 7), some candles, and the prayers. Now, some families go beyond that, and set up larger displays in their homes, which is fine, but it is a far stretch from some of the Christmas decorations and idealizations of the holiday. 

With that being said, I appreciate stores trying to be inclusive and offer a wide variety of products to cater to every holiday in the winter. But, as we previously come to understand, these holidays are not the same. They are different both in basic story and in how they are celebrated. So, with respect to capitalism and big stores attempts, I do not want a “Hanukkah Bush”, nor do I want a “Mencsh on a Bench”, or “Hanukkah Charlie”. I don’t want to go into a store and see an attempt to take the holiday of Hanukkah and give it a Christmas rip off product. I don’t think that is wrong to feel AND while I was going to say that I appreciate the stores trying to include a wider variety of holidays, I really actually don’t. Hanukkah is not Christmas and when we understand a bit more of what the story of Hanukkah is (beyond the festival of light and the miracle of the oil), this becomes a bit more upsetting. The idea that The Maccabees were fighting against the idea of assimilating and changing our core, who we are, and our belief system, makes it so much more important to see the reflection of that in what is offered. And while we can argue that some…adapting is necessary in our survival and that the Jewish people have become experts at adapting our beliefs and rituals to fit just about anywhere (hello that is something we are very good at), that doesn’t mean that we need to be marketed to in this way.

I should say- I think each family should handle holidays in ways that work with their family and their beliefs. I would never judge a family on how they want to celebrate or practice. What I would like to see is stores doing a bit more research and understanding in the holidays themselves, rather than just shilling whatever out to consumers (a good example being making “Hanukkah Stockings”). It doesn’t take a lot for a business to do just a bit of research. 

I don’t know if I’ve worded my feelings above in a way that makes sense (and I did do a podcast on this, which may be a little cringeworthy, but there we are: HERE), but that’s my Hanukkah post for this year. I hope you’ve learned a little bit of the history of Hanukkah and my opinions on where we stand now.  

Rosh Hashanah 5782

Shanah Tovah U’metukah! Happy Jewish New Year!! Today is a big day across the board in our home with the Jewish New Year coinciding with our eldest’s first day of kindergarten (yes, I’m sobbing, but we’ll be ok), but this is going to specifically talk about the Jewish New Year. I’ve spoken before (quite a bit) about my relationship with Judaism (read all about it HERE and HERE), but last year I really took a firm step back in and didn’t look back. 

As I’ve said, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and kicks off the start of our High Holidays (or some of the most religious days of our year). Similar to the “standard New Year”, the Jewish New Year is a time of reflection and of intentions. In fact, the whole month leading up to the New Year is a time of deeper reflection, of looking inward, looking at our past year, deepening our relationship with our spirituality/religion, and then, finally, looking forward to the new year. All comes to a head on Rosh Hashanah, which is a day on which we are called to account and our actions weighed for the Book of Life. It is both a solemn occasion AND a celebration as we “start all over again” with a fresh year. 

Tradition has us eating sweet food, wising one another a “Shanah Tovah U’metukah” or a Good and Sweet New Year, attending synagogue services and listening to the Shofar blasts (easily my favorite part- followed closely by the Apples & Honey). However, after the celebration we spend 10 days repenting, being judged by Adonai, and engaging of acts of repentance for our sins of the previous year. Those 10 days culminate in Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, our holiest of High Holidays. Yom Kippur is our day of atonement, and we spend the day observing a fast, spending time praying, attending synagogue. 

This year, I spent the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish Calendar, doing some journaling prompts and trying to deepen my relationship with being Jewish. The prompts are from Rebekah Lowin, you can find them HERE, who I recommend if you want to see just how incredibly beautiful life and Judaism can be. I would also check out Ariel Loves on Instagram (HERE) and her Jewish Family Magic (HERE), for a wide variety of information about the various holidays, months, and life being Jewish. Anyways, I felt like over the past year I really deepened my religious connections, I found a community (of sorts), and found my way back to a part of myself that I had put in a box. I started on this journey just before Rosh Hashanah last year (I think a month or two prior- it’s in the “It All Rests on the Challah” post linked at the beginning of this post), so it felt fitting to continue deepening it over this past month and Rosh Hashanah 5782. 

I am treating this new year as THE new year, whatever intentions or words I set now, are the same words/intentions I’ll be setting come 2022 (although I’ll refresh those in a post then too) and I’ve found that the journaling that I’ve been doing over the past month has really helped with that. I want to share a couple of my thoughts from ALL that writing and reflecting and how I plan on incorporating those thoughts into this New Year. 

First up, on the first of Elul, I wrote about what “word” I wanted to mark my 5782 journey. Because there is nothing like starting with the hardest thing first. But, no worry, I did a little deep dive and figured out a word to a feeling to what I wanted. See, I’ve always said that I just want to be that happy spot, that light moment, that good thing that you experience in your day to day. Those are the moments/things that I cling to when I’m having an off/bad day, those are the moments/things I want to provide others with, and what I think makes all the difference. BUT I’ve never really found an English word that described that. So, I turned to Yiddish and/or Hebrew (this was in part because I couldn’t find an English word and in part because I really wanted to lean into this side of things a bit more). Enter: MECHAYEH or “that which gives life”, the idea of a thing or feeling that just makes your day (the example given was a cool glass of lemonade on a hot day). It is exactly what I want for my 5782, what I want to give off for my 5782, and where I want all my focus to be for 5782. On the things that give me/us/everyone LIFE. 

Another entry to share is from the Eight of Elul, where I wrote about habits for the year. Not the big goals, the massive, almost unachievable resolutions we are all guilty of making, but rather one small promise. One little achievable thing I could do every day that would make a difference in myself. That’s hard, especially for someone who…well goes big or goes home. It took a lot of thought, but I settled on “Getting out of bed when my alarm goes off”. We all do it, we all wait till the last minute, hit the snooze button as many times as we can, or just lay around on our phone until something else calls to our attention. When I don’t do this, I have a mile’s better day, feel clear headed, and don’t spend nearly as much time on my phone. So, that is my little promise to myself to do every morning. Get out of bed with my first alarm and get on with my day, instead of procrastinating until the last minute. 

On the 23rd of Elul there was a prompt regarding lending our life to those who need us. Now, you would think this is fairly obvious for me as a mom and a wife- I’ve got two little boys who rely on me 25/8 and a husband who relies on me to keep everything moving, BUT I want to make sure this coming year that I am looking forward and outward. I am stepping into a new community role that I’ve never done before, and I want to look further than my immediate family/friends/micro community to see further ways to help. I think there are always those that need help and I want to be able to help however I can. I look at it in a larger circle of “those who need us” I want to enlarge that circle a bit more for the upcoming year (and then continue that on).  

Finally, on 28 Elul there was an entry regarding what feeling we want to embody, to wake up to on the New Year and what we can do to make that happen. Honestly, I want to wake up feeling at peace, feeling positive, and seeing the beauty in our life. I want to kickstart new habits, which always transition a few weeks before the New Year. I always make small changes leading up to a bit “re set” (does this even make sense at this point?) and so, Erev Rosh Hashanah I’ll be doing all the little things- cutting off screen time early, reading, going to bed early, face wash, etc. Just to help kick my year off right.

To be honest, I’m really looking forward to this new year, to a chance to continue to deepen my relationship with my ethnicity and community, and to share a bit more about it along the way! So, Shanah Tovah U’metukah everyone! Have a happy and sweet New Year. 

Let’s Talk About – Judaism and Being Jewish

Something that shifted for me, almost ironically so, in 2020 was my faith. I found myself coming back to who I was, in terms of faith, and unearthing a part of me that had been silent for a long while. I’ve talked a little bit about this HERE, but this really started a bit before our move to Germany and then really solidified while we were here, with a trip to the Old Synagogue of Rome (HERE) reminding me of the very things I liked and missed.

Something important to note about Judaism (that I’ve noted before, but it’s important) is that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they are practicing the religion, they are a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they have converted, they are a Jew. Being Jewish is so much more than just practicing the religion. It’s unique in that it’s an ethno-religion, which simply means it’s an ethnicity, as well as a religion (not a race- an ethnicity). Basically, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It’s something that is both used against and for Jews. 

Let’s kick things off at the very beginning. I was raised “in the faith” we will say, but in a reform manner (don’t worry- I’ll break it down in a minute). My mom is Jewish, as was her mom, and so in and so forth. In Houston, where I grew up, we had a sizeable Jewish community. My neighbors were Jewish, close family friends, and we celebrated all the holidays together. We had a beautiful synagogue where I was an active participant both in the services and schooling, but also in the choir. My faith was an important part of my early childhood. 

And then we moved. There was a lot that went into the decision to move, there was a lot that went into the actual move, and a lot of things that came out of that move (both good and bad), but something that we lost that I had never truly realized was our Jewish Community. I didn’t truly recognize how much this move wrecked my faith until much later on (when I was like 20 something) and we went back to Houston for a birthday party and visited our old Synagogue and community. It really struck me then how far I strayed away from practicing the faith. 

I want to clarify something as we are going to get into some nitty gritty here…

I have always considered myself Jewish. ALWAYS. That has never changed. Being Jewish is just as much of part of who I am as my long brown hair, brown eyes, and so forth. I have a kinship with “my people” that extends beyond whether I practice or not because, again like I’ve mentioned, Judaism is an ethno religion. There is a connection with all of the Jews, one that I feel keenly quite often (more than I even talk about). Whether I actively practiced or not, I still had faith in the lord, and the core principles of Judaism guiding me. I had to navigate some pretty tricky waters and I reached out to other religions to learn and understand. I traveled quite the…”journey” and I’m at where I’m at now because of it. 

ANYWAYS, I’ve majorly digressed here. 

So, we moved and while we found a synagogue and a small community, it wasn’t the same as I had had. For the first time I was the “oddball” of my area and I struggled. I struggled with being different (I had this large southern accent and was not the…”status quo” in my school) and while I wouldn’t say I hid my religion; I definitely didn’t talk about it as much. This was the time where everyone is entering adolescence and so things are already awkward and different, and here I was this strange new girl. I was different all around when all I wanted was to fit in. I think we all know those feelings as they go beyond faith. 

Once I became Bat Mitzvahed we definitely dialed back on the religious front. We would still go to synagogue for High Holidays, and we kept relatively kosher, but it there was a definite difference pre and post. Again, I think a lot of this was in relation to not having that community. To not really loving our synagogue. To not connecting in a new area. It was kind of the perfect combination of all the wrong things. 

Things slowly started to continue to fade away until finally they just went dormant. I don’t know that I would say that I didn’t keep kosher (as I actually still did- dietary things always stuck with me), but I definitely didn’t practice in any noticeable way. I met my now husband, who comes from a large (compared to mine) Catholic family. Neither of us really practiced religion in any secular way (in that we didn’t go to church or synagogue, nor did we practice any important holidays from our respective religions). The only holiday we ever participated in was Christmas, when we would go to his family’s home and I got that magical big family Christmas that I always dreamed of.  We got married in a small ceremony in a small church in Kentucky and that was perfect for us (I would NEVER change our wedding for anything- it was easily one of the most incredible days of my life). 

Fast Forward to now. When we went to the Old Synagogue of Rome and we walked through the museum where they talked about all the Jewish rituals, the importance of those rituals, the various stories and histories, I felt a panging in my heart. A longing for that feeling that my faith had always given me. I felt at home in this area, talking about all the things that I had participated in, all the things that I had missed from those rituals, it felt good and heartbreaking to walk through. I had felt this before, these little inklings over the years, but standing here, in this moment it clicked in my heart, soul, and mind. I wanted that back. 

It’s been strange, living here in Germany and being Jewish (even without being a practicing Jew). A place that is a source of so much pain, and seeing sites that cause that pain, hearing about the anti Semitism that started almost “innocently” that then led to a mass murder. To, once again, feeling like I had to hide a part of me- that may be a bad way of phrasing, but I don’t advertise that I’m “Jewish” here in Bavaria. It’s not because I feel like Jews are being openly attacked or anything, just more so a personal security, don’t paint a target kind of feeling, which is a sign of something that I’ve hinted at this entire post. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to “other” myself and there is enough anti-Semitism that still OPENLY exists in our world that it makes me hesitate to be so open about this part of my identity. 

But, if I’ve learned something over the past two years, and throughout this entire journey, it’s that trying to hide that doesn’t do anything. I had someone this year question my faith. Question this part of my life. Belittle my Jewishness and make it something that was nonexistent. And when I tell you it fired me up, it fired me up. I’m not a person that gets riled by other opinions of myself, but this one, to be blunt, pissed me off. It also made me realize just how real ignorance (and stupidity) still very much exist in this world. Hatred still exists in our world. People still try to find others to blame for problems. And me celebrating my faith and religion isn’t going to change that fact. 

So, what does being Jewish look like to me now? Well, not much has changed. We aren’t a big “go to church/synagogue” family and that isn’t something that I foresee changing in the near future. We are interfaith, this past year celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, and I have started integrating little things into my everyday celebrations of faith. I celebrated Rosh Hashanah this year, fasted on Yom Kippur, semi abstained during Passover, I make Challah, when we move I plan on lighting the candles on Friday Nights. I’ve been wearing more of my Jewish jewelry, recently having received my “אִמָא” (Imma-Mom in Hebrew) necklace. I’ve also picked up a couple other pieces here and there on our travels. I’m looking forward to what this next phase in my faith will look like.