This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s partner, Steven Goldstein, holding his daughter Amalia.
My daughter was born in Mumbai, India, between the Hindu and Jewish celebrations of lights—Diwali and Chanukah. We have sweet memories of lighting Chanukah candles in the hotel dining room in India, celebrating the transformation that her birth brought into our lives.
Both holidays are likely related to the ancient celebration, Saturnalia, a holiday of lights leading up to the winter solstice. Chanukah appears in this context to be tied to a universal human desire to resist the encroaching night by adding light of our own when the heavens grow dark.
Last July I traveled back to India, this time with American Jewish World Service and 17 rabbinic colleagues, in order to understand better how a very small group of people can bring some light to an often very dark place. The community we worked with, Bhakaripurwa, was literally dark at night with no electricity.
We were tasked with improving the school for the children of the village. Alongside the capable villagers, we paved the schoolyard so that the children didn’t have to play in the mud during the rainy season, and we refurbished the kitchen and a classroom floors, as well. Read More
Lately, no matter where I am—conferences, meetings, board rooms—American Jews are buzzing about Thanksgivukah, the concurrent celebration of Thanksgiving and Chanukah on November 28, 2013.
These two holidays have overlapped only once before, in 1888. And, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, this Thanksgivukah miracle won’t happen again until 2070 and then again in 2165. After that, Chanukah and Thanksgiving aren’t set to coincide until 76,695!
Food and gratitude are at the center of my Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations. So, it will come as no surprise that I’m eagerly awaiting the convergence of two culinary traditions.
So, as you prepare your own Thanksgivukah menu, I wanted to share my recipe for cranberry-lathered latkes—a mash-up of two signature dishes that will be front and center at my holiday table. Read More
Originally posted on the blog of Where Do You Give?
September 1997: I am sitting with my family on the soft, beige carpet in the family room ready to begin our annual tradition. Index cards are lined up in front of us: “Hunger in Africa” “Literacy in America” “Homelessness in Mountain View, CA.” My parents hand my brother and me each $1,000 in small bills (monopoly money, of course). We then spend the rest of the afternoon talking about the different issues we could support and how much money we want to donate to each. Once all the money is spread out among the index cards, my brother and I run into our rooms to grab our tzedakah boxes. We pour the coins that we have been collecting all year onto the carpet. As we meticulously count the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, my parents calculate the percentages that will go to each organization based on what we allocated with our monopoly money. As our tzedakah boxes lie empty on the carpet, I know it is time to start setting aside my money for the next year.
Gilda Radner lights a menorah in a Saturday Night Live skit that aired in 1977
When Jewish comedian Gilda Radner lit a menorah on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s, it was the very first time that lighting Chanukah candles had been broadcast on national television. The skit was a hilarious riff on the ubiquity of Christmas, but what millions of viewers remember most is Gilda. After reciting the blessings over the Chanukah candles, she beamed. Then, unexpectedly, she began to cry—and it wasn’t part of the script.
The power of this moment was in seeing a television star—someone so adored by the American public and so integrated into American culture—openly proclaim her difference when she could have so easily chosen not to. Read More