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When Hanukkah and Shabbos fall on the same night–Shanukah? Challahka?

Light is a powerful life force in Judaism.

And God saw the light, that it was good” (Genesis, 1:4)

“We are a light unto the nations.”  (Isaiah 42:6)

When you walk into an unfamiliar room and it is pitch black and then you turn on a light, or strike a match, or light a candle, you can now see where you are going, you have a better sense of understanding and direction. You are not as lost. Well, that is how light transforms Judaism, every Friday night when we light the Shabbos candles, every Saturday night when we light the Havdalah candles at the conclusion of Shabbos, and on Hanukkah when we light the nine lamps on the menorah. These are all repeated opportunites for us to be enlightened, to gain insight and direction in our lives.

So, how does the kindling of lights work when Shabbos and Hanukkah fall on the same day, which inevitably occurs because the Festival of Lights lasts for eight nights. Well, we have specific rules for that, like everything else in Judaism there are instructions on how to observe each holiday and life in general. On Friday afternoon, the menorah should be lit before the Shabbos candles, which are traditionally lit 18 minutes before sundown. And on Saturday night, the menorah is lit after nightfall.

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8 New Things I Learned About Hanukkah

Every year I learn something new about the Jewish holidays, which are all rich in history and dramatic storytelling of survival that influence our treasured customs, traditions, rituals, and, of course, our favorite foods because c’mon we love to eat. Hanukkah, which falls in November or December when the dark days of winter are approaching, happens to be one of the most widely celebrated times in the Jewish calendar. It’s popularity is not because the Festival of Lights is the most sacred holiday but because religious and nonreligious Jews alike embrace the traditions of lighting the menorah, eating latkes, spinning the dreidel, exchanging gifts, and devouring those gold foiled candies known as chocolate gelt, a Yiddish word for “money.” But Hanukkah, which is a Hebrew word for “dedication,” means so much more than enjoying fun and games and splurging on scrumptious sufganiyot or jelly-filled doughnuts.

As early as preschool, we are taught about the Hanukkah miracles of the Maccabees and the oil lasting for eight days, and as we grow up and mature and become parents ourselves, we continue to find deeper meaning of the sacrifices that our ancestors made thousands of years ago and how these lessons are relevant to our modern lives. By celebrating these holidays, sharing the joy with our children, and growing spiritually from each other, we continue to learn, show our pride, and most importantly keep Judaism alive.

So, following are EIGHT fascinating facts that I discovered or re-learned in a new way about Hanukkah this year. Feel free to share your new insights of Hanukkah, too! Continue reading

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Share Theme


We have enough trouble spelling Hanukkah-Chanukah, only to throw in another word scrambler Thanksgivukkah because the Jewish and secular calendars converge this year.  In the Hebrew calendar, which follows the sun and the moon, the festival of lights starts on the date of 25 Kislev, which officially starts at sunset before Thanksgiving.  On the Gregorian calendar, Thanksgiving sits on the fourth Thursday in November. The last time the two holidays coincided was 1888, 25 years after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday. This historical moment won’t happen again for another 77,798 years, so we might as well embrace the hybrid holiday by topping sweet potato latkes with cranberry applesauce and brining our turkey with Manischewitz.

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College Students Gobble Up Thanksgivukkah Care Packages


It doesn’t seem that long ago when my son Jack was in elementary school, and I used to put a Hershey’s Kiss in his sack lunch with a little note that said something like, “Have a fun day!” or “Good luck on your spelling test!” or “xxxooo.” That lasted about a week, until he finally said, no more embarrassing notes, just chocolate.

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Hanukkah Gift Guide–It’s A Miracle!

The gift giving season is upon us, and with Hanukkah less than a week away, the pressure to buy presents, bake cookies, fry latkes, plan parties, and decorate the house with twinkling blue lights and dreidels started before I polished off the last slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Of course, the real miracle of Hanukkah is about the rededication of the temple in ancient Jerusalem following the Maccabean victory over the Syrian army. But the other miracle is to not give into the overindulgence of the holiday season, including spend too much money on material things.

I’m always looking for ways to make the holidays less stressful and more meaningful, and this year I want to try a new tradition that I actually learned from other families who celebrate Christmas.

It’s called “Simple Gift Giving.” I know, sounds like an oxymoron, especially when I’m used to giving a present for each night we light the menorah.

The idea is to have our children narrow down their wish lists to include items from four categories:

  • WANT
  • NEED
  • WEAR
  • READ

Obviously, it’s best to start this routine when our kids are in preschool and still get excited about footsie pajamas and a wooden puzzle. It gets a little trickier when they’re already teenagers and their idea of a toy includes WiFi and practical underwear comes from Victoria Secret instead of a Hanes six-pack.

Each year, families can customize the list to meet their needs, and I’ve already added four more categories to round out the eight days of Hanukkah:

  • EAT
  • PLAY
  • GIVE

For example, CREATE our own menorah; EAT sufganiyot  (jelly donuts); PLAY a favorite game or poker dreidel; and finally, GIVE back to the community, such as collecting canned goods for the food pantry, serving a meal at Ronald McDonald House, or hosting game night at HavenHouse.

How do you keep Hanukkah fun and festive without overindulging your kids?



Holiday Mitzvahs Top Wish Lists, at Least for Parents

As the first decade of the new millennium approaches (writers are always looking for a hook), I can’t help but contemplate how the wish lists of my children reflect today’s warped generation. Sari, almost 11, wants a cell phone. I didn’t own one until I was engaged to be married. Jack, a freshman in high school, yearns for Dr. Dre headphones that cost more than my auto insurance deductable.

Parents are to blame for their children’s spoiled behavior, and I’m certainly no exception, especially when it comes to high-tech toys. To start with, we stick our youngsters in front of the computer way too young, while they’re still in diapers, and we practically give them a username and password by the time they get a social security card. No wonder today’s youth have a constant need for stimulation and immediate gratification. When a recent Wal-mart television commercial advertises how Nintendo DS promotes family bonding, the situation is obviously out of control. Continue reading

Surviving Holidays Requires Twist on Tradition

I’ve gotten smarter over the years, especially when it comes to preparing for Hanukkah, the seasonal celebration that reminds us of the wondrous miracles that occurred long ago. It’s a miracle all right that I get everything done, from buying presents and baking cookies to planning parties and decorating my home. Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for “dedication,” was never meant to emphasize such extravagant gift giving, but I can’t help myself. Even though the true meaning of Hanukkah is seen in the light of the menorah, which reminds us to never take for granted our religious freedom, I overindulge anyway. Continue reading

Menorah Lights Way for Future Generations

The Jewish people are a “light unto the nations,” and our mission to keep the miracle alive is never brighter than at Hanukkah time when the flickering candles on the menorah symbolize hope and joy. Each time we light a candle, we are reminded of the possibility of miracles in our lives. We remember that in a time of darkness our ancestors had the courage to struggle for freedom—freedom to be themselves, freedom to worship in their own way.

Growing up, I thought that lighting the menorah was the symbol to eat dinner and get a present. Continue reading

Mitzvahs Highlight Another Holiday Season

Jewish people love tradition—even when the holiday isn’t one of our own, like Christmas. We share in the merriment of this widely celebrated Christian festival because it gives us an opportunity to do another mitzvah, not just see a movie and eat moo goo gai pan. Continue reading

Spread the Yiddish Word this Holiday Season

Yiddish is becoming a lost language, so any effort to preserve the dialect of our ancestors is worthy of attention. Actually, Yiddish is older than English, originating in Spain in the thirteenth century and then becoming a more commonplace lingo after the fifteenth century when Jews migrated to Eastern Europe, Poland, Galicia, Hungary, Rumania, and Russia. Yiddish comes from the German word “Judisch,” meaning “Jewish.” In the Yiddish language itself Yiddish means “Jewish.” Continue reading