Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belated Happy Hanukkah

Last week I attended my daughter's high school winter concert.  She sings in the school choir.  Here are the songs they performed: Siyahamba (a South African Swahili hymn), Maoz Tzur (our very own Rock of Ages), Noche de Luz (Night of Silence), I'll be There (by the Jackson 5), The Storm is Passing Over (a Gospel standard) and the Halleluyah Chorus (from Handel's Messiah).  First of all let's state the obvious.  A far more diverse selection of music than the days of Solomon Schechter!  And also to be honest, I have still not come to terms with the conflicting feelings of seeing and hearing my daughter sing verses from the New Testament's Book of Revelation (that is what the Halleluyah chorus is structured around).  My feelings are something of a mixture of "Wow, she sings so well.  It makes me so proud." with "That's not what we believe.  No, we are still waiting."  Nonetheless the multi-ethnic quality of the occasion was wonderful to behold and despite the inability of Maoz Tzur to measure up to the music of Handel and great Gospel (I love Gospel!) I was taken in by the event's pluralism.  And this of course brings me to Hanukkah.  The Maccabees would have been none too pleased.  This concert and the celebration of Hanukkah in the midst of a non-Jewish culture would have, to be honest to our history, angered them.  David Brooks had it right in his New York Times column.  The heroes of the Hanukkah story were radical in their ideology.  "They were right and the rest of the world wrong" was their motto.  There was nothing good to be found in the non-Jewish world.  Its influences must be opposed at all costs.  It is this kind of ideology that leads some to destroy, apparently, a mosque in Israel's West Bank.  Read the Jerusalem Post's account here and the New York Times account of this tragic tale and its aftermath here.  This destructive act appears to have been a deliberate attempt to live by the Maccabees' values.  And herein lies the essence of Hanukkah in today's world.  The overwhelming majority of the Jewish world celebrates Hanukkah and the victory of the Maccabees but does not call its heroes' values their own.  We live in two worlds.  We have one foot in the Jewish world and one in the non-Jewish world.  Even at day schools where we only sing our own songs, we live in two worlds.  Even in Israel, in our sovereign Jewish state, we are both Jewish and modern.  In my new world we sing their songs.  They sing ours.  That is how I choose to live.  I am thankful for the victory of centuries ago.  I am thankful as well that the Maccabees did not remain in power for very long.  I also hope and pray that their ideology never rules the day.  There is good to be found in my world and the outside world.  It is easier and simpler to be a fanatic and say "Only I am right.  Only my Jewish world."  I choose instead complicated and nuanced.  And by the way my Shira sang beautifully!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Orrin Hatch's Hanukkah Song

I am sure you read about this in The New York Times.  I am still not sure what to say about it...  Happy Hanukkah from Senator Orrin Hatch!? I guess the response is better left to song: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.
And by the way, here is the story of that most famous of Christmas songs.

Helping Others

During this Hanukkah our synagogue reached out to those in our community who are hungry and homeless.  We donated gift cards to the Interfaith Nutrition Network's Mary Brennan Soup Kitchen so that we can help restore a measure of dignity to those dependent on tzedakah.  It means a great deal for people to go shopping for themselves and buy what they need and perhaps even what they might want.  That is of course what I sometimes get to do!  At the INN, I helped Rob sort donated clothes and in particular winter coats.  You can watch the YouTube video of my visit here.  On Wednesday our confirmation students met with Dennis and Lisa from the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing.  Both Dennis and Lisa were formerly homeless and shared powerful personal stories with our students.  Lisa spoke about her struggle with bipolar disorder and being unjustly evicted from her apartment because of her mental illness.  Dennis spoke about living on the streets of New York City for fourteen years.  He told us about eating food out of garbage cans.  He shared with the students his struggle with crack addiction.  He spoke of the kindness of a few individuals.  This morning I delivered 200 lunch bags filled with fruit, juice, snacks and turkey sandwiches to St. Hugh's Project Hope.  Thank you to the seventh graders for their help in preparing these meals.  Thank you to Joe, Robin, Susan and Renee for their added support!  Danny of Project Hope will deliver these lunches to Latino day laborers in the Huntington Station area today and tomorrow.  It is remarkable to think that less than two miles from my home there are people who do not have enough money to buy food for themselves.  A few statistics.  The INN serves 400-500 people per day--on our very own Long Island.  Project Hope distributes 100 lunches per day--in my very own town.  In New York City there are over 37,000 people living in shelters.  The numbers are staggering.  And these are only the official counts. In the end, one would be too many!  So on this Hanukkah I rededicate myself to helping those less fortunate than myself.  I can do more.  We can do more.  I say with the prophet Isaiah, who told us of our most important duty: "It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin." (Isaiah 58)  The final line is the most important point.  We cannot fix all of the world's problems.  We cannot even end hunger.   But we also cannot ignore the issues!  We must open our hands to the needy.  One at a time.  One sandwich at a time.  One act of hesed can bring healing to one small world.  That is where we will begin.  That is the only place where we can begin.  Turning aside is not a Jewish option.