Tag Archives: Holidays

Hanukah: Lights in the Darkness

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Hanukah begins in a week and this time of year I am always asked the same questions. “Do you also celebrate Christmas?” “Hanukah is the Jewish Christmas, right?” “So what is Hanukah about anyway?” “Do you also have a Christmas tree?” The list goes on. For the most part I’m always happy to share my traditions and practices and to educate folks about my tradition. So for the record, we do not celebrate Christmas, we don’t have a tree and Hanukah is not “Jewish” Christmas. In fact, Hanukah is a relatively minor festival that has little theological, religious significance. Hanukah celebrates both a military and a political victory.

The story takes place during the first century after the second Temple in Jerusalem was seized by the Greeks and desecrated, following which Judaism was outlawed. A small but mighty band of Jews, led by Judah HaMacabee (Judah the Hammer), liberated the Temple and cleansed it for rededication. In order to light the holy Menorah (candelabra) in the Temple, pure olive oil was required. The story goes that there was only enough oil found to last for one day, but it burned for eight while a new supply of fresh oil was prepared. And today, we commemorate what is considered a miracle by lighting our own menorahs one candle at a time for eight nights, each night adding a candle until the final, glorious night when the menorah is fully illuminated.

Because Hanukah is not a biblical holiday, the traditions and observances around it are varied. In Israel, the menorah is lit each night, foods fried in oil are eaten (think potato latkes and jelly donutes) and the traditional gift of money, or gelt in Yiddush, is exchanged. In America, families often add the giving of more secular gifts as the timing coincides of that higher profile, flashier holiday that happens to fall around the same time. You get what I’m talking about. And when my kids were young, we followed that practice. After all, we wanted them to enjoy being Jewish, to fit in with the greater culture and frankly, it was fun. As they grew older, we focused our Hanukah observance on socializing with friends, singing songs, and the gift giving has taken a back seat. To be honest, many American Jewish parents struggle with the annual “Hanukah dilemma.” How to help our kids appreciate and embrace their Jewish identity and not feel left out of the juggernaut that is Christmas. It isn’t easy.

For me the symbolism and imagery around Hanukah is rich and meaningful. I picture Judah and his warrior Macabees finding the Temple in ruins, remnants of their faith strewn about, in tatters. I can imagine the feeling of triumph and elation of victory as they reclaim what is theirs. I see them in the dimming light of the menorah frantically praying the oil lasts long enough for them to complete their work of cleansing and rededicating the Temple. And finally, the miracle occurs as the oil keeps on burning and the Macabees rejoice.

But there’s more. Hanukah usually occurs in December, the darkest of months. And yet, it is also called “The Festival of Lights.” We Jews have faced some very dark times in our history; destructions of our holy ancient Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. These days increasing anti-Semitism both here in the U.S. and around the world have a lot of us feeling uneasy, wondering if another Holocaust could, in fact, happen. And of course, our people aren’t the only ones targeted by hate and bigotry. But during this darkest, coldest time of year we have only to remember the victory of the Macabees, and their small band of freedom fighters who kept the oil burning, for examples of bravery, perseverance and the will to survive. And there is nothing like the anticipation of watching the lights of the menorah grow, one night at a time, until that eighth beautiful night when all are lit. I think the most moving of all Hanukah traditions is the one that encourages us to display our menorahs in our front windows. It is as if the lights themselves burn defiantly and victoriously against all the generations of oppression and destruction to show the world that, even after the darkest of times, we are still here.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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A Christmas Truce

a-christmas-truce

December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Happy Holidays?

Thanksgiving

I am sitting here this morning, Thanksgiving morning, and musing on the holiday expectations that we all bring to these times.  The picture of the Norman Rockwell family, gathered around the laden table, faces smiling in anticipation of the feast to come, is engrained in our collective psyche.  Magazines over the last month have been filled with recipes for “The Most Sumptuous, Easiest Thanksgiving Feast Ever.”  Methods for creating the perfect table setting, the perfect appetizer, the perfect pumpkin pie, abound.

I am one of the fortunate ones in that I do have a loving family and a family table to prepare.  Although I am not hosting the feast this year, I will be part of one.  And yet, I know all too well that these holidays often bring not joy, but turmoil and sadness to many.

So today, I am writing for those whose holidays are not filled with joy, whose family tables are filled with strife or silence or fear, who wait for the explosion, or the blows, or the criticism.  And for those who have no table, and who will go hungry, not only on this day, but on many others.  And for those who have no home, no place of warmth, no place to lay a weary head.  I am writing for the children who will be passed back and forth by acrimonious and angry parents, divorced, unconsciously still taking out their wars on their hapless children.  I am writing for the lonely ones, who will spend this day taking care of themselves the only way they know how…maybe by drinking too much, or eating too much.

I don’t have good answers for you.  These holidays are hard, and that is the truth.  In a culture filled with so much abundance, to be both physically and emotionally without resources is a hard blow to take.

So, rather than give you advice, I will tell you a story.

I was at my church’s regular Wednesday night dinner, and it happened to be the Thanksgiving celebration.  This was one of the coldest nights of the year in Nashville so far, going down into the teens, and because of this, our church had added extra nights of Room in the Inn.  The Room in the Inn guests came to the church dinner that night.  As it happened, part of the program was a presentation of a recent mission trip taken by adults from the church to a program in Guatemala that serves children and their families.

After the program, one of the Room in the Inn guests approached our senior minister, and handed him six dollars, requesting that this money go to help the children in the program he had just seen.  This man, homeless and down on his luck, gave the little he had to help a child who had less.

I happened to be standing next to them when this exchange happened, and I saw his face.  He was filled with emotion, and he was proud to be able to do something.  He regained some sense of himself as a man, a giver rather than a taker, in that exchange.

When we are in circumstances that we cannot control, when we are stuck in some situation that seems beyond help, sometimes we have to go outside a logical response.  That man knew that, for tonight, he had food, and a warm place to sleep, and would have breakfast in the morning.  He gave out of his abundance to someone who had less.  I am guessing that gesture changed his sense of himself.  Maybe there is a way we can think outside our boxes, too.

May your holidays be filled with compassion and awareness.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”

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Holidays for Savvy Cooks

Basket of Fruit and Pumpkin PieMy favorite holiday time of year is Thanksgiving.  It was Mom’s as well. “It’s all about the food,” Aunt Kathy pointedly told my mom with a grin, as they discussed an upcoming trip and Mom plotted their vacation by the restaurants they would dine in along the way.  Lella Mai (mom) certainly enjoyed good food, cooking and loving people with her creations from the kitchen.  My cousins loved Aunt Mai’s sweet tea, potato salad, corn bread dressing and chocolate confections.  From her “doctored up” Mississippi Mud Cake to her truffles and other deliciousness, desserts were top of mind.  Her first love, pound cake, was a constant entertainment as she tried many recipes.  I have found the same enjoyment in my own kitchen, especially creating new recipes, or tweaking others’ recipes to make them my own.

Mom was not one of those who kept secrets about her ingredients.  She would share recipes readily and was honored when people asked her for one.  She definitely had command of the kitchen.  Of course, everything else was under her leadership as well, but that’s another story.

The following salad is a recent discovery, and its simplicity makes it an easy addition to any meal.  Mom probably would not have liked this one because she never tasted arugula, to my knowledge, and she became fairly picky.  I can see her “would be” reaction to it now, a crinkled up nose in disapproval of the strong flavor.  It makes me laugh.  I do miss her.  She could make some awful faces.

This recipe serves 16-20 as an accompaniment and leftovers the next day are delicious.  Lemon is the standout and makes for a nice break on the palate between the savory goodness of turkey and dressing and that sweet potato casserole with the brown sugared crunchy topping.

Lemon Arugula Salad

  • 3 containers of arugula, organic if you can get it
  • 6 ounces thin sliced prosciutto di Parma, torn into small pieces
  • ½ cup of large shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a large bit grater)

Dressing:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/3 to ½ cup of good olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Mix the liquids and pour over the salad.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss well and serve.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Gathering family, cooking, eating, laughing and of course, expressing thanks, are all on the plan.  A nice walk in the woods, breathing in the crisp, cool air and walking off some of that deliciousness will be on the plan as well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

About Renee Bates

Renee is the executive director of the non-profit, Greenways for Nashville, a member based organization. In addition to growing private support for the trails and green spaces, she enjoys oil painting, hiking, nature and working in the garden. Renee is married to David Bates of Bates Nursery and Garden Center, a 3rd generation business begun in 1932 by a savvy woman, Bessie Bates.

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