Tag Archives: tradition

My December Dilemma

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Every year, right around this time, I start to feel stirrings.  All around me I begin to hear holiday (actually Christmas) music, decorative lights appear on the houses in my neighborhood and of course, there are the sales.  It’s hard not to be drawn into the frivolity and cheer.  My religious tradition however, has little, if any, public displays involving our winter holiday of Hanukah.  Traditional Hanukah music runs to the minor key variety and, let’s face it, “The Dreidel Song,” just isn’t particularly sexy.  Not to mention the home décor of the holiday is, well, let’s just say in order to stay away from the tacky, it’s crucial to use a LOT of imagination!  The traditional foods might be the best part; anything cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight nights, rather than for just one, is on the menu.  Jelly donuts and potato pancakes are a highlight.  It’s enough to make any nice Jewish girl yell, “Oy!” and, “Bah, Chumbug!”  (Imagine that in Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s voice and you’ll get the picture). 

Every year I try to write something meaningful, spiritual and educational about my Jewish traditions.  There are, after all, a lot of lessons to be learned about bravery, perseverance and hope in the Hanukah story.  During the darkest days of the year the candles we light encourage us to look for the light in our hearts and our souls.  But this year has felt like one long, dark night.  Much has been lost to all of us.  My usual sunny disposition has felt clouded by fear and sadness.  Can eight little multi-colored candles really do much to lift my spirits?  Can they do more than a 10-foot, pine smelling, Christmas tree filled with sparkly ornaments and blazing lights?  (I’m not suggesting I’d get a tree lest my parents rise up from their graves in a hellish nightmare of a, “Goldie’s Dream,” from, “Fiddler on the Roof.”).  It’s no wonder Jews of all ages sometimes feel a touch of envy at the glorious, festive and public spirit of Christmas. 

But, and here’s the deal, the fried potatoes, the jelly donuts, the chintzy homemade decorations and the simple candles, are all part of MY tradition.  They are the outward expression of thousands of years of suffering, courage and survival.  This has been a year like no other in recent memory, for sure.  But my people are no strangers to coping with tough times.  Jews comprise less than one-quarter percent of the world’s population and yet, our numbers are increasing, albeit slowly.  Perhaps this is due to better health outcomes and longer life spans.  But perhaps it is also due to the observance of traditions like lighting Hanukah candles and singing in a minor key.  In the midst of chaos, illness, death and fear, holding onto familiar rituals helps us all, regardless of religion, remain standing.  Tacky paper decorations and greasy food marks the passage of time and serves to remind us that this, too, shall pass.  My December holiday may not be flashy or glamorous, but the memories it evokes do lift my spirits and carry me both back in time to happier days and spin me forward into an unknown, but surely different, future. 

I still sometimes feel like a kid looking in the window of a toy store, just able to look but not go inside.  Thankfully I can appreciate the music, I can visit places with lights and a tree, and I can celebrate another year surviving the darkness that has surrounded mankind.  I can also take comfort and pride in a jelly donut or a paper chain and know that I come from a people who survived the worst of times and still manages to celebrate eight crazy nights with some little colored candles.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .

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Why is This Year Different?

traditional jewish matzo

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This Wednesday evening marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.  It is a well-known fact that it is also the most celebrated of all the holidays.  The observance lasts eight days during which we focus on the theme of our people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea in a hurry with little time to prepare.  The first night consists of a festive meal, or Seder, when we retell the story through questions and answers, singing, eating and drinking four cups of wine.  The point of this exercise is to both remind us that freedom is precious, and to teach the younger generations about our story.

One of the highlights of every Seder is the asking of The Four Questions.  These questions are designed to provoke discussion and thought around the significance of the holiday.  Usually asked by the youngest person at the table, the refrain is always, “Why is this night different from all other nights.”  The answers to the four questions are the heart of the rest of the Seder.  But the overarching theme is always: freedom.

 

Over the last couple of weeks, I admit I’ve engaged in bouts of self-pity.  I have felt afraid for myself and my family.  I have been depressed about the changes in my life.  I have been angry, too, that those in leadership who could have mitigated some of the damage, did nothing.  And I have felt sad and helpless.  These negative thoughts and feelings are foreign to me.  I am usually an optimistic person who can find fun and joy in most places.  But our current state of affairs has been really tough for me to accept.

A therapist would probably say I’m moving through the stages of grief, and that’s likely the case.  I know from grief.  My people know from grief.  Generation after generation of Jewish people have been chased around the globe, experiencing plagues, famine, Holocaust and antisemitism.  And we are not alone in this.  Other cultures and peoples have faced similar obstacles and discrimination.  I can’t speak for the others, but I can speak for myself and my people.  The one thing we do to defend ourselves against the darkness is to survive.  We survive by carrying on our traditions.  We survive by being joyful.  We survive by telling the stories.  We survive by holding tight to each other, even if it is only in memory.

Most years we host a large group of friends and family to join our Seder.  I spend weeks planning and preparing the ritual foods and the traditional festive delicacies.  This year, obviously, the usual crowd will not be joining us live in our home.  It was with a heavy heart that a couple of weeks ago I emailed everyone to cancel.  And it was at that point that I really felt the enormity of what we are dealing with today.  I was also able to relate to the story of my ancestors and the challenges they faced.  Personally, my world has become pretty small and my life has slowed to a pace way out of my comfort zone.  But we will have our Seder.  We will include my son in California via Zoom.  I will make my chicken soup the way my mother taught me.  My husband, who will now be home, will make the brisket.  We will drink four cups of wine (really, the best part).  And, we will retell the story of our exodus and our journey to freedom.

The final prayer of the Seder meal is one in which we express our hope that next year we will celebrate in Jerusalem.  For me, the meaning is not to literally be in Jerusalem, although that would be amazing.  I think of Jerusalem as my spiritual home, the place where I can feel free to express my faith and tradition.  But my actual home, here in Nashville, is also a place where I can feel free to be myself and to enjoy life with my family and friends.  So, this year when we say the prayer, I will be thinking ahead to next Passover, when I can once again open my home and share the story of our survival and freedom with 30 of our nearest and dearest.  In the meantime, stay healthy, stay home and wash your hands.  xo

 

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the current Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

 

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