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Showing posts from December, 2009

Seek Out the Light

In the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), the rabbis ask a deceptively simple question:‘Mai Chanukah?’ ‘What is Chanukah?’It’s almost as if they’re not sure what it is, or why we celebrate it.What they really want to do is to get to the essence of Chanukah.And so they explain that when the Maccabees were victorious over the Syrian Greeks, they found only one cruise of oil for the menorah—enough only to last one day, and it burned miraculously for eight days.This, of course, is a far cry from what we read in our siddur—that the miracle was that God empowered us, and delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, and a great military victory was won by the Jewish people in reclaiming the Land of Israel from its defilers.Lots of ink has been spilled explaining how the Talmudic rabbis wanted to de-emphasize the military aspect of Chanukah in favor of a more spiritualized one.As adults, we can all nod knowingly at each other, acknowledging that, while the miracle of the oil makes for great children’s…

The Power of Membership

Why be a member at a synagogue?The answer to this question is not at all as simple as it was a generation ago.Once upon a time, belonging to a synagogue was a given in American Jewish life.There were a host of unspoken bonds that linked us Jews to one another—ethnic bonds, Yiddish language and culture, first and second-generation immigrant values and aspirations—and synagogues were our gathering place.We may not have necessarily believed in God.We may have been secular in every other aspect of our lives.We may have attended synagogue only on High Holy Days.But synagogue membership was sacrosanct.By and large, we didn’t belong to country clubs, to the uppermost echelons of professional societies, and we didn’t attend the old-boy elite universities.Shul was where we gathered and affirmed that we belonged to something important, timeless and meaningful.Shul was where we accessed our time-honored traditions, where we felt special, where we could marshal our resources to look out for each …