Chanukah at the White House

Wednesday I had the privilege and honor of attending the White House Chanukah Celebration as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It was an inspiring experience to stand among the leaders of the Jewish community from all over the United States – rabbis, lay leaders, professionals of Jewish organizations, politicians, military leaders, Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and secular Jews. It was inspiring to hear our President, Barak Obama, speak about the Macabees and the meaning of Chanukah as a season of fighting for religious liberty.
Here is an excerpt of the President’s remarks:
“The light from one day’s worth of oil has lasted not just for eight days, but for more than 2,000 years. The Maccabees’ sense of faith and courage and righteousness continue to animate the Jewish community even now. It’s no accident that when we’re called out to speak on behalf of refugees or against religious persecution, American Jews remember 
what it was like to be a stranger, and are leading the way. And even as we draw from the best of our traditions, we’re never afraid to build on what came before and to forge a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”
Alongside our President was Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke to us:

“We remember the brave Maccabees. We remember they did not fight against, they fought for – for liberty, for freedom of religion, for their traditions, for our traditions, for their ability to celebrate their own identity. Hanukkah is the holy day of spiritual activism. It is a holiday which represents the spirit of human being, created equally in the image of God.
As President Rivlin lit the beautiful Menorah on loan from a museum in North Carolina, I marveled at how far the Jewish community in America has come. I think about my grandfather David Leese who came to this country as a young boy of 12 years old from Poland by himself in the 1880’s.  He never even had a Bar Mitzvah and lived in the Wild West of Butte, Montana as a furrier and tailor.  Eventually he moved back to New York his port of entry to the states and eventually to Pennsylvania.  a man who was tiny in stature, he sadly died before I was born.  Could he even have imagined his grandchild celebrating a Jewish holiday in the White House?
Indeed how far we have all come.   I was inspired by being there. I am inspired more by the freedoms so precious in our country of religious liberty. I am inspired by the light of the Chanukiah, the Menorah, to guard that precious freedom even more.

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet

Christmas is already here.

It started before Halloween this year. I went into the pharmacy before Halloween and there along side the bags of candy were the Christmas decorations. Now in these few days before Thanksgiving, Christmas is already here with carols playing on loudspeakers in every store.  I find it amazing that my minister friends are unhappy about the holy season’s early arrival.

Advent hasn’t even started!

But especially when the economy is still struggling, retailers are counting on Christmas spending to bail them out of  a lack luster sales year.  So why not start the season’s buying frenzy early goes the logic.

For me I am always torn.  As a Jew in America I expect to be surrounded by Christmas cheer but on the other hand I wish I wasn’t bombarded.  I remember my father worked so hard during the Christmas season in his jewelry store. Extra hours that the store was open took a toll on him and on our family time. During the rest of the year on Friday nights, he would meet us at synagogue for services going directly from the store. But during Christmas time he worked late each night and especially on Friday nights and all day Saturday. I basically didn’t see him from Thanksgiving until miraculously on Christmas morning he was home.  A Jewish Christmas present!

I don’t begrudge my non-Jewish friends their holy celebration at all. I don’t even really begrudge the retailers their need to sell their wares as gifts. After all I have been known to buy a few Chanukah presents as well as Christmas gifts for those who observe!  But I wish there was a better way than to bombard me with the refrains of “Silent Night” for two and half months.

I do like music. I even like to sing “Winter Wonderland” now and again. But I would like to limit it to just a shorter window of time.   Oh yes, the weather outside is frightful…. but having to listen to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is just as annoying!

So this week of Thanksgiving I will stay away from the stores. No Black Friday for me.  And I will hold off as long as humanly possible from the rush of the holiday present frenzy.  Maybe this is a year to make donations instead.

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