Five Question Friday: December 30, 2011

Wow! We have reached another Friday! Hope you had a wonderful week. Life was slow and peaceful for us as we celebrated the last few days of Chanukah. Thanks to all of you who followed my Chanukah posts at this site. I had fun refreshing my memory and then writing about the various aspects of this special holiday.

Now, back to a somewhat regular routine, and on with Five Question Friday!

1. What’s the oldest piece of clothing in your closet?

Well, that is a hard one. I am not a clothes horse and I wear clothes forever before discarding them, so all my clothing is old! Oldest? Hmmm . . . I would guess that a Guatemalan skirt I bought at a boutique in State College, PA at least 20 years ago is the oldest, or at least among the oldest garment I own. I still wear it. It still looks good! And I even get compliments on it from time to time.

2. How many random blog readers have you met?

Other than my family and friends, I have not met any “random” blog readers yet. I hope to some day. (Psst . . . Y’all come visit, ya heeah!)

3. Do you let your kids stay up till midnight on New Years Eve? (Or, if you don’t have kiddos yet, did you get to stay up until midnight as a child?)

When the kids were little I would put them to bed at their normal time, but then a few minutes before midnight we would wake them up to wish them a Happy New Year. I do not recall what we did when I was a child, however I do recall New Year’s Eve as being a great baby-sitting night! My favorite family (the Froelichs) would have me babysit, but they and their guests for the evening would return to their house around 11:30pm so that I could join them in ringing in the new year! AND, they were sober so I didn’t mind them giving me a ride home afterwards.

The worst nightmare I had was babysitting for a couple who didn’t return home till four in the morning, stoned, and they told me, a fifteen-year-old girl, to walk home . . . alone . . . which I did. Terrifying experience! My parents were none too happy either, and I was never allowed to babysit there again!

4. What are the gas prices where you live?

Too high! The prices range from $3.50 to $3.85 right now. We’ll see how high the prices are in the morning!

5. What is one resolution that you know you should do but are too afraid to try?

Oy . . . I’m not into resolutions because I always feel like a failure when I fail. On the other hand, I’m a sucker for a challenge. Challenges are easier for me to follow through with, and if I don’t meet the challenge, for whatever reason I don’t feel like a failure, rather I feel successful for having at least tried. And with a challenge, I usually learn something about myself (i.e. NaNoWriMo, I learned that I am not a writer, an avid blogger, yes, writer, no!) In my next post you can read about the 2012 Challenges I chose to take on!

On the other hand, one resolution I always work on is to be a better person, kinder, more accepting of differing opinions, more respectful of the ones I love.

There you have it! Next Friday we will be in a new year, a year I pray will be mentally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically prosperous for each of us. Blessings to you all.

Eight Lights

Tonight we kindle the eight lights of Chanukah. During the time of the Macabees, Chanukah signified the miracle of the few over the many, darkness illuminated by a light that increased each day. Take a few minutes to contemplate the power of darkness and the power of light. In darkness we are lonely, fearful, ashamed, oppressed. In a dark room we cannot see where we are going or what we are doing. If darkness fills every inch of space in a room, we are blind. But light one match, one candle; the amount of space taken up by the flame is minuscule compared to the space occupied by darkness, yet that tiny flame can illuminate the entire room. And if each day you add even a little more light, the darkness becomes less daunting, until the eighth night when all the flames are lit and darkness is no more! This is the miracle of Chanukah. In that regard, the miracle of Chanukah continues to occur each day. We learn from an historical event, but the miracle continues and is real today. Every kind word or good deed is a flame that illuminates the darkness of someone’s spirit. Every joyful expression, act of compassion, or sympathy extended, we contribute to the miracle of someone’s life. Each time we shed a little light for someone else to see their way forward, and with every prayer we utter to benefit the spirit of some soul and thus the spirit of this world, we are kindling the Chanukah light! A miracle occurs!

If you are able on this last night of Chanukah, draw up a seat near the Menorah, gaze at the flames as they flicker, and begin to reflect on the miracles you have experienced in life. After a while, one begins to realize that life itself is a miracle of magnificent proportion. Reflect on times when you felt G-d’s hand guiding you, times when you were saved from danger, times when the odds were stacked against you yet a miracle occurred and you prevailed. As you reflect on the miracles of your life, and the miracles of Chanukah, open to the wonder of your life and the events that have brought you to this place in this time.

Just like the menorah whose light grows with each day, others will begin to reflect back the light, too, much like a window reflects back the light of each Chanukah flame and the miracle it represents.

Finally, as you recognize the Chanukah miracle that lives within you, and with the acceptance of your life’s current reality, be open to receive greater!

I humbly thank you for taking a Chanukah journey with me this year. It has been a blessing for me to review and reflect on the meaning of Chanukah, the customs we observe, games we play, food we eat, and to share this special holiday with you. As we head into the new year, may you be blessed with prosperity of body, mind and soul; may you celebrate life’s joys, grieve its losses, and carry the miracle of Chanukah where ever you travel.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Shalom!

Chana/Cecelia Futch

Fifth Day and the Light is Spreading!

Day five of the Miracle of Lights!

What is “gelt” and why is it associated with Chanukah?

Gelt is the yiddish word for money. Back in the 18th century (and maybe earlier) in Poland, parents would give their children gelt to learn Torah during Chanukah. The children would save the gelt and on the last day of the holiday, each child would take 10% of the money they saved and give it to charity. In this way the children were learning Torah along with the importance of sharing what they had earned with those who were in need.

In addition to giving gelt to children to learn Torah, parents would give gelt for the children (usually boys because girls did not go to school at that time) to take to their rabbis during Chanukah, a gift of gratitude. Gelt was used for playing dreidel, too, and in early 20th century America (1920 to be exact) chocolatiers began making chocolate gelt, wrapping them in gold or silver foil, and packaging the gelt in small yellow net bags (money bags) for Chanukah treats. These treats make their appearance around Chanukah time to this day, and we are reminded of the importance of learning Torah, giving charity . . . and playing fun games and eating sweet delicacies during Chanukah!

Chanukah gelt English: Chocolate coins for Cha...

Image via Wikipedia

Five Question Friday (Sort of): December 23, 2011

 

Not surprisingly, no questions were listed for today. Therefore I’m doing things a little different than usual. Instead of answering five questions, I thought it would be nice for each one to share five holiday traditions that you celebrate in your home. You can elaborate if you choose, or not. You decide. Since I’m writing each day about our observances during Chanukah, I will just list five of our customs and let you read more detailed descriptions in the holiday posts that have already begun to appear here.

My best wishes to all of you during these days and holiday observances, however you choose to celebrate . . . or not! Have a great weekend and I hope to see you back here next Friday. :-)

Five of our Chanukah traditions ~

1. Lighting the Menorah each night for eight nights.

2. Eating latkes and applesauce (explanation coming soon)

3. Reading an inspirational Chanukah story after lighting the chanukiah each night.

4. Playing dreidle (explanation coming soon).

5. Learning Torah lessons for Chanukah.

 

Happy holidays everyone!

Day Three and the Light Still Shines!

Why do we light the Chanukah lights the way we do?

According to the Talmud, we are only required to kindle one light each day of Chanukah. Nowhere are we told that we must kindle more lights. So why do we kindle eight lights? And why do we begin the first night with only one light, and then add a light each succeeding night?

It has long been customary to beautify a mitzvah, or commandment, when possible. Beautification is not meant to alter the meaning or direction of the commandment, rather to reveal the beauty and wonder of what we are doing. When it came to the mitzvah of Chanukah light, the sages desired that the light show the world that we celebrate a miracle that took place over eight days. The next question was how to do that.

Well, this all goes back millennia to the time of two men who are listed among the names of our greatest sages: Hillel and Shammai. Each was head of his own academy, or “house” of study, Beis (house) Hillel and Beis Shammai. Although both men were very learned leaders and wise men in the study of Torah, they often formed differing opinions and in true Jewish fashion, an argument would ensue. One of their more famous arguments concerned kindling the Chanukah lights.

According to Beis Shammai, one begins with the maximum potential of the light, meaning that to begin the holiday people should kindle all eight lights. On each succeeding night, one less candle would be lit signifying the number of days left in the holiday. One begins lighting with the maximum potential, and gradually decreases till the last night when only one candle is lit.

Beis Hillel on the other hand, argued we should light according to “realized potential,” or actual days celebrated. Thus, on the first night since we realize the first day, we light the one candle, the second night we light two candles, etc. until the eighth night we light all eight candles.

At first glance it appears that Hillel won the argument. But things are not always as they appear! When two men of such great knowledge and stature among Jewish religious leaders of all time form opinions on an issue, every effort is made to figure out ways in which to observe the rulings of both men. While the assembly of religious leaders voted to follow Hillel’s teaching on the Chanukah lights, the Talmud tell us that Shammai’s reasoning and analysis was generally deeper and sharper than Hillel’s. So, why do we follow Hillel’s model of lighting the Chanukiah?

The sages tell us that Hillel’s argument was good for the pre-Messianic times. We are looking ahead at how the light grows and increases the nearer we approach those days, and therefore we light each day looking forward to increased potential, adding light and excitement each day till we realize all eight days.

Shammai, on the other hand, is more appropriate for the Messianic times when the world has reached a higher level of being, or realized it’s full potential. In that case, we start with the maximum and light according to how many days are left.

Obviously we have not reached the messianic age yet, so we light according to Beis Hillel,  but we look forward to the messianic days when we can light according to Beis Shommai.

The Lights Continue to Burn

The second light is kindled.

A few thousand years ago, back when Alexander of Macedonia of the ancient Greek Empire ruled (including Israel), the Jews and the Greeks were getting along pretty good. This was during the Hellenistic period. At that time many Jews studied the Greek philosophers, and King Ptolemy commissioned writers to translate the Torah into Greek. But relationships between the Greeks and the Jews began to sour. When Antiochus became King, he implemented a series of decrees in an effort to Hellenize all Jews. Core beliefs and practices were forbidden under his rule: ritual circumcision, study of Torah, observance of Shabbat, celebrating Jewish holidays. Antiochus’ edicts eventually culminated with the requirement that all citizens, including the Jews, worship Greek idols.

The Jews struggled with the strangle-hold on their religious practices, but when it came to idol worship, the Greeks had gone to far. War ensued. The problem was that the Greek army was huge, strong, a well organized fighting machine. Jews were poor, small in number, a rag-tag band of malcontents as far as the Greeks were concerned. How could the Jews resist such an army? Many Jews were slaughtered for resisting the many edicts against their religious practices. On the other hand, Jews feared they would be wiped out altogether if they engaged in battle with the Greeks.

Jews fled Jerusalem and other parts of Israel to hide in the hills. Life was bad. Food was scarce. The Jewish High Priest was assassinated. Fear gripped the Jewish people. The Greek army desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, mocking the Jews. Ritual vessels were stolen or destroyed. Sacrifices were made to various Greek idols. The Temple became a place for Greek prostitutes (temple prostitutes) to conduct their business. The Jewish people wept and prayed, crying out for a miracle.

A handful of brothers, now known as the Maccabees, a renegade group of “lawless” priestly Jews, were a thorn in the side of the mighty Greeks. The Maccabees were the fleas on the dog, so to speak. The Maccabees strongest weapon however, was their belief in God’s desire for the Jews to return to their homeland to restore Jerusalem the sanctity of their Temple. Much like David and Goliath, or Samson’s destruction of the Philistines, through a series of miraculous victories and events, the Greeks were driven out of the Temple, and out of Jerusalem. But, that was not the miracle of Chanukah!

Once they had regained their holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people set about cleaning it up and restoring it to a place of holiness and prayer. A menorah always burned in the Temple but its light had gone out during the Greek occupation. Now the Jews longed to see the light burn once again from this holy place. A menorah was found, but what about the oil to fuel the flame? Only oil that was pressed, bottled and sealed with the High Priest’s stamp could be used in the Temple. People searched and found one vial of oil, enough for one day only. It would take eight days to press enough olives to render new oil pure enough to use in the temple.

The menorah was lit anyway. Even if only for a day. The second day however, the priests returned to the Temple to see that the light still burned bright. A miracle had occurred! The light continue to burn all day and night, and when the priests returned the third day, the light still burned. This continued for eight days at which time fresh oil war was ready for the menorah. Eight nights of light from one day’s worth of oil is the miracle of Chanukah.

The year after these events occurred, the High Priest issued a decree that from that day forward, every year on the 25th of Kislev (the day the miracles occurred), the people would observe the festival of Chanukah to commemorate this momentous event. Since then, rabbeim have studied and expounded on the many miracles of Chanukah, and this minor holiday has become a beloved observance in Jewish families everywhere. Chanukah is the one holiday where we are required to show the Chanukah light to the world as we acknowledge God’s hand in creating miracles and saving the Jewish people from annihilation.

Chag Chanukah Sameach! Happy Chanukah!

It’s Chanukah, Come Light the Menorah. . .

Last night was the first night of Chanukah. Good friends joined us last night to help celebrate this holiday (a minor holiday for Jews, nothing like Christmas for Christians.) Neither Lori nor Heather had ever celebrated Chanukah so I had the privilege of teaching them a little about this special celebration. Richard worked late, but when he got home, we lit the candles and Richard even sang a few bars of a time-honored Chanukah song.

The menorahs depicted in this photo were purchased a few days ago. Our silver menorahs are in storage and I was a bit sad that we couldn’t use them. But the sadness did not last very long, because we celebrate miracles and light on this holiday, not the trappings or elaborate Chanukiah. So, when we lit the candles last night, the light was a beautiful reminder of that time long ago when the Jewish people weren’t sure there would be light in the Temple, but through a miracle, the flame was lit and that flame lasted not one day, not two days, but eight days it shed its light for the people to see.

Here is what the Talmud has to say about Chanukah:

On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev begins the days of Chanukah, which are eight, on which lamentation for the dead and fasting are prohibited. For when the Greeks (Assyrians) entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Chashmonayim (Hasmonean dynasty) prevailed against them and defeated them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil which had the seal of the High Priest, which contained oil sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle occurred and they lit the Menorah (the Temple candelabrum) for eight days. The following years, these days were appointed as a holiday to sing praise and offer thanks. [Shabbes 21b]

Last night the festival began. On the first night we kindle one light. Each of us lights our own menorah. What you see in the photo above is that there are two kindled lights in each menorah; the light that is higher than the other, set apart from all other lights is called the shamash. The shamash is the “guard” light, and it is used to light the Chanukah lights. If one needs light to see by, we see by the shamash, not the Chanukah lights that are strictly for remembering the miracle that happened there (Temple in Jerusalem).

One other rule is that the Chanukiah should be lit by the doorway (or in our case, by the window) for all passersby to see. This is the one holiday that is “advertised” for the public. We do that to draw attention to the miracle that God performed on the first Chanukah, so that people will ask questions and give us the opportunity to share how God performed a miracle in the Temple.

So, come back each day of Chanukah and I hope to share more of our celebration with you. Thank you Lori and Heather for joining us last night, eating latkes with us, and in general enjoying the laughter and chatter of friendship.

Five Question Friday: December 2, 2011

What do you know? It is DECEMBER already! This is a huge holiday season in this country and around the world (but believe it or not, NOT in EVERY part of the world). Before Thanksgiving day draws to a close, many people are busily sifting through boxes of decorations and adorning their homes ~ inside and out ~ with festive decking. What a beautiful time of the year. We imagine snow (although most of the USA won’t see measurable snow until January, if then) and “dream of a white Christmas.” Carols fill the air where ever we go, and I do mean whereEVER! Trees are cut and bundled to occupy every vacant lot as they await the moment they are chosen to decorate someone’s home or office. Don’t you just love the smell of evergreens? What a wonderful fragrance! Ahhh . . . tis the season. :-)

One problem, though. I don’t do Christmas. We don’t do the x-mas shopping thing. The music that fills the air is not “ours.” And covering one’s home in blinking lights is a bit strange, but it is pretty most of the time. I really don’t like the gaudy stuff, but that is a matter of taste and everyone’s definition of “gaudy” is unique to them. Soooo . . . what about this Christmas “season” stuff. There is a big effort afoot (has been for years now) to make this a politically correct “Happy Holiday” season. Folks are astir that President Obama lit the “holiday tree” this year rather than the “Christmas tree.” Imagine that. Many are suggesting that he is eliminating religion from the holiday. Really? I didn’t know that the religious aspects of this holiday were dependent on having “Christmas” trees. Hmmm…. Learn something new every day. But that is to be expected. Christmas is not my holiday.

(Picture a decorated tree in this spot. I don’t have a photo, so use your imagination!)

(I take the above statement back. Found one!)

Having said all of that, I for one, am not offended about the ubiquitous “Christmas” holiday cheer and well wishes. Nor am I offended with the “Happy Holiday” greetings and trees. Personally, I enjoy watching the hustle and bustle, driving around to see the many colorful and cheerful lights, and watching the “happy” part of these holidays. After all, my holiday is coming up, too. Chanukah is a holiday commemorating miracles and light. (I will be writing about that more as the days draw near.) But I happen to live in a country that is predominantly Christian (or claims to be), so seeing what y’all do to celebrate your holidays is rather fun. It does not detract from my observance of Chanukah. Come to Jewish enclaves in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Toronto, and yes, even Cleveland, and you will see menorahs in a window or doorway of every home. It is truly beautiful. I hope you have opportunity at some point in your life to observe a Chanukah-kind-of-neighborhood. Or, visit Jerusalem during Chanukah. I hear it is magical. Someday I will be there and see for myself. This year we will light a simple, inexpensive chanukiah (menorah) that can be picked up in our nearby Kosher market because our beautiful menorahs are still packed in some box in a storage unit miles from where we live. But that is ok. The lights will still be beautiful, and it is the miracle of the lights that we celebrate, not the menorah itself.

So why this discourse about Christmas and Chanukah? Because the closer we get to Christmas and Chanukah, the questions for Five Question Friday will include more and more questions about Christmas. It makes sense since the vast majority of readers celebrate Christmas. For me however, that means I will share more and more about Chanukah. I will leave the Christmas questions in the post for those of you who read this blog and respond with your answers. It is fun to compare our answers, and it gives me the opportunity to learn about you, too. With all of this in mind, consider this part of the blog as my answer to questions one and two below. I look forward to seeing how you answer the questions.

As to question number five, it is another one of those that I will slash to insert one of my own. You will see why.

Now, on to the questions! Enjoy.

1. What is your favorite Christmas decoration in your house?

See above!

2. Do you finish your Christmas shopping early or are you a last minute type?

See above!

3. When do you turn on your heat?

When it gets cold. (Hahahaha . . . I couldn’t resist that one!)

I am one that does not particularly care for “artificial” heat or cold. I will wait until it is almost frigid cold outside before I turn on the heat. We need our furnaces running in very cold weather in order to live, but I prefer to stick with the natural order of things for as long as possible. The same goes in the spring of the year; I open windows and turn on fans to avoid using the air conditioner  . . . until we are sweltering. And even then, we set our thermostat at 80 degrees farenheit, and continue to use the fans. My husband is not quite as drastic as all of that, and we definitely have to negotiate the issue, but in general, that’s the way it runs in our home. :-)

4. Do you ever wish your blog was private?

No. I am one who believes that nothing we post on the internet, either private or public, is truly private. So, I watch what I post. If I wish to write about something so private I don’t want anyone to see, or only certain people at most, then I use the old-fashioned method of putting pen to paper. Actually, that method is oftentimes quite cathartic, and I still keep a leather-bound journal where I record my private thoughts. I don’t write in it nearly as often since I began blogging, but I continue to keep it close at hand should I need to hand write my musings.

5. Do you put your deodorant on before of after you put on your shirt

I don’t understand the reason for this question. I don’t want to offend anyone, but the banality of these types of questions give me pause at times, and it is in those times that I consider dropping 5QF. But, as in the past, I will substitute a question of my own choosing. So here goes:

C’s choice: 5. What is the first thing you do every morning when you get up?

My mornings are “ritualized” (is that a word? ’tis now!). Before my feet even touch the floor, I say the “Mode Ani . . . ” This is a statement of gratitude for having survived the night and awakened to a new day and new possibilities. Then I stumble to the bathroom half-asleep to wash my hands and wake up a bit more to say another “thank you” for the spirit within me and wisdom for living, and for this body of mine which is wonderfully made and houses my spirit while I walk this earth. (Isn’t it sad how much time we spend hating our bodies, yet we must live in our skins for a lifetime! That’s like hating our home. This “house”, our body, carries us everywhere! Without it we could do NOTHING! Better to be thankful for it. :-) ) That is followed by the morning prayers, a formalized prayer time when we “daven,” or pray for every thing on earth. It is quite beautiful. Then I put the coffee on to brew, have a little breakfast, and finally spend time in quiet just observing the morning around me and outside my living room or dining room window. This is a time I move into the spontaneous prayers and “chat” with G-d. THEN, I’m off to the races (so to speak!)  But this is how my day begins every day. This is why I really don’t like to be bothered by anyone for any reason during my first waking hour. This quiet time of gratitude and prayer sets the mood for my day. :-)

So, there you have it; another five question Friday. I hope your day and your weekend is magnificent and filled with gratitude for life! Seeya next week!!! :)

Five Question Friday: Nov. 25, 2011

Well, I’m a day late, but that is a testament to the wonderful time I am having with my family. Seeing folks I haven’t seen in decades is mind-boggling, and fun! We’ve eaten good food, shared many laughs, cried a few tears, and have said over and over that we will not wait so long again to do this! Family gatherings in our home are cherished. I hope your family gatherings have been joyful, too.

Now, on to the five question Friday questions! (with a few minor changes to suit our traditions.)

1. Is there a special dish you prepare that you are famous for?

Not really. I can put together a really good meal on special occasions, but I am really not known for my cooking. I do bake a mean Amaretto Cake, and I make great salads. But special dish that I am famous for???? Nahhhh…. Not me.

2. Are you (did you) go Black Friday shopping ?

I am not now, nor have I ever been a big shopper. I have never participated in the Black Friday shopping event, nor do I ever plan to. I don’t get it, although I have friends and family who look forward to it and treat it almost as if it is a sporting event. I will just enjoy that distinctly American custom vicariously through them.

3. What are your strangest holiday traditions?

We observe the Jewish holidays, and by some folks standards we have some strange traditions and observances, too many to go through here. But Succot has some beautiful traditions that may appear strange, like eating in the Sukkah, or shaking the lulav.

4. Pecan or pumpkin pie? (She actually asked “Apple or pumpkin?” I just T-giving’ed it!)

I love both, but pecan has got to be a favorite of mine. I’ll leave it at that.

5. When will you put up your Christmas tree?  Chanukah begin this year?

We light the first Chanukah candle on the evening of December 20 this year. We will light a candle each night for eight nights to commemorate the miracle of the oil centuries ago. I will write more about this as we near that beautiful holiday (it’s closing in on Midnight now, and to be honest, I just don’t have the energy.)

Well that is it for this week. I hope to be back up to par next week, and I will fill you in on some of our strange traditions in the weeks to come. But for now, I’m signing off. Hope you and yours (in the USA) had a wonderful Thanksgiving day. For those of you beyond our borders, may your lives be filled with gratitude. Thanks for stopping by.