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Last Friday, a small group of RAC staff members attended President Obama's remarks at Adas Israel for Jewish American Heritage Month. We were honored to be in attendance, and it was wonderful to hear the President's reflections on the contributions Jewish Americans have made to the United States, as well as his own personal connections to the Jewish community.
Green Kislev and Hanukkah Challenge to Use CFL Light BulbsWelcome to December and the Jewish month of Kislev! Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, is just around the corner and as the days shorten towards the winter equinox later this month, it seems fitting to focus on how we light our houses for this month’s Green Challenge.
As we approach the joyful holiday season, it is important to remember the challenges that so many across the world continue to face. Malaria, which is transmitted from the bite of a single mosquito, causes 200 million illnesses per year and kills more than 600,000 people, most of whom are children under the age of five. Jewish tradition teaches us that human life is sacred because all of humanity is created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Thus, we must make sure to treat each life with equal value, and fight this disease that is both treatable and preventable.
I get asked a lot if I’m “half.” Often, people are referring to my mixed Caucasian and Asian American heritage, their curiosity sparked by my Korean last name on my Jewish business card or by whatever other seeming tip arises on a given day. Other times, particularly as the holidays overlap in December and my family brings out our menorah alongside our Christmas tree, people ask whether I’m “half Jewish,” assuming my dual holiday celebration must mean some part of me is not Jewish. They couldn’t be more wrong.
This time of year, it’s hard not to be drawn into conversations about the place of religious expression in public life. Christmas decorations abound, and religious minorities play up the celebration of a winter holiday to stake out a place in their communities. There is always a conversation about how important Hanukkah is in the Jewish tradition, probably a result of the effort I described to feel represented in a community or society where there is a widely-celebrated religious holiday. Often, communities, local governments – particularly schools – also struggle with this question of representing different religions. The December Dilemma, as it is often called, describes the often uncomfortable conversation parents, students and other community members have to have about how not to make people feel alienated in their community.
The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabee resistance over the Syrians led by Antiochus Epiphanes. The Syrians had taken over Jerusalem, desecrated the holy Temple, abolished Judaism, prohibited observance of Shabbat and the Festivals, in addition to outlawing critical Jewish rites like circumcision. The Jews were given two options by Antiochus, conversion or death. The first night of Hanukkah -- 25 Kislev -- commemorates the day the Temple was renamed for the Greek god Zeus, and the resistance movement led by the Maccabees developed. The Maccabees, led by Mattathias and Judah, ousted the Syrians and restored Jerusalem to the Jewish people.
Tu BiSh’vat, also known as Chamishah Asar BiSh'vat (the fifteenth day of the month of Sh'vat) is commonly known as the New Year for trees and falls this year on February 3. Historically, it was the date on which trees in Israel were determined to be mature enough for their fruit to be harvested. Tu BiSh’vat was the date designated because by then, the early winter rains had largely subsided and the period of “budding” was just commencing, making the holiday a celebration of renewal.
Welcome to the Jewish month of Shevat and (if you’re on the East Coast) to Storm Juno. While you’re inside waiting out the snow, take this time as an opportunity to take the Green Sh’vat Challenge and make your life a little greener. Unfortunately, massive snowstorms don’t counteract the fact that climate change is real, human-caused and happening quickly. The Green Shevat Challenge is one small, easy way to reduce our carbon footprint by making small changes to our daily routines.
In search of a unique gift for the social justice junkie in your life? Look no further than our Social Justice Hanukkah Gift Guide, with eight suggestions full of tzedek – one for each night!