The lights we kindle on Hanukkah may commemorate a miracle that secular Jews may disdain as a fairy tale, but they are also a reminder that it takes the extraordinary efforts and faith of ordinary Jews to keep the flame of Jewish civilization alive. That’s something the growing numbers of American Jews of “no religion” should embrace, writes JNS Editor in Chief Jonathan S. Tobin.
Hanukkah and children’s books go together like latkes and applesauce. These days, the marketplace overflows with books that reflect both the holiday’s miracles and the nuances of growing up Jewish in the 21st century. Experts say there’s a certain quality of magic in the best of these books—making them the kinds of gifts that keep giving. “They have to celebrate being Jewish in a diverse world and transmit powerful values to the new generation,” says Joy Getnick, director of Jewish life at the Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester.
Is it possible to stay entertained for “eight crazy nights?” For the wintertime extravaganza of Hanukkah, Israel offers a wide selection of cultural, culinary and religious activities to pack any tourist or resident’s schedule. Ahead of Hanukkah 2017, JNS presents eight ways to mark the holiday—one for each night—in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish state.
Sukkot in Israel is high season for tourism, as visitors from around the world arrive in the Jewish state to enjoy the plethora of cultural and religious festivities surrounding this biblically mandated festival. It is considered one of the happiest times of the year. JNS.org details some of the top events taking place in Israel during Sukkot 2017.
For an increasingly large share of American Jewry, the High Holidays bring a new set of challenges that go to the very core of one’s faith. According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent comprehensive survey of American Jewry, 58 percent of Jews marry outside the faith, up from 46 percent in 1990. Unlike other Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, which sometimes overlap with major Christian or secular holiday periods, the High Holidays fall in September or October. Rabbi Jillian Cameron, a Boston-based regional director for Interfaith Family, a national organization supporting interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life, told JNS.org that the High Holidays “are an intense period of time in the Jewish world, full of introspection, difficult and complex theology, and thousands of years of tradition. For many families, interfaith or not, the High Holidays can seem overwhelming.”
High Holiday sermons are a rabbi’s chance to impart priorities and views to congregants with the maximum possible impact. Yet at a time when many synagogues are increasingly blurring the line between their activities and politics, rabbis must ponder just how far they want to go in either venting their own opinions or pandering to the prejudices of their audiences, writes JNS.org Opinion Editor Jonathan S. Tobin.
Judaism’s High Holidays are a time for prayer, introspection and for those fortunate enough, inspiration. Amid the headlines on terrorism and political disputes, some prominent newsmakers in the Israel and Middle East scene gave us something to smile about or admire during this past year. Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, JNS.org spotlights high-profile individuals who made a positive difference—sometimes in unexpected ways—during the Jewish calendar year of 5777.
Despite relative isolation from their Jewish brethren around the world for millennia, Ethiopian Jews have coveted the same dream of celebrating Rosh Hashanah “next year in Jerusalem.” Though unique, the Jewish New Year festivities in Ethiopia bear many similarities to the holiday’s observance in the broader diaspora. Limor Malessa, who grew up in a small Ethiopian village near the Jewish community of Gondar, recalled how “kessim” (religious leaders) would “rise before dawn on the holy day, to begin the first prayer service of the day before sunrise.”
After her husband Jerry died, Harriet Vogel started writing letters to him “because it was therapeutic and comforting.” Eventually, at age 73, she met her current love online—after grieving sufficiently to be open to someone new. Indeed, Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, an expert on Jewish marriage who teaches at the Ohr Somayach yeshiva in Jerusalem, recommends to “allow yourself the time to work through the grief before attempting love again.” At the same time, Breitowitz says, “in life and love, second chances can be deep and loving.”
Recent visitors to Israel’s Caesarea National Park have witnessed a beehive of activity, with cordoned-off areas hidden under scaffolding and dozens of workers digging to reveal the layers of the ancient Mediterranean port’s controllers over time. Major plans are afoot to uncover more of the multi-layered, 125-acre archaeological haven situated midway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, in an effort to attract larger numbers of tourists. Michael Karsenty, CEO of the Caesarea Development Company, declares that once the $27.5 million development project is completed, Caesarea will rival Jerusalem as “the main tourism site in Israel.”
Cross the August Bridge over the Elbe River towards the Old Oity of Dresden on a tour bus, and you’ll likely hear “oohs” and “aahs” from tourists as they behold the restored Baroque skyline that made Dresden the “Florence of the Elbe.” The infamous Anglo-American firebombing of February 1945 turned the Old City into rubble. Yet while other German cities suffered equal or greater devastation, Dresden captures the public’s imagination because the city houses some of the world’s most stunning Baroque churches and palaces. “About 10 years ago, American tourists had no idea what they were going to see,” said Nadav Gablinger, CEO of Gablinger Tours, a company offering Dresden day trips led by Hebrew-speaking and English-speaking guides. “They were in shock when they arrived in Dresden. They expected ruins.”
Self-driving cars. Drip irrigation. Missile defense. Milk? Amid all the buzz around Israel’s “start-up nation,” including Intel’s recent $15 billion acquisition of Mobileye, a lesser-known phenomenon is the high-tech and hyper-efficient Israeli dairy industry. Surprised? Don’t be. The combination of Israelis’ high demand for dairy products and the Jewish state’s well-documented ingenuity makes the cutting-edge dairy industry a natural development in the “land flowing with milk and honey.” The demand for dairy in Israel is particularly high for Shavuot, when eating dairy is a holiday tradition.
Lag B’Omer isn’t one of the best-known Jewish holidays—though some may notice that the men whose faces have grown fairly fuzzy following Passover are suddenly clean-shaven again. On his deathbed, famed sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai instructed his students to mark the date of Lag B’Omer as “the day of my joy.” Through the centuries, Lag B’Omer has remained a celebratory day. JNS.org presents the top 10 ways to fete the 33rd day of the Omer period.
Passover’s mostly gluten-free diet won’t have many health consequences for most Jews observing the holiday—but it could have some real benefits for some of them. Eight days is just long enough for a gluten-free diet to result in noticeable health gains for people who may have celiac disease without realizing it. Improvements in digestion, energy level or sense of mental clarity during a weeklong bread, pasta and beer-free holiday could indicate that someone has an undiagnosed celiac condition, explains Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Northwell Health’s Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Last summer, Israeli teen Yoav Madani was offered something most kids would jump at: an overseas trip with his family. But his response to the invite surprised his parents. “No thanks,” he said. “I’d rather go back to camp.” As it turns out, for the last three years, Yoav’s summer camp has been anything but ordinary. “Since I’m in camp with kids from 30 countries like Italy, Greece, America and England, it’s like I am going overseas,” said the 16-year-old from Netanya. Yuval’s experience is a microcosm of the broader goals of the Big Idea camps, where children from around the world get a taste of Israel’s culture of innovation.