Everyone has the same shopping countdown this year: Dec. 25th is also the first night of Chanukah. With holiday-season commercialism rising exponentially each year, the plethora of items for purchase can be blindingly confusing for even the savviest shopper. Whether it's finding something for your non-Jewish co-worker or your husband's Tanta Miriam, the pressure's on.
Easing the strain of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, however, are products like The Box of Questions. These boxes come in four varieties -- Thanksgiving, Shabbat, Christmas and Chanukah -- and are attractively decorated to suit their respective themes. Each contains a set of 35 thought-provoking questions about its event, like, "What does the Christmas spirit mean to you?" and "If you could invite anyone in the world to your home for Shabbat, who would it be?" There are also little prizes, such as a dreidel, thrown in.
The boxes come with instructions, but these are more like suggestions on how to facilitate the discussion.
The ladies behind the boxes, Heidi Haddad and Cece Feiler, were searching for a way to entertain their families during an indelibly long wait for their orders to arrive. They came up with round after round of challenging questions about what makes family so important or what values people cherish the most and why. The activity was a big hit, so Cece and Heidi decided to share their method for having great family discussions by taking the trivial out of the pursuit.
Now known as The Box Girls, Haddad and Feiler donate all proceeds from the sale of the boxes to various charities. The boxes are sold at high-end retailers, such as Saks and Fred Segal's, for $19.95 and are also available online, at www.theboxgirls.com. -- Staff Report
The martini on the cover of "The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music" (Craig N' Co, $14.98) should give you some idea of what to expect from the songs inside -- it has a blue olive with a Star of David toothpick sticking out of it.
The entire CD should help turn any Chanukah party into the most swinging event of the season. Craig Taubman's version of "Maoz Tsur" is as smooth as a gob of sour cream on a latke, with a drumbeat and clarinet background that will definitely get your head moving.
The chimes in Scott Leader's "Hanukkah o Hanukkah" make the song sound like something one might hear at a day spa during a massage. Don't be surprised if your guests get up and dance a little salsa to the Afro-Semitic Experience's "Descarga Ocho Kandelikas." Even the simplistic "I Have a Little Dreidl" gets a grown-up treatment -- it sounds almost dreamlike. And, of course, what Chanukah CD would be complete without the candle blessing?
The collection is part of the Celebrate Series (www.celebrateseries.com), which features well-known contemporary Jewish musicians, providing "soundtracks" for Jewish life and celebration. -- Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer
A cookbook with recipes for every Jewish holiday is nothing new, but one that can fit in your purse -- that's something to celebrate. "Jewish Holiday Feasts," by Louise Fiszer and Jeannette Ferray (Chronicle Books, $9.95), offers healthy, delicious and relatively simple ideas for every major Jewish holiday, as well as for Shabbat.
Of course the Chanukah suggestion of Spinach Salad With Tangerines and Dried Cranberries sounds like it would be yummy at any time of the year. Other luscious entries include Strawberry, Pineapple and Mango Compote for Shabbat, Poached Salmon With a Yellow Mustard Sauce for Shavuot and Apricot-Almond-Chocolate Balls for Purim.
Each chapter also includes background on the holiday and -- in the cases of hamantaschen and latkes -- on the foods themselves. A bonus in the back of the book is an equivalent chart so you can send it to any friends or relatives who rely on the metric system. -- SL
Since it is sometimes easier for children to learn things from their friends than from a grown-up, "The Aleph Bet Story" ($15.95) features four new friends: Sarah, David, Ben and Rachel. The quartet, created by co-authors Diana (the mother) and Lily (the daughter) Yacobi, will not only teach your kids Hebrew, they'll do it in a fun way with humorous illustrations and commentary.
For example, the letter gimmel has a drawing of Sarah thinking of a large gimmel surrounded by high-heeled shoes. Seventh-grader David (who we are told likes basketball and soccer) comments: "Why is Sarah dreaming about ... shoes? Author Lily tells him: "Not just any shoes ... high-heel shoes! I bet you're wondering what high-heel shoes could possibly have to do with the letter gimmel. Well, let's say that gimmel looks like a high-heel shoe."
The great thing is even adults can learn from "The Aleph Bet Story," which is also available on CD ($8.95) featuring "Aleph Bet Rock" at www.sarahdavid.com. -- SL