It's the same problem every year: There are a million songs about Xmas and three about Chanukah. OK, maybe not quite that, but you get the idea. In a world where "Chanukah O' Chanukah" and "I Had a Little Dreidel" just won't do, songwriter Adam Chester created a holiday miracle: a real Chanukah song that is being played on the radio that you and your parents can sing -- together: "Eight Days and Nights."
We are a people who have suffered enormously. Given our experience with suffering and its regular inclusion in our calendar, Tisha B'Av ought to be easy to commemorate. But it is set at a time when we are most disinclined to mourn. Thus, Tisha B'Av becomes the most challenging day in the Jewish year, the one whose spirit is hardest to feel.
But unlike Rosh Hashanah -- which has the irresistible attraction of a new year and a new beginning -- and other holidays that have their own attractions, Shavuot seems to miss that special sizzle that could engage mainstream Judaism.
Lag B'Omer, literally the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer -- the period between Passover and Shavuot -- is a relatively minor Jewish holiday that in recent years has become more popular among spiritually seeking Jews. It marks the day that the plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students ended; it also marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who some think wrote the primary Kabbalistic text, the Zohar. The holiday has always been observed by the Orthodox, and in Israel, it's celebrated nationally and is a school holiday, but these days, some non-Orthodox synagogues, Jewish youth and singles groups and others have also taken to the beach to build fires, sing and revel in the fun.
The current schedule was adopted by Orthodox schools in the last two decades, when the Orthodox community made a collective decision to follow a halachic ruling by the great contemporary sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, according to Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School in Valley Village and president of the Bureau of Jewish Education's Yeshiva Principal's Council.
My earliest High Holiday memory goes back to about age 7. It was the night before Yom Kippur and my parents had gone off to the synagogue, leaving my 10-year-old brother and me with a babysitter. I forgot that I wasn't supposed to eat anything that night, went into the kitchen, got on a chair to get a banana from the top of the refrigerator, peeled it halfway down and put it into my mouth.
My brother shouted, "You can't do that!"
It may be the season for planting trees, but Yosef Abramowitz is pushing for sundae-making this Tu B'Shevat. In what he calls a "revamped" and "recast" seder in honor of the New Year of Trees, Abramowitz and the staff of BabagaNewz, an educational magazine for Jewish kids, are teaching would-be arborists to plant "seeds of hope" in the form of nuts and candy, using cookie crumbs instead of dirt, and wishes instead of water.
Spiritually devoid? Downright ridiculous?
Add Tamir Goodman's name to the small Hebrew school sports pantheon.
Purim, sometimes called the Feast of Esther, is one of the happiest of all Jewish holidays. It marks the liberation of the Jews from the cruel prime minister, Haman, through the heroism of the beautiful and good Queen Esther. The story states that she was a vegetarian while in the king's court in ancient Persia. Yes, before it was the fashion, Queen Esther was a connoisseur of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, but poppy seeds were said to be her favorite. It is in her honor that on Purim, poppy seeds find their way into salads, kugels and pastries.
I'm a vegetarian. So why were there six pounds of brisket in my oven last week? Because Max, my 15-year-old son, loves it. When he was 9 we went to my friends the Weisses for seder, and he ate brisket. He never forgot it. Two years later he asked me if I could get "Arlene's recipe" and make a brisket. When I called her and told her Max asked for her brisket recipe, she wept.
So last week I made brisket.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
This night is different because I, a person who equates working in the kitchen with working on a chain gang, cook most of the multicourse Passover meal. Singlehandedly and from scratch, I might add.
Purim is upon us. Time to stock up on story books to share: