Monthly Archives: December 2007


I received an email a little earlier today:

Subject: John Newmark added you as a friend on Facebook…
Body: John added you as a friend on Facebook. We need you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with John.

To confirm this friend request, follow the link below:

The Facebook Team

Yes, I have an account on Facebook.
No, I didn’t send myself a friend request.
I’m not *that* desperate.

My first thought was this was a spam message. I’ve gotten messages *supposedly* sent from myself before. But usually I want me to buy drugs in those messages, and usually I ignore them. Because I was taught to just say no.

So I didn’t click on the email link. Too risky, that. I just typed Facebook’s URL into my browser by hand. And voila – there was a friend request waiting for me. From myself. Though the picture next to my request didn’t look like me.

So I sent myself a message. Thought about quoting Admiral Stockdale. “Who am I and what am I doing here?” But I went for something a little more mundane.

We shall see how I respond.

(There are those who say that talking to oneself is ok, as long as you don’t answer. I might be in trouble.)

On the Eighth day of Hanuka

On the Eighth day of Hanuka YouTube gave to me eight nights of presents

Eight Crazy Nights! What would a YouTube Hanuka be without Adam Sandler?

But did you know there was an Aussie Punk version?

And what would a discussion of ????? be without even a brief mention of the giving of presents?

As much as some do try to argue that there are traditional reasons why a family might exchange presents on the Jewish holiday – it is a festive occasion – the primary reason it is done is so the child doesn’t feel ‘left out’. One solution is to exchange presents on December 25th. That preserves the Jewish holiday to be celebrated with the appropriate traditions. Some consider this ‘giving in’ and since Hanukkah is about resisting forced assimilation, they do their best to resist. Are there any other choices?

This isn’t the best time to be providing options — everyone for this year has already made a decision — but there is always next year. Presents can be exchanged on any day of the year.

New Years used to be a traditional day for Christians to exchange presents. Most Jewish Americans celebrate New Years even though it’s the ‘Christian Calendar’, because it is also the secular calendar. If you asked me what day it is, I would tell you it is December 12th. I could tell you that with a second’s thought. I’d have to look up the day on the Hebrew calendar. (Thankfully, now my blog is a place to go for that.) I will be at a New Years Eve party getting sloshed this year, like most years. I don’t think this is unusual, but I have never lived in an Orthodox home, so I can’t say for sure.

In a novel I began writing several years ago I had a family come up with a somewhat more unusual solution. I’m not sure the novel will ever be finished, so I might as well release the idea here. It works best with a family of at least two children.

1) Presents can be given any day of the month of December.
2) The gift giving is anonymous. The person giving the gift doesn’t sign their name to it. Leaves it where the receiver will find it, and know it is for them. This can be accomplished with pre-generated name stickers (so handwriting isn’t detectable) – or just leaving it on the individual’s bed, assigned chair at the dining room table, etc.

The smaller the family the more likely it is the children will be able to figure out who gave what, but if multiple smaller gifts are exchanged, or if extended family like aunts, uncles, cousins are brought into it, it will become more difficult. However, the point is to teach them the pleasures of giving for the sake of giving, without expecting any thanks in return. The ‘third’ rung on Maimonides ladder. Giving gifts to friends and relatives isn’t the same thing as giving tzedakkah (charity), but there is enough of a parallel. And by making the giving into a game, the giving becomes just as fun for the child as the getting.

At least, that’s the idea. I don’t know if it’s a good one. It hasn’t been tried to my knowledge. You’re free to try it next year. If you do, let me know how it works out.

Topsy Turvy world of NYC

Jewish kids return from Khanike party in NYC subway holding Menorah. Christian kids, wish them “Merry Christmas”. Jewish kids respond “Happy Khanike”. Christian kids, slightly confused, accuse Jewish kids of murdering Jesus on Khanike. Jewish kids “turn the other cheek.” Christian kids attack, but Muslim kid intercedes and stops beating.


Khanike gift

Back in 1993 KDHXtv filmed an open mic at the now deceased Wabash Triangle Cafe. It aired on a special on public access television in the city. I never saw it, and only heard rumors about it. No one I asked had a copy.

Until a few months ago. Someone I mentioned it to said, “Yes, I have a copy.” Only 15 years later. He created a DVD of just my performance.

The picture at the left is a screenshot from that performance. That’s me, 15 years ago, reading a poem on the stage of the Wabash Triangle Cafe.

On the seventh day of Hanukka

On the seventh day of Hanukka YouTube gave to me seven sons refusing

The video above is of the song, Who Can Retell which is probably the second most common religious song sung on Hanukka (second to Maoz Tzur). It contains the lyrics, “in every age a hero or sage came to our aid.” Many would label Judah Maccabee and his followers as the heroes of the Hanukka story. However, there are eight other heroes who occasionally get short shrift: Hannah and her seven sons. Her sons are known, not for what they did, but for what they refused to do, and at what cost.

There are two versions, however. In one version they are commanded by Antiochus to eat pork, and they refuse, one by one, eldest to youngest, each seeing their brother die for his refusal. In another version, they refuse to bow down.

The difference is important, because all but three of the 613 commandments are breakable “to save a life.” The three unbreakable commandments are 1) Murder. No one but G-d has a right to decide who should live and who should die. So killing one person so another can live isn’t permissible. This, of course, doesn’t include self-defense. Self-defense isn’t murder, and isn’t considered a violation of a commandment. However, this does include suicide. Killing yourself so someone else can live is deciding their life is more important than your own. Virtuous in some religions, this is viewed as usurping G-d’s role. 2) Biblically prohibited sexual relations. (There is some disagreement between branches of Judaism on which these are.) 3) Idolatry. (more)

The kosher dietary laws aren’t in that list of three. So if Antiochus commanded the children to ‘merely’ eat pork, shouldn’t they have done so to save their life? The answer is that some feel when the entire religious community is threatened, instead of just one individual, it becomes admirable to refuse to break any commandment. It’s the only time that martyrdom is actually encouraged.

Here’s a short poem I wrote about fifteen years ago, and which appeared in an early chapbook:

inferiority complex

Hannah’s seven sons sacrificed their lives
refusing to bow down
to King Antiochus.

Surrounded by the Romans nine hundred and sixty
men women and children ended their own lives
on Mount Masada.

I meanwhile have difficulty getting to the synagogue
more than two or three times a year and the dietary laws
are inconvenient.

On the Sixth day of Januca

On the Sixth Day of Januca YouTube gave to me six muppets singing

Notes: The video actually contains four songs. The first one is six muppets singing about “What Do You Do with a Menorah?” This song is followed by “Latke Boogie Woogie” and “Spinderella”. In these two songs a few other muppets make an appearance. The original six do make a reappearance at the end in “Chanukah Blessing & Round.”

All four songs are really cute, and should be fun for kids. For a holiday without any ‘carols’ I’ve sure found a lot of fun songs on YouTube. t I wish they had existed when I was a kid. Or I wish I had known about them.

As near as I can tell from my internet research, ‘Janucá‘ isn’t just a possible Spanish spelling, it is the common Spanish spelling.

For those who may be worried…the end is in sight. I’ve picked out the videos for the last two days already. The notes could get long on both.

New plugin

I have added a wordpress plugin today. It should be rather obvious to regular visitors.

Now all my readers can know how old the Earth is, according to the Jewish calendar. (Some say this is just the number of years of Mankind’s existence, and this assumption does make it, relatively speaking, more accurate, but it is still likely off a bit.)

The plugin can be found here.

On the Fifth day of Khanike

On the Fifth day of Khanike YouTube gave to me five golden rings five torah books.

Notes: First, the spelling in the header may look real unusual, and you may think I made it up, but it is the spelling that the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research came up with as the ‘standard’ transliteration for the Yiddish and Ashkenazic pronunciation of the holiday.

Second, I decided that today would be where the two holiday songs briefly merged. The one I am composing, if you will, and the original Christmas version. Because the Twelve Days of Christmas, as a song, may have a history that resembles some of Khanike’s traditions. Some say it originated in 16th century England during religious persecution as a sort of mnemonic device to teach catechism. (Others argue there is no hard evidence for this.) This is similar to the popular story that the dreidel originated in ancient times when the Syrian Greeks forbade the study of Torah. Alas, this origin story has been refuted as well.

The Five Gold Rings in the 12 Days of Christmas are supposed to represent the Five Books of Moses — which is the Torah. Khanike doesn’t appear in the Torah, it appears in the Book of Maccabees. (There is only one Book of Maccabees in the Jewish scriptures. Some non-Jewish scriptures have a second one.) This is why Khanike is considered a ‘minor’ holiday to some. Not minor in its importance, but since there are no Torah commandments relating to it, there are no required observances. One of the 613 commandments is that no additional commandments be written. So any holiday that commemorates events that occurred after the events in the Torah have no required observances/rituals associated with them. There are traditions, but that’s different. So there’s no requirement to rest from work, or to go to the synagogue during the eight days, except of course there is a requirement to rest from work on the Sabbath, and there is always at least one of those during any 8 days.

While Khanike isn’t in the Torah, the Torah is certainly important to Khanike, as the holiday centers around freedom to practice one’s religion.

The video choice contains the Miami Boys Choir singing a medley of two Khanike blessings, and three songs. It includes Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), which is probably the most popular religious song for Khanike. You can find several videos of different choirs singing this song, but I chose the Miami Boys Choir video for two reasons. 1) I felt the voices of the children were more uplifting then the voices of the adults in most of the other videos. 2) The song is completely in Hebrew in all versions, but this is the only video I saw that has subtitles, and I know a lot of my readers don’t understand Hebrew.

On the Fourth day of Hannukah

On the fourth day of Hannukah YouTube gave to me: Four dreidel sides

(three folk stars, two BNLs, and a lesson in the spelling)

Notes: A dreidel is a spinning top with four sides. Here’s what I wrote about dreidels three years ago. Contains variants on the game to balance out the odds, as well as ‘adult’ variants. Also explains what the Hebrew letters on the dreidel mean.

The video above is ‘interesting’ in that it’s a guy singing about playing with his dreidel all day long. And it never shows us a picture of what his dreidel looks like. If your mind is like mine, the song is hilarious.