Tag Archive | "Chanukah"

The miracle this recession year: Chanukah thrift shopping

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The miracle this recession year: Chanukah thrift shopping

Posted on 11 December 2008 by admin

By Edmon J. Rodman
LOS ANGELES (JTA) — This Chanukah, the miracle may need to come from your wallet. What with eight nights of family gift giving, many recession-year budgets might have only enough cash for five or six.
The miracle can still happen. Jewish thrift shopping can light your way.
For eight days we are required to demonstrate the nes, the miracle, in our windows. This year, beginning Dec. 21, the year’s longest night, you can show the candles’ flames anew with old menorahs purchased for students, family and friends at thrift shops.

This Chapter 11 year you may want to think outside the box store. Not all dreidels need be of clay. Thrift shops have them in porcelain, pine, silverplate and acrylic.
Jewish thrift shopping provides an opening not only to stretch your budget — chanukiot, Shabbat candlesticks, seder plates, books and artwork sell for a fraction of their original retail price — but to recycle many gently-used Jewish ritual items. Through buying and contributing to Jewish and other nonprofits, you can support organizations hard at work repairing our communities.
In Los Angeles, several organizations that operate thrift shops carry Judaica. The National Council of Jewish

Women runs several around town. The American Cancer Society runs Discovery Stores that sell chai pins and Star of David pendants. Beit T’Shuvah, the House of Return, an organization that provides a new beginning for Jews who have crossed paths with addiction and the law, carries chanukiot and Jewish-themed artwork.
Jews have a tradition of hiddur mitzvah, of beautifying a mitzvah, and what better way than by putting to new use a pair of old Shabbat candlesticks and supporting organizations that help people to recover and start anew?

Nationally, NCJW, Hadassah and ORT run resale shops with Judaica in many major cities. Many towns also have thrift shops run by Jewish federation councils and hospitals. ORT’s resale shops help support 300,000 students, as well as communities and families.

The Torah concept of bal tashchit, do not destroy, finds an application in Jewish thrift shopping. In its Talmudic interpretation, these words from Deuteronomy are an injunction against waste, of discarding what might still be of use.

Many of our grandparents immigrated here with very little, carrying with them a much different attitude than ours about product life. Their feelings toward what we call “reuse” can be summed up by the lyrics of the well-known Yiddish folk song “Hob Ikh Mir a Mantl (I Had a Little Coat)”:

“I had a little coat that I made long ago.

“It had so many patches there was no place to sew.

“Then I thought and I prayed and from that coat I made a vest.”

The song continues with the vest wearing out and being made into a hat, then a pocket, then a knepl, a button. Once that is gone, the tailor, left with nothing, makes a song of his experience.

Thrift shopping can be an adventure, a trip back in time. Each object has a story to tell that with a little observation and research you will be able to hear.

When you find a blue-green metal menorah, you’re back in the ‘60s. An olive wood “Shalom” challah cutting board says hello and goodbye to the ‘70s.

You might even make a discovery or two. A few years ago, on a tip from a friend, I visited the Hadassah thrift shop and found a box of numbered screen prints from a series titled “Scrolls of Fire.” Printed from a series of artworks that grace the walls of Beth Hatefutsoth, the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, the prints interpretively represent pogroms and tragedies of the Jewish people. The thrift shop price allowed me to buy more than 20. That year they formed the heart of a Tisha B’Av program held at my minyan.

On Chanukah many sing “Al HaNisim,” which commemorates the Maccabees’ victory and is a prayer of gratitude to God for performing miracles. A recent trip to a nearby Jewish thrift shop showed me that not all struggles and miracles occur at war.

Amid racks of suits, shirts and blouses, I saw spread before me on dusty bookcases and faded trays the detritus of a generation battling to keep its identity, tradition and hope.

I found prayer books with inscriptions to children at their bar or bat mitzvah, certificates of tree planting, kashrut instruction booklets and Hebrew instruction books of every level and size.

Thrift shop paintings have become hip as of late, and Jewish work is well represented. You will find rabbis at study and at table; rabbis in a hurry, tallit under arm; rabbis in acrylic, in oil, watercolor, paint by numbers; rabbis on velvet.

Making a thrift shop purchase this Chanukah and/or dropping off a bag or two of still-usable stuff begins a journey that brings us to the foot of Maimonides’ famous tzedakah ladder — a ladder where the highest rung is giving so that someone can become self-sufficient. It’s a rung that many thrift shop operators need your help to reach.

The miracle is in stepping up.

Edmon J. Rodman is a writer and designer of children’s toys and media.

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Balance kids’ high-tech hankerings

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Balance kids’ high-tech hankerings

Posted on 11 December 2008 by admin

By Sharon Duke Estroff

ATLANTA (JTA) — Notice anything unsettling about your kids’ Chanukah wish lists this year? A Maccabean je ne sais quoi that transcends the standard sticker shock?

Might it be that the latest lot of hot holiday “toys” are not actually toys at all?

You have the Disney Flix Video Camcorder ($79.99, Disney); the Barbie Digital Picture Frame with Remote Control ($99.99, Emerson Radio Corp.); and the Kid-Tough Portable DVD Player ($149.99, Fisher-Price). And, of course, some toys don’t even pretend to be toys, the crown jewels of high-tech Chanukah hauls: cell phones, iPods and laptop computers.

“We’re finding that kids have one foot entrenched in kid-dom and another entrenched in technology and things you might normally associate with adults,” says Leigh Anne Brodsky, the president of Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products, which has released a new line of branded electronics aimed at kids, including a $250 SpongeBob SquarePants flat-screen TV.

Experts say the concern over high-tech toys is not so much in their existence as it is in their rapid and aggressive replacement of the tried-and-true standbys — the good, old-fashioned, non-electronic, non-flashing, non-instantly-gratifying toys that long lit up children’s Chanukah wish lists — and their imaginations.

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are usually hidden in the back shelves, are usually much healthier for children than the electronic toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Ever wondered why archaeologists find baby dolls wrapped up with ancient Egyptian mummies, toy-sized chariots that date back to the days of Julius Caesar and cavern walls decorated with the prehistoric equivalent to crayons?

It’s because these objects are the timeless tools of childhood. They are essential springboards for learning about the way the world works, vehicles for exploration and experimentation, and props with which to practice being mommies, daddies, firefighters and schoolteachers. Childhood is a learning process by design, and traditional toys are a core part of the curriculum.

“The central importance of creative play in children’s healthy development is well supported by decades of research,” says Joan Almon, the coordinator of the U.S. branch of Alliance for Childhood, a worldwide organization that promotes healthy living for children. “And yet children’s play, in the creative, open-ended sense in which I use the term, is now seriously endangered.”

Sadly, there’s not much we parents can do to halt the societal evolution from Babes in Toyland to Kids in the Electronics Aisle. But we can rally back with a healthy balance. The following suggestions will help you keep creativity and imagination burning bright in your children for many high-tech Chanukahs to come.

•Limit screentime. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American child spends four to six hours a day zoned out in front of a screen, yet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting children to no more than two hours daily of television, computers and video games combined. Simply, if we don’t ever tell our kids to stop using electronic products, chances are they never will.

•Equip them with classic toys. Chanukah provides the perfect opportunity to gift our kids with springboards for creative play, such as puppets, building blocks, modeling clay and tea sets. “Your child gets to build his or her imagination around these simpler toys,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “The toys don’t command what your child does, but your child commands what the toys do.”

•Accept the mess. Exercising creativity can be a whole lot messier than playing video games or watching TV, so put old newspapers on the floor, cover the kitchen table with butcher paper, rope off an area of the house for childhood clutter to gather, then let your kids yuck it up.

•Pick worthwhile electronic toys and games. Just because a toy requires an electrical current doesn’t necessarily mean it’s devoid of value. Fulfill your kids’ high-tech hankerings without compromising their creativity by searching for electronic toys that offer opportunity for growth and imagination.

•Celebrate Shabbat. In the weekly Sabbath, we have a God-given day of rest from all things high-tech and a full 25 hours for kids to engage in essential, imaginative play. A special box full of battery-free playthings pulled out at sundown every Friday will get kids into the playful Shabbat spirit.

•Be a worthy role model. Admit it, we are addicted to high-tech toys just as much as our kids. So lock up the BlackBerry, unplug the Internet and take a much-needed screen siesta yourself. And should you happen to stumble upon a few superheroes imagining up adventures in the family room, be sure to join them in flight.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning educator and mother of four. She is a feature writer for more than 100 Jewish and secular publications, including Good Housekeeping and Parents magazines and the Jerusalem Post. Her Jewish parenting book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” (Broadway Books, 2007), is available where books are sold. Visit www.sharonestroff.com.

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New album tries to change Chanukah’s reputation

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New album tries to change Chanukah’s reputation

Posted on 11 December 2008 by admin

By Hadara Graubart
Nextbook

For any self-respecting cynic, it’s de rigueur to despise Christmas music — primarily for its relentlessness and the forced irony it creates in many, many otherwise joy-free environments (malls, car repair shops, pharmacies). Chanukah music has been saved from this fate by its obscurity, and as a result, the general public probably doesn’t realize just how limited and infantile the catalog really is. Then again, why shouldn’t it be? Winter holidays are under no obligation to have larger or more adult musical repertoires than other festivals — and Chanukah is most definitely a children’s holiday. Still, there is certainly no reason why its songs cannot be transformed into more pleasurable fare, or some new ones added to the mix. Along with a cadre of talented collaborators, Erran Baron Cohen (that would be neither Borat, nor the neuroscientist, but a third talented brother), has taken on the task, producing the new album “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah.”

Baron Cohen seems to be banking on the possibility that at the root of some Jews’ distaste for Christmas music is the fact that, by definition, it’s not ours. We may even envy the celebratory mood that the endless seasonal loop of Christmas music seems to engender in some people. But we don’t have a soundtrack to amplify those emotions in ourselves. Chanukah music can never compete when it comes to sheer volume, but if it were done well enough, we might actually listen to it. Don’t we deserve the opportunity to bask in our own nostalgia (not to mention a tiny dash of elitist superiority over impeccable production values and the multi-culti cachet of Sephardic music)?

“Songs in the Key of Hanukkah” starts off with the Jewish answer to “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the play-by-play rundown of the festivities known as “Chanukah Oh Chanukah.” While I never thought I would hear the word “sufgania” in a rap song, I’m not totally surprised — there’s been a bit of a trend toward Jewish novelty rap. But things start to get interesting when, in his klezmer-inflected take on “I Have a Little Dreidel” (the classic ode to DIY toy-making that has confounded generations of children whose dreidels are clearly mass-produced out of plastic), Jules Brookes growls the words “dreidel I shall play” as if he is singing about starting a rumble, not spinning a top. Later in the song, Brookes’ wailing might convince listeners that

“Dreidel” is actually the name of his tragically lost love. This drama provides a welcome makeover for a song about a soul-crushingly un-fun game.

Photo: Edmon Rodman Caption: Edmon Rodman purchased this selection of Judaica and books at thrift shops.

“Spin It Up” is, essentially, an instrumental remix of the same song’s Hebrew version, “Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov” (the main lyrics translate to “Chanukah is a good holiday”; they aren’t missed here). The pulsing electronic reggae imbues the ditty with a previously unmined sonic dignity that’s only slightly compromised by the chanting of the title phrase (possibly excusable as an allusion to DJ-ing).
The sultry Ladino tune “Ocho Kandalikas” has the benefit of not being in English, so its lyrics don’t sound as silly as they might otherwise. In this case, it also benefits from the sensational voice of Yasmin Levy. The

New Agey “Relics of Love and Light” includes just enough of Avivit Caspi’s Middle Eastern trilling to exalt it beyond yoga-class background noise. It has that certain quality often found in Israeli music (and actually, in a lot of things Israeli): it sounds a little cheesy, but is somehow still tough and sexy enough to be compelling.

Another original, “Look to the Light,” sounds so much like the 1970s hit “Dancing in the Moonlight” that I kept expecting someone to rhyme “light a candle tonight” with “supernatural delight.” With a folkie groove and painfully earnest lyrics — “We struggle for freedom, and tyranny tries to exert itself/But tyranny weakens, and in the end justice will prevail” — the song attempts to infuse Chanukah with a spirit typical of other modern Jewish festivities: the call to use our own history of oppression to inspire a fight for the greater good of all mankind. This sentiment is generally reserved for Passover, but there’s room for it here. (Ironists beware: In this song, when they say the word “echoes,” voices echo.)

“Rock of Ages” continues in this vein. Although it has a Top 40-ish intro that could suggest R&B or retro hip-hop, it is, in fact, another soaring ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a telethon; I could practically see the camera panning to each member of the chorus as they croon “All men free/Tyrants disappearing.” And though there are hints of gospel (especially in the repetition of “sheltering tower”), unexpectedly fresh backbeats keep this from sounding like one of those Christian rock songs that’s ostensibly about God, but sounds suspiciously like it’s about a hot lover.
The final track, “Ma’oz Tzur,” is the Chanukah song that most reminds me of Christmas carols, whether because of its ubiquity or some legitimate melodic symmetry. This rendition is no exception. If listeners have paid attention up to this point, they might already be feeling a bit uncomfortable after the previous track, a rap called “My Hanukkah (Keep the Fire Alive)” — which, via lines like “A nation awakened against assimilation,” “Down with Antiochus, up with all the priestly zealots,” and “How you gonna make a child of God become what he isn’t?” underscores some of the religious fundamentals of a holiday seen by many primarily as an occasion for latkes and candles. But either way, the sentimental finale can’t help but send a message — Joy to the World! — that leaves us carol-haters a bit uneasy.
Hadara Graubart is the music editor at nextbook.org.

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