Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Light up the nights

Hanukkah, Hannuka, Chanukah, spell it how you will, it's a fun-filled eight-days of celebration. 

Syrian Hellenists grew frustrated with the Jews because they refused to back down on "illogical" practices like circumcision at eight days and purity laws. 
When they couldn't change the Jews minds with logic, they resorted to violence and trashing the Temple in Jerusalem.
A brave family (the Chashmonaim) launched a guerrilla assault against the well-trained, powerful Greek-Syrian army. 
The Jews one. 
When they reclaimed the Temple, they couldn't find any pure oil to light the Menorah-candelabra (in their anti-purity zeal, the Hellenists had defiled every jug of oil).
When they eventually found a tiny jug, G-d broke the laws of Nature & made the drops of oil burn for eight days. 

From Wednesday 1 December, light your Menorah/Chanukiya each evening after sunset.
On night 1, light 1. Night 2, light 2 etc,
[For the relevant blessings, click here]

A kosher Chanukah candelabra has eight branches in a straight row at equal heights, plus a distinct branch for the "shamash" (lighter).

First prize = Olive oil. Otherwise, those colourful candles are good too.

Your candles need to burn for at least half an hour after dark (that's especially tricky on Shabbat, when you need to light the Chanukah lights before the Shabbat candles).

Sit and watch your candles for a while. 
Women shouldn't work while the candles are burning (that's right, guys, you do dishes...).

During the Amidah and Birkat Hamazon (blessing after a meal), add the "Al Hanissim" paragraph that thanks G-d for the Chanukah miracles.

Give your kids Chanukah pocket money (especially on the 5th night).
Also give extra charity each day of Chanukah.

Chanukah's famous game of spinning dreidel is great fun. 
[How to play]

The Chanukah miracle is about oil- and so are the foods. Latkes and donuts or anything fried will do. 

Chanukah is the festival of Jewish mysticism, take a resolution to study some.

Have a fantastic Chanukah!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Times Square was buzzing last Wednesday evening. I guess Times Square buzzes 24/7, 365 days a year, but last week was extraordinary. If you've visited New York's landmark thoroughfare, you'll recall the dazzling HD screens that turn night into day and flash commercials in your face.  It's where street vendors tout comedy shows and tickets to heaven to a sea of photo-snapping Asians, star-struck couples and scowling, scurrying locals. The "Crossroads of the world", you'll remember, is bounded by the Theatre Disctrict, One Times Square (from which they drop the New Year's Ball), the New York Hard Rock Cafe and, of course, Toys R Us. 

Last week's action unfolded outside the mega toy-store. We were dedicated parents, foraging for gifts to take home and almost missed  the "You are the controller" shirts that every sales representative there wore. Satisfied with our purchases, we stepped out into the refreshing evening chill, to be accosted by lavender signs on every building flashing "You are the controller". That was when we noticed the line.

The line stretched from the toy mecca's entrance to the end of the block, where it twisted right and continued a few hundred metres down the road. As we watched, it grew. More and more people, dressed for the freeze, some with chairs and blankets, took their places in line. They planned to spend the night on line, so they'd be poised to storm the shop as doors opened in the morning and the newest have-to-have gadget, the Xbox Kinect would come on sale. Kinect technology replaces the joystick or game controller with the player. Instead of pushing buttons, on-screen characters mirror your body's movements as you play. With Kinect, you are the controller of a virtual world.

Half a block away, we boarded the subway for Crown Heights, where I would stand in line to register for the Shluchim Conference- a weekend of spiritual upliftment. It would be a weekend of true connect, one that would empower each participant to be the controller of their piece of this world, to make it a better place.