11/28/21

Happy Hanukkah. But what is Hanukkah?

As so many people ask, What is Hanukkah?

If you are wondering what is the official meaning of Hanukkah as presented in Jewish liturgy, here is the text we insert for the holiday, no spin added,
And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time.

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will.
But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.

You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

And then of course the Talmud explains Hanukkah. Sorta.

There is no Mishnah or Talmud tractate for the festival of lights. Why is that? It is an incredible question. Not going to speculate. All we have in rabbinic literature is this.

The Talmud (Bavli Shabbat 21b) explains what is Hanukkah:

What is Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev commence the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.

For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit the lamp therewith for eight days. 

The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving.

What else is there to say? 

Dreidls, gelt, and latkes come later.

Our Amazing Incredible Hanukkah Avatar

Hanukkah has its own avatar. I wrote about how this works in my truly amazing favorite book, "God's Favorite Prayers."

...The concept of avatar has several meanings. First an avatar can be an embodiment or a personification of a substantial idea, for instance, "the embodiment of hope"; "the incarnation of evil"; "the very avatar of cunning." In some respects I describe in this book how the prayers serve as avatars of several diverse personalities. In this sense I can say that the Amidah is an avatar of the priest.

An avatar in the context of religions can have another meaning. In specific it is a manifestation of a Hindu deity, particularly Vishnu, in a human, superhuman or animal form. As an example of how the term is used is, “The Buddha is regarded as an avatar of the god Vishnu.” In this sense of the term, I created my archetypal avatars, such as my “priest,” as representatives of the core values that inhere in the prayers...

... The most recent technological application of the word avatar denotes a computer user's self-representation or alter ego, in the form of a three-dimensional model within a computer game, or as a two-dimensional icon picture on a screen, or as a single-dimensional username within an Internet community.

... On two special occasions, Hanukkah and Purim, we add paragraphs to the Amidah to describe the victories of heroic Jews of the past. I see these hero figures as avatars of the priest.

11/22/21

Thanksgiving Sermon of Rabbi Zev Zahavy from 1943

Here is my dad's incredible inspiring and uplifting sermon from 1943 for the holiday of Thanksgiving. It was a dark year in the history of humankind. Yet Rabbi Zahavy found ways to weave together precepts from our classical Jewish tradition to give hope and optimism to those who faced the bewildering frightening world of 1943.

I read this sermon every year and it inspires me more each time. My father was an impresario of the rabbinic pulpit.

Click here for Rabbi Zev Zahavy's 1943 Thanksgiving Sermon, published by the RCA, Rabbinical Council of America.





A big hat tip to Zechariah for finding this and sending it to us.

Thanksgiving Turkey Drumstick Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Pie Table Song - A Lone Pumpkin Grew

Thanksgiving is upon us and we sing traditional holiday songs at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Here are the words to one of our favorites...

Oh a lone pumpkin grew on a green pumpkin vine.
He was round
he was fat
he was yellow.
"No silly jack-o-lantern shall I make," he said.
"I'm determined to become a useful fellow."

So he raised up his head
when the cook came around
and at once he was chosen the winner.
His fondest wish came true
he was proud pumpkin pie
and the glory of the great thanksgiving dinner...

For the glory of the jack is in the lantern
as he sits up on the gatepost oh so high;
and the glory of the turkey is the drumstick
but the glory of the pumpkin is the pie.

Here's a YouTube 2009 home video of the song -- we don't know the folks -- it sounds like our familiar melody and we heartily endorse it.

10/17/21

Is the Film "The Endless Summer" Jewish?

My favorite movie is Bruce Brown's, The Endless Summer. No, it wasn't Jewish at all that is, until I made it into a metaphor for my quest for perfect Jewish spirituality and the inspiration for my book cover (see below). I haven't found any other Jewish connections to the film or the poster.

Vanity Fair has a story about the famous iconic Endless Summer movie poster. "One Summer, Forever: The Endless Summer poster is 50 years old, and it hasn't aged a minute. Kitchen-table project turned pop-culture phenomenon, the Day-Glo movie promo created by John Van Hamersveld for his friend Bruce Brown’s 1964 documentary is still selling the dream—on T-shirts, TV shows, beer bottles, and dorm walls. Lili Anolik looks back at the moment an iconic image was born, the social upheaval it presaged, and the surfer-dude-slash-designer whose life it changed."

In 1966 I saw a film that documented two boys seeking simple perfection in a quasi-mystical sport. IMDB sums up, "Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters."

The film spoke to me, as it did to many others of a more idealistic age. The essence of surfing of course is the wave. And the lover of surfing no doubt wants to embark on the quest for the best wave. To experience the performance of the essence is to find the perfect wave.

Brown's two surfer dudes found one in South Africa, see the video clip below.

Are Coronary Stents Kosher?

Yes, coronary stents are kosher. In fact they are a miraculous invention.

What are they? Wikipedia says: "A coronary stent is a tube placed in the coronary arteries that supply the heart, to keep the arteries open in the treatment of coronary heart disease. It is used in a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). Stents reduce chest pain and have been shown to improve survivability in the event of an acute myocardial infarction."

The coronary stent was invented by Julio Palmaz. The stainless steel, insertable mesh stent is expanded once inside the body to hold an artery open and allow blood to flow more freely. Palmaz secured funding for the development of the stent from restaurant owner Phil Romano (Fuddruckers and The Macaroni Grill). Palmaz co-developed the stent with Dr. Richard Schatz, a cardiologist at the time at the Brooke Army Medical Center. We would guess that Schatz is Jewish. They patented their invention in 1985.

The coronary stent is one of the greatest inventions of our time. The stent can be inserted through a small puncture in the groin or wrist and via balloon angioplasty it can open up quickly and with little to no pain a 99% occluded major coronary artery. The procedure takes about an hour and the patient is ambulatory after four hours and can resume many of his favorite activities :-) within one day.

To a person (like me) with CAD this rapid and amazing restoration of a person's quality of life is a true medical miracle of our times.

9/27/21

Pandemic Kohelet: An Israelite Form of Meditation: Ecclesiastes is a cynical reflection on life’s futility that we can resonate to now more than ever.

I think you will like this article published on TheTorah.com! Kohelet: An Israelite Form of Meditation. Ecclesiastes is a cynical reflection on life’s futility. The constant sonorous repetition, visualizations, and references to breath serve as a sustained meditation to help free the reader’s soul from the agonizing struggle of life.

   

Is Matt Amodio Jewish?

Is Matt Amodio, the astounding Jeopardy champion with over $1 Million in winnings, Jewish? 

Yes indeed Matt is a Jew according to celebrity columnist Nate Bloom - see this column.  

More up to date information will be posted here as we get it.

6/30/21

10 Years Ago: Tzvee and Talmud Hullin on the FYI Page 3 of the Jewish Standard

Click to Enlarge
Ten Years Ago: Larry Yudelson of the Jewish Standard of Teaneck wrote me up for their page three FYI column.

The Jewish Standard, Teaneck NJ
July 8, 2011


FYI
Local author puts Talmud translation on the web

As the seven-year cycle of daily Talmud study known as Daf Yomi began a new tractate last month, Tzvee Zahavy found himself running low on blog ideas.

Zahavy, a Teaneck resident, professor and rabbi, is also a blogger.

As the Daf Yomi project approached the beginning of the Babylonian Talmud tractate Hullin, Zahavy realized that he already had content.

"I figured it would be a service both to me in my own studies, and to my readers, if each day for 142 in all, I shared on my blog the text of my English translation of one page of the Talmud text," he said.

Zahavy translated Hullin as part of a series that was completed in 1995 by Professor Zahavy and others, called, "The Talmud of Babylonia. An American Translation." Sales of the set have been modest, in the thousands, he said.

The translation is now available in a new edition from a Christian publisher, Hendrickson, in both print and digital formats.

Artscroll’s English version of the Talmud is better selling, Zahavy said because it is Orthodox-approved and non-academic.

Zahavy said that the general public does not go out in great numbers to buy and read books of and about the Talmud. “Back in the late sixties, author Norman Mailer told us students in a lecture at Yeshiva College that he read the Soncino English Talmud every night at bedtime,” Zahavy said. “We saw that he was trying to impress us and he didn’t. We all knew that the Talmud is always studied seriously - it is never read at bedtime.”

Zahavy’s newest book is called “God’s Favorite Prayers.” The volume will be published in print and digital formats this summer by Talmudic Books, a new imprint that Zahavy started. He is confident that it will sell better than his Talmud translations.“More people pray than study,” he said.

--Larry Yudelson

6/12/21

Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 21st Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy (aleha hashalom).

We miss her so very much. She would have loved to see the progress of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and take pride in all of their accomplishments. She would have loved to read books to her great-grandchildren and to watch them play and grow.

She was born in NYC and attended the public schools in Washington Heights. She watched from her classroom window as they built the George Washington Bridge.

She graduated from Hunter High School, Hunter College and went on to a career in public service at the OPA and then into the field education. Together with my dad, she founded the Park East Day School when my father was rabbi at the Park East Synagogue, then called Congregation Zichron Ephraim. She subsequently taught in NYC public schools for many years.

She is interred on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem. Her beautiful memorial photo site is here.