Social Divisions & Politics In Israel Recap

AchshavYisraelLogo
On Sunday, January 28, the Achshav Yisrael committee of Beth Sholom presented Social Divisions & Politics In Israel with Professor Michael Shalev, a visiting professor and political scientist at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.

Professor Shalev explained that society in Israel is characterized by diversity, often superimposed on identity issues. How do these social divisions affect ideologies, parties, and voters in the Israeli political system? Shalev first described the various social groups he was talking about, including Haredim and members of the National Religious groups, North African or Arab Mizrachi Jews, African asylum seekers, people seeking work (i.e. foreign workers), Americans, Palestinian Arabs, Jewish settlers, Modern Orthodox Jews, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union (i.e. Russian speakers). He then detailed how these different social groups tend to divide themselves into specific parties and how important coalitions are in lining up political votes.

Shalev pointed out that Israelis vote for the party, not for a particular candidate. No party has ever won over 50% of the national vote. Coalitions are therefore critical, and sometimes small parties can be important players as they are needed to form a majority in a coalition. The President of Israel helps designate a party and encourages the formation of a coalition. As an interesting aside, Shalev noted that, unlike the United States, Israel does not allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote unless they are diplomats.

Historically, the Mapai or Labor Party has been dominant in Israel. Labor primarily consists of Ashkenazi middle and upper class Jews. In recent years, Shalev explained, Labor has lost ground, and deepening ideological divisions among voters have led to the rise of some new parties as well as a general political shift to the Right.

Below, we've included some snapshots of attendees chatting with one another and Professor Shalev.

ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.

Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: David Agam, Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, and Maureen Samson

Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat Is Back!

Facebook_FusionFridayKabbalatShabbatCBS is proud to announce the return of Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat service that provides its many participants with a transformative experience that is as moving as it is joyful.

Led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer, the Shir Hashirim EnsembleHazzan Richard Kaplan, violinist Lila Sklar, and Sheldon Brown (on clarinet, flute, saxophone, and bass clarinet) – will provide participants with an exquisite Friday night service featuring Jewish sacred music from around the world and drawn from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi traditions. Each Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat will incorporate contemplative prayer, mantra-like tunes, a Jewish/Turkish/Sufi zikr, klezmer and jazz accents, and beautiful Zoharic teachings and meditations by our own Rabbi Glazer. The prayer leaders, music, spirit, and ideas of the Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat series make the vital passage between the rest of the week and Shabbat the extraordinary experience that it should be! Shabbat is a gift. We hope you will celebrate it with us!

Let's sing together on Friday, March 16! The Fusion Friday service is free.

Communities of Inclusion Recap

AchshavYisraelLogo
On Saturday, October 21, the Achshav Yisrael committee of Beth Sholom presented Communities of Inclusion: Middle Eastern Jews in Israel's Modern Era with Tamar Zaken!

Tamar gave an overview of the Middle Eastern countries from where Arabic Jews, many refugees from persecution, emigrated to Israel and the kind of reception they received there. She talked about their systematic stigmatization in Israel, where Jews of European origin considered them "primitive," uneducated, uncivilized, lacking roots in Judaism, and a burden on Israeli society. The families were sent to the lowest kind of housing in the desert, and the children were often separated from their families so they could learn Hebrew and Israeli customs. They were almost exclusively channeled into vocational tracks in school. Over generations, the value of the Mizrachi culture has emerged and melded with Ashkenazi culture, beginning with music and food.

Tamar brought extremely expressive poetry from three Mizrachi poets and the group reflected on how their meaning reflected their feelings in their new homeland. She talked about the impact on the Mizrahi émigrés, their anger over their treatment, and how the new generations have integrated into the culture. The presentation was striking and engaging, and the audience discussed the challenges and impact of integrating thousands of émigrés from differing Middle Eastern Arabic homelands into modern Israel. One comment also noted the struggle to refocus the language of the Ashkenazi Jews away from Yiddish and onto Hebrew.

As part of the program, Achshav Yisrael also welcomed guest Maya Shemtov from the group JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa). Maya informed the group about resources to educate Americans about recapturing the heritage of Sephardic/Mizrachi spiritual traditions.

Beth Sholom and Achshav Yisrael will be hosting another event on Saturday, November 11. Join us for Jewish State or State of the Jews: The Role of the Conservative/Masorti Movement in the Israeli Religious & Cultural Leadership of the State featuring Yizhar Hess. Click here to learn more and to purchase tickets.

ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.

Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: David Agam, Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, and Maureen Samson

Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged Recap

This past Saturday evening, Jews from all over the city visited Congregation Beth Sholom to mark our entrance into the final days of preparation for the Yamim Noraim ("the Days of Awe"). A joint production of Beth Sholom, The Kitchen, Kehillah San Francisco, and Congregation Anshey Sfard, Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged made for a special night (and early morning!) – the spirited service didn't end until almost 2 a.m.!

The centerpiece of Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged was a communal singalong featuring brothers Yehuda and Nahman Solomon. (Yehuda is the frontman of the Israeli-American folk-rock band, Moshav, as well as founder of Los Angeles' Happy Minyan.) Yehuda and Nahman were joined by prayer leaders and hazzanim from all of the participating communities – together, they led the crowd in giving voice to Selichot, our tradition’s beautiful and penitential piyyutim (liturgical poems). According to Ashkenazi tradition, the recitation of Selichot begins after midnight on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah and, although our service didn't wind down until the wee hours, there was no shortage of energy and ruach in the Beth Sholom Sanctuary! Even at the end of the service, attendees danced, stomped, and swayed with the music and piyyut, awakening to the urgency of this moment and our need for teshuvah.

Before the main service began, attendees gathered for a lovely Havdalah ceremony and a community Selichot beit midrash co-led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer and Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan. The study session compared our traditional High Holy Days liturgy and selected lyrics of recently departed songwriter, Leonard Cohen (z"l). The takeaway from the session was the value of wrestling with the difficult personal work of teshuvah and cultivating a relationship with the divine (a struggle reflected in Cohen's poetry and lyrics).

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, the need for a commitment to teshuvah becomes increasingly urgent, but it is likewise important to balance the moments of reckoning with moments of joy. Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged provided both.

Thanks to the rabbis, performers, and prayer leaders who made the evening so moving and fun. Thanks, too, to all of the friendly folks from The Kitchen, Kehillah San Francisco, and Congregation Anshey Sfard who participated, making a memorable evening that much better. Todah rabbah, and l'shanah tovah u'metuka (for a good and sweet year)!

A selection of photographs and videos are included below. Please visit our Facebook page for more.

Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged Recap

facebook_yehudasolomonduvidswirsky_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016Almost two hundred people visited the CBS campus this past Saturday evening to mark our entrance into the final days of preparation for the Yamim Noraim ("the Days of Awe"). A joint production of CBS, the Mission Minyan, and The Kitchen, Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged made for a special night (and early morning!) – deeply affecting, joyous, and fun.

The centerpiece of the night was a communal singalong featuring Yehuda Solomon and Duvid Swirsky of the Israeli-American folk-rock band, Moshav. Yehuda and Duvid were joined by prayer leaders and hazzanim from CBS, the Mission Minyan, and the Kitchen – together, they led the crowd in giving voice to Selichot, our tradition’s beautiful and penitential piyyutim (liturgical poems). According to Ashkenazi tradition, the recitation of Selichot begins after midnight on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah (or the Sunday prior, if Rosh Hashanah falls on a Monday or Tuesday, as it does this year) and, although our service didn't wind down until 2 a.m., there was no shortage of energy and ruach in the CBS Sanctuary! Attendees danced, stomped, and swayed with the music and singing, awakening to the urgency of this moment and our need for teshuvah.

Speaking of teshuvah and the related seasonal demand for chesbon hanefesh (a rigorous "accounting of the soul"), Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan shared some moving words during the film panel that occurred earlier in the evening. Following a screening of Fire On The Water, a short film dealing with the Akedah (the binding of Isaac) that Rabbi Aubrey Glazer made during his days as a student filmmaker, Rabbi Wolf-Prusan spoke earnestly of his anxiety about the lack of communal sacrifice experienced by Jewish Americans in the last 50+ years. What loss has our society felt, he asked, as we wage an ongoing war in Afghanistan? Too many families lose their sons and daughters, of course, and our federal coffers are steadily drained, but the majority of Americans are insulated from the war – it remains a background abstraction, and there is little to no sense of communal commitment, contribution, or sacrifice. Even during the Vietnam era, Rabbi Wolf-Prusan argued, despite the anti-war movement and the greater public awareness of the body count (on both sides of the conflict), our culture experienced the 1960s and early 1970s as a period of economic growth and general prosperity. He contrasted this with the American experience during World War II, when all citizens were required to ration foods, fuel, and many consumer goods. We haven't experienced anything like that since the 1940s. "When will the bill come due?," he asked the audience.

Rabbi Dorothy Richman responded to Rabbi Wolf-Prusan and quoted the 20th century sage, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: "Some are guilty, but all are responsible." With so much racial strife, ongoing overseas wars, ugly partisanship, and reactionary politics, she said Rabbi Wolf-Prusan's anxieties about our lack of sacrifice hit her hard. Doubtless, many people in the room were similarly stirred.

This sort of earnest, challenging soul-searching is what the High Holy Days are all about. Observant Jews devote the entire Hebrew month of Elul – which began on September 4 this year – to the spiritual heavy lifting of teshuvah. And what exactly is teshuvah? Depending on which Jew you ask, you'll get different answers. Most resources translate teshuvah as "repentance," but many rabbis scorn this translation, and instead frame teshuvah (which literally translates as "return") as the work of returning to relationship with God. Given contemporary Jews' varied conceptions of deity, that's too vague a formulation for many. However you translate or characterize it, though, teshuvah is about working to develop and improve our character – and it's meant to be hard.

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, the need for a commitment to teshuvah becomes increasingly urgent, but it is likewise important to balance the moments of reckoning with moments of joy. Hardly Strictly Selichot Unplugged provided both.

Thanks to all of the panelists, performers, and prayer leaders who made the evening so moving and fun. Thanks, too, to all of the friendly folks from the Mission Minyan and The Kitchen who trekked out – in some cases, carpooling (kol hakavod!) – to the Richmond to make this memorable evening that much better. Todah rabbah, and l'shanah tovah u'metuka (for a good and sweet year)!

A selection of photographs snapped during the event are included below.

facebook_talyaglazerrabbiglazeryehudasolomonduvidswirsky_havdalah_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_fireonthewaterscreening_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_elyssawortzmanrabbiwolfprusanavivachernickrabbirichmanjonathancrosbyrabbiglazer_cineforumfilmdiscussion_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_program2_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_duvidswirskyavivachernickrabbikasher-_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_shoes_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_duvidswirskyavivachernickrabbikasher-rabbiglazeryehudasolomonrabbibubisrabbirichman_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_rabbikasher_-yehudasolomonduvidswirskyrabbirichmanrabbibubis-rabbiglazer_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_sanctuaryview2_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_-yehudasolomonrabbibubis_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

facebook_sanctuaryview3_hardlystrictlyselichotunplugged_september2016

Announcing Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat!

Facebook_FusionFridayKabbalatShabbatBeginning in 2014, the CBS community has gathered on the third Friday of each month to welcome Shabbat with uplifting song. This spirited 3rd Friday Musical Kabbalat Shabbat service has grown in popularity over the past two years, providing its many participants with a transformative experience that is as moving as it is joyful.

This year, CBS is proud to announce Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat, an exciting new iteration of our 3rd Friday series!

Led by Rabbi Aubrey Glazer, the Shir Hashirim EnsembleHazzan Richard Kaplan, violinist Lila Sklar, and Sheldon Brown (on clarinet, flute, saxophone, and bass clarinet) – will provide participants with an exquisite Friday night service featuring Jewish sacred music from around the world and drawn from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi traditions. Each Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat will incorporate contemplative prayer, a Jewish/Turkish/Sufi zikr, klezmer and jazz accents, and beautiful Zoharic teachings and meditations by our own Rabbi Glazer. The prayer leaders, music, spirit, and ideas of the Fusion Friday Kabbalat Shabbat series make the vital passage between the rest of the week and Shabbat the extraordinary experience that it should be! Shabbat is a gift. We hope you will celebrate it with us!

Let's sing together on Friday, May 19! The Fusion Friday service is free, but pre-registration is required – please take a quick minute to sign up below.

Kezayit: Not Every Jew Looks Like You

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

+++++
Kone-Miller-family- Writing recently in Tablet Magazine, author David Margolick acknowledged the Jewish people's chauvinistic tribalism.

"Why is it we Jews are not only quick to claim someone as our own, but insist upon claiming all of him? For better or worse, though, we do: our fierce feeling of specialness is something we don’t want to share with anyone else. [...] Our chauvinism knows no bounds, and tolerates no asterisks."

Margolick made this admission in an essay exploring the Jewish antecedence of Supreme Court Justice nominee Merrick Garland, which he penned after reading a New York Times profile of Garland that included the following biographical detail.

"Friends say Judge Garland’s connection to Judaism runs deep. His father was Protestant, but he was raised as a Jew — he had a bar mitzvah in a Conservative synagogue — and he spoke movingly Wednesday of how his grandparents left Russia, 'fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America.'"

Upon learning that it was "only" Garland's mother who was Jewish, Margolick "felt instantly deflated," and became determined to dig deeper to see what could be turned up about Garland's paternal ancestry. In fact, Margolick learned, Garland's father is Jewish; the Times piece had reported Garland's father was Protestant in error. When the Gray Lady printed a correction, according to Margolick, "everywhere, Jews cheered."

Actually, this Jew didn't. If Garland identifies as a Jew (and is halachically Jewish as well!), why does it matter whether or not both of his parents are Jewish?

Louis-Jeff-used-for-BART-ad_smallerMargolick's article is a reminder that, for many contemporary, secular Jews, ethnic and genetic "purity" -- or yichus -- matters as much if not more than one's behavior or personal identification. Moreover, many members of the tribe (M.O.T.s) tend to prioritize our particularistic "subtribe" (e.g., Ashkenazim discounting Sephardic practice as alien or misguided rather than simply different, or Modern Orthodox Jews looking askance at their Reform brethren), further eroding the virtuous notion of klal Yisrael (the interconnection of all Jews).

Disappointingly, I can recall numerous conversations with fellow Jews, friends as well as relatives, who observed that Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel), Indian Jews (including the Bnei Menashe), and all manner of converts (gerim) "aren't real Jews." When I blanche, they'll often add something like, "You know what I mean, not genetically."

To be fair, whereas Judaism, the religion, and Jewishness, our ethnic/cultural identity, used to be inextricably intertwined, the two are now viewed as distinct by a large majority of Jewish Americans, and the comments of my friends and relatives reflect their prioritization of Jewishness over Judaism. They accept that Ethiopian Jews are Jews in the sense that they practice Judaism, but they lack any yiddishkeit, which is what qualifies them as "real" M.O.T.s.

Enter Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz of Lehrhaus Judaica and Dawn Kepler, Director of Building Jewish Bridges, who co-curated the photography exhibition, This is Bay Area Jewry, currently on view at Temple Sinai in Oakland. Kepler, quoted in a J Weekly article about the exhibition, points out that "many refer to the Bay Area as a diaspora of the diaspora," a region where Jewish identity is complex-compound. Kepler states that the exhibition aims to “[push] folks to think more deeply about what Jewish heritage means and to realize that there are lots of Jews, and not very many of them fit into that Ashkenazi stereotype.”

If, as some leading sociologists contend, the Bay Area offers a portrait of the future of American Jewry, Margolick will need to accept the fact that many dedicated and active Jews look very different from him and/or have very different origin stories. Moreover, a great many of us may have only one Jewish parent...or none!

Kol HaKavod to Rosenfeld-Caparaz and Kepler for conceiving of This is Bay Area Jewry, and to photographer Lydia Daniller and writer Robert Nagler Miller for their efforts, as well. For more information on the exhibition, click here.

Image credits: Both photographs by Lydia Daniller for This is Bay Area Jewry, 2016 -- Top: The Kone-Miller Family, members of CBS!

Kezayit: Kitniyot

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

+++++

Kitniyot2CBS prides itself on the relatively diverse make-up of our community but, like the majority of synagogues in the United States, most of our members identify as Ashkenazim or subscribe to Ashkenazi minhag (custom). For observant Ashkenazi Jews, Pesach (Passover) dietary restrictions are especially onerous. Like other Jews, Ashkenazim refrain from eating hametz (leavened foods) during Passover, but they also eschew kitniyot, a catch-all term used to describe rice, corn, soy beans, peas, lentils, and many seeds. All of these foods are off limits for Ashkenaz Jews during Pesach.

In recent years, there's been much debate about the kitniyot minhag. Should Jews of Ashkenaz provenance continue to practice the prohibition? Or is it high time we put tofu on our Pesach menu? Let's unpack this a bit...and maybe settle any disputes occurring in your kitchens.

First, the ban on kitniyot was only codified in the 16th century; it's a relatively recent minhag. There are competing explanations for its origin, but the general consensus is that rabbis were concerned that European Jews would mistake a hametz flour for a grain flour, thereby unintentionally violating halacha. The rabbis banned anything and everything that might confuse Jews during the holiday. Today, when we can easily tell the difference, is there really any need for the custom to continue?

Second, it's important to remember that minhagim should not be confused with mitzvot. A minhag is not part of written or oral law, and might be widely practiced (e.g., the kitniyot prohibition) or confined to one particular family (e.g., that goofy thing your bubbe did that your dad does and you've started doing, too). Perhaps not surprisingly, many Jews prioritize minhag over halacha, especially if the custom was practiced by their grandparents and parents. You know the score – tradition!

But even the most strict among us should keep the principle of minhag avoteinu beyadeinu ("the minhag of our forefathers remains in our hands") in mind. Even if you're reluctant to reconsider long-held customs, our rabbis are doing just that. On December 24, 2015, the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law & Standards adopted two Responsa (sheelot u-teshuvot,) concerning kitniyot. You can read the full papers here and here, but the summaries are supplied below.

The first of the two responsa was authored by Rabbi David Golinkin, the President of The Schechter Institutes and Past President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he currently serves as Professor of Jewish Law. Rabbi Golinkin's paper does not include a formal psak, but concludes that the kitniyot minhag should be eliminated. It was adopted by a vote of 15-3-4.

The second responsa was authored by Rabbis Amy Levin and Avram Reisner, the Interim Rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom (Bridgeport, CT) and Rabbi Emeritus of Chevrei Tzedek (Baltimore, MD), respectively. Their paper was adopted by a vote of 19-1-2. The concluding psak of this rabbinic Responsa is: "In order to bring down the cost of making Pesach and support the healthier diet that is now becoming more common, and given the inapplicability today of the primary concerns that seem to have led to the custom of prohibiting kitniyot, and further, given our inclination in our day to present an accessible Judaism unencumbered by unneeded prohibitions, more easily able to participate in the culture that surrounds us, we are prepared to rely on the fundamental observance recorded in the Talmud and codes and permit the eating of kitniyot on Pesach."

It's none of our business what goes on in your kitchen or dining room, but we encourage you to feast on kitniyot this Pesach...if you want to.

Kezayit: Micrography

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

+++++

Waugh_FullBrooklyn-based artist Michael Waugh is best known for producing large-scale, ink-on-mylar drawings, but with a twist. From the artist's website:

"For the past few years, my drawings have utilized an ancient Hebrew form of calligraphy called micrography, in which minute words are written out so that when you stand far away, you see an image. Those ancient drawings typically employed a sacred text; the purpose of the drawings was either devotional or magical. The texts used in my drawings are neither sacred nor magical, and it is doubtful that they deserve any form of devotion. The text used in these drawings comes from government reports commissioned or headed by US presidents (i.e. presidential commission reports)."

Waugh_Detail2The image you see above is Waugh's The Grace Commission, part n, a 2007 work measuring 36 x 78 inches. Just to the left, we've included a detail of the work, which shows the handwritten script that forms the greyhound's head and the background landscape. As the title of the work suggests, this image was created using the federal report about President Ronald Reagan's Grace Commission, a 1982 investigation into governmental "waste and inefficiency."

Whereas Waugh uses micrography for conceptual reasons -- the imagery in his drawings is a comment on the texts he uses -- its invention was precipitated by a very different need. The second commandment, read strictly, prohibits religious Jews from creating artwork that may be deemed idolatrous and blasphemous. Although Jewish tradition has proven generally amenable to visual art, micrography ensured that Jewish artists wouldn't need to worry -- the potentially dangerous image was rendered harmless because it was formed by written sacred text that formed it.

Micrography arose as an art form sometime in 10th century Egypt and Eretz Israel. Although most scholars attribute its invention to Jews, it was heavily influenced by the surrounding Islamic culture and calligrams. From the catalog essay for Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art, an exhibit at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary:

"Hebrew micrography was the creation of the Masorah scribes of Tiberias in the production of Bible codices (the book form of the Tanach that included marginal notes of the masorah and nikudot). The Leningrad Codice from 1009 written in Cairo, has sixteen diverse carpet pages presenting the small but fully legible masorah text in architectural and abstract designs surrounded by beautiful gold and red illuminations reminiscent of Middle Eastern carpets. This art form spread throughout the Levant, with Yemen as an especially important center, and then to north into medieval Europe. The Sephardic scribes of Spain utilized micrography, especially in some of the Catalonian Haggadot. The Ashkenazi scribes, with their micrographic specialty of medieval grotesques and bestiaries decorating the margins and front pages of luxury Bibles, and Haggadot also flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. After the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century, the use of micrography expanded to ketubbot, omer counters, amulets, and other independent works on paper, eventually to its use in portraits and secular Jewish illustrations. Throughout the centuries it has remained a predominately Jewish art form."

Why Is Gambling Associated With Hanukkah?

DreidelFor American Jews, it’s that time of the year again. Parents of young children are talking about "the December Dilemma,” Jewish a cappella groups are in overdrive, hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) are being pulled out of deep storage, and we’re all drooling in anticipation of latkes, applesauce, and sour cream. Adam Sandler even wrote and performed a fourth version of his beloved “Hanukkah Song." That’s right, friends — Hanukkah 5776 is almost here!

This Sunday evening is the first night of Hanukkah, and a lot of us are planning holiday parties. In preparation, we’re in the market for extra dreidels…because, as Bryan Adams sung, it ain’t a Hanukkah party if the dreidel don’t spin ‘round (did I mishear that lyric?). Yet, although dreidels are considered de rigueur for Hanukkah parties, they typically don’t do a lot of spinning; they’re more often decorative, described by one clever writer as more “party favor than party favorite.”

Even relegated to a decorative role, the dreidel is a staple of Hanukkah. So how did a European gambling game called teetotum become associated with Hanukkah observance in the first place? We know that diaspora syncretism gave us the dreidel and that the rabbis later invented a backstory — the Israelites-played-dreidel-to-fool-the-Greeks-into-thinking-they-weren’t-studying-Torah myth — but why did they link the game with Hanukkah? The answer, it turns out, has to do with rabbinic attitudes about gambling and Hanukkah’s relationship to another minor holiday, Purim.

"C'mon, big money, big money! Papa needs a great miracle to happen here!"

Back in the day (the Mishnah’s day, that is), dice playing, pigeon racing, and other “games” of chance were popular betting activities that the rabbis viewed as inappropriate or unfortunate. So they debated how best to restrict or moderate the degenerate behavior. Different approaches were put forth, but it seems that the rabbis appreciated the need for occasional laxity or release, and the holidays of Hanukkah and Purim seemed like excellent times to look the other way.

Why?

Purim tells the story of the powerless Jews of Shushan defeating their Persian enemies against all odds. Metaphorically, Purim is understood as an overturning of the social order, a day when activities that were forbidden or discouraged the rest of the year were permitted. It’s observed as a carnival with excessive drinking, costumes (including cross-dressing), and, often, lotteries and raffles (gambling!). With the world turned upside down, why not roll the dice? After all, the Jews of Shushan made risky gambits that paid off!

The Hanukkah story isn’t so different, really, as the small-but-oh-so-zealous Maccabean force repels the great army of the Seleucid Greeks and reclaims the Temple. It’s another the deck-was-stacked-against-us tale.

The shared spirit of Hanukkah and Purim presents us with a compelling justification for why gambling is associated with both holidays -- but this is mostly conjecture. There is also an explanation put forth by historical sociologists who insist that the Yiddish version of teetotum, which was especially popular at Christmastime in Germany, was played by a lot of Ashkenazim in December and therefore became attached to Hanukkah by virtue of the Christian and Jewish holidays' proximity to one another. Although this is almost certainly the most accurate account, it doesn’t negate the valuable symbolism of the world-turned-upside-down concept.

So, this year, sure, most of the attendees of your Hanukkah party will be more into playing Exploding Kittens than the dreidel game. And that’s fine…but we encourage you to play both. Buy those dreidels. Spin those dreidels. Bet on those dreidels. Then ask all the players to donate part or all of their winnings as tzedakah — it’s tax-deduction time, anyway!