Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions 2012

A few thoughts about "resolutions" for 2012:
  • Learn to use my new iPad more efficiently, productively;
  • Help keep the house a little cleaner (from all my junk);
  • Play more guitar - practice more too!;
  • Enjoy quiet moments;
  • Let go of frustrations (ha!);
  • Listen more (what?), chat less;
  • Live, love, laugh more fully!!!
How 'bout YOU?
Whatever comes your way - I hope that 2012 is filled with health, happiness, peace and much love!!!! Best wishes, always....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

OCHO KANDELIKAS, pt. VIII: adding light, one day at a time

HANUKKAH 2011/5772, eighth night: final thoughts on the last eve of the Festival
Hanukkah Radio has resonated through the house the entire musical friends and heroes providing the soundtrack for Hanukkah...
And today is our 19th anniversary...guess there's no better way to spend time than the combination of Hanukkah, the kids, our anniversary, music, and (ever more) abundant food to round out the holiday...
Little Jazz and Sister Soul both shared that volunteering on Christmas at the Center for the Homeless was a highlight of Hanukkah - can't beat that as a gift from your children.
What's been YOUR favorite Hanukkah moment this year? I'd love to know...
As we approach the conclusion of this Festival, may the warm glow of the lights continue to burn brightly into the new year just ahead, inspiring us to bring blessings of compassion, kindness, justice and peace into our world....
CHAG URIM SAMEYACH...wishing you much love always....

Monday, December 26, 2011

OCHO KANDELIKAS, pt. VII: whatever suits you

HANUKKAH 2011/5772, seventh night
(okay - with all these subsequent successive entries, I kinda feel like George Lucas!)
Listening to Radio Hanukkah on Sirius/XM all making maftoul and shnitzel for dinner...
Less than three weeks from now we'll celebrate the milestone of Bar Mitzvah for's more than kinda weird - as I don't think it's struck me yet...Little Jazz has been an exemplary "Bar Mitzvah candidate" - and I'm not just braggin'...he's enjoying the preparation, and has always exhibited a great love of expressing Jewish identity...I've had the honor of working with literally hundreds of B'nei Mitzvah kids and families, and I've NEVER seen anyone get *giddy* while chanting Torah or reading from the prayer book as Ben's overwhelming, additionally being somewhat of a ratification of my entire life...
Today - DJS and I took Little Jazz out to fit for a suit for the big day (months ago, he had wanted just to wear a nice pair of pants, with a bright colorful shirt as I often do for Shabbat; eventually, he told his mother "I think I want a suit." "Why?" Deb responded, "to look like so-and-so?"...."No mom - for the ladies"...ugh, we're so done)....
Well, I guess this is also a milestone - our little Ben-man, getting suited up for the occasion accepting his responsibilities as a young adult in the community. I'm proud of him beyond belief, and grateful that he too has exceeded his parents' modest ability to shape him into the terrific man he will become...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

OCHO KANDELIKAS, pt. VI: ner shel tzedakah

HANUKKAH 2011/5772, sixth night
For several years, there has been an effort to recognize one night of Hanukkah as ner shel tzedakah (the light of righteousness), reminding us during our celebration that our real job as members of the human family is to strive for justice for all. For example, some families choose one eve on which, rather than exchanging gifts, to make a joint contribution to a worthy cause.
Today, our family had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer at the Center for the Homeless, along with our dear friends Mark, Susan, Ethan and Mayah Sandock. We helped clean in the kitchen, stock food in the storage pantry, and eventually to serve meals to guests, helping make sure their holiday was sweet and enjoyable.
While there, a reporter from one of the local stations came to do a story about volunteering on Christmas. As exciting as it was for a few of our kids to be included in the interviewing - it was fully more meaningful to hear them share thoughts about why they were there: "it makes me happy to be able to help others celebrate their holiday;" "I recognize how fortunate I am, and I can give back by helping others who might not have what I do;" "I'm very luck to have the life I have, and I can share with the less fortunate." As a parent, as a rabbi, overhearing these comments is a great gift for this sixth night of the Festival.
(And be sure - the requisite Chinese food was partaken afterward :)
Thanks to the Sandocks for sharing such a lovely day with us!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

OCHO KANDELIKAS, pt. V: relaxin' on Saturday eve

HANUKKAH 2011/5772, fifth night
Relaxing on a Saturday evening
We had lovely spirited services for both erev shabbat and Shabbat morning - from lighting candles at Temple to reading from miketz and discussing the power of dreams in Jewish tradition [va-yikatz, "to be shaken (not stirred) awake", applies to the dream stories of Jacob's ladder, Pharaoh's seven cows/seven ears of corn, as well as King Solomon recognizing the role wisdom plays in his ability to rule] - it's been a lovely Shabbat Hanukkah.
Now - taking it easy on the first full day of the kids' winter break - we're getting ready to cook up a storm: Jazzdaddy's sweet'n'sour ribs have been slow cooking all afternoon; appetizers galore are ready to be made; and we'll figure a good movie to enjoy...with truly nothing much to worry about for the rest of the weekend...another Hanukkah gift.
This fifth night of the Festival of Lights coincides with the eve of Christmas: as we fire up our chanukiot - continuing to bring light into darkness - our wish for our Christian loved ones, friends and neighbors is that it is a meaningful, fulfilling holiday for those who celebrate.
SHAVUA TOV - may it be a good week for us all...

Friday, December 23, 2011

OCHO KANDELIKAS, pt. IV - Shabbat Hanukkah

HANNUKAH 2011/5772, fourth night

On the seventh day God rested from the work of Creation for it was complete enough to engage us, the human family, to be Divine partners throughout time in maintaining and perfecting the world.

These words (or something very similar) are what I say to introduce kiddush every Shabbat eve during t'filah. As we are ready to recite the blessing over wine, with which we recognize the sanctity ascribed to Shabbat, we are reminded of the great gift represented by this day, and our responsibility to lead the way in improving the world.

And there's something extra special about the Shabbat during Hanukkah: with the warm, fun, light-hearted nature of the Festival of Lights, the gathering of family and friends, and especially the overlap of joyous Shabbat and Hanukkah melodies - it is certainly among the most enjoyable Shabbatot of any given year. We read parashat miketz in the Torah, which includes Pharaoh's dreams and Joseph's interpretations about years of famine and plenty - amplifying the Jewish encouragement to dream big, as well as to plan ahead to take care of our needs and the needs of our loved ones and community. If there is anything that the intended rest on Shabbat is meant to teach us, it is surely this theme.

The 4th night of Hanukkah will soon be upon us. As we kindle our chanukiot, half-way through the holiday - may we truly know on this seventh day shavat vayinafash - a day of refreshment and renewal...SHABBAT SHALOM!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


HANUKKAH 2011/5772, third night
LIGHTING UP THE WORLD (thanks to Peter Himmelman and David Broza)
This Festival of Lights is about shining light in places of darkness, bringing compassion into the world, and sharing love. The word "Hanukkah" itself of course means "dedication." How do we demonstrate our dedication to those causes we support? By volunteering, participating, and yes by contributing funds as well. Hanukkah always falls toward the end of the secular calendar year - when some of us think of "year end" charitable donations. Now is as good time as any to donate to the Jewish institutions, agencies and programs that enrich our lives - and especially to those that are shaping the experiences of the next generation. On this third eve of the holiday, as we enjoy exchanging gifts and the joy of the season, consider also - wherever possible - an additional generous contribution to your synagogue, community center, Jewish camps and schools, and the national organizations on which we rely throughout the year(s).
Three specific suggestions come to mind:
1. Make a gift to the campership fund of URJ's Olin-Sang-Ruby camp (OSRUI can be reached at; this will assist additional children attend and benefit from the strength of Reform Jewish summer camping.
2. Support the newly launched Campaign for Youth Engagement of the URJ (; this movement-wide initiative is aiming at joining together the arms of Reform Judaism to develop and enhance our ability to engage and cultivate the next generation of American Jews.
3. Donate to YOUR local syangogue! I know that any congregation will appreciate whatever you are able to provide - which will help further the ability to serve the community through education, worship, and caring outreach on every level. For example, you can reach Temple Beth-El of South Bend, IN at, (574) 234-4402.
Give from your heart - gifts that truly keep on giving!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


HANUKKAH 2011/5772, second night
HODU L'ADONAI KI TOV - "Praise Adonai, for God is good, God's steadfast love is eternal." (Ps. 118: 1).

Today has been the first day of Hanukkah. It is customary to recite the full hallel (Psalms 113-118) on each morning of the festival - explicitly giving thanks to God "for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts" done for our ancestors (Al Ha-nisim, based on rendering in Mishkan T'filah, p. 556). Through the generations, many beautiful, uplifting musical settings have been written for the rich and inspiring words of these poems of praise.

As we approach the second night of the holiday - I ask you to consider: what are the songs, poems, and music that arouse and express your gratitude for the good stuff of life?

At this very moment - Joe Black's Pitchu Li, Shefa Gold's Ozi v'Zimrat Yah, and Bonia Shur's Hodu L'Adonai come to mind, as they radiate from my iPod. These are a few of my faves...what are yours?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ocho Kandelikas: a little thought for each night of Hanukkah

HANUKKAH 2011/5772, first night

This week marks the 25th yahrzeit since the passing of my grandmother, Mary Siroka. Hard to believe how much time has gone. I was a sophomore in college (at American University, Harvard on the Potomac :) and was on winter break. Mom, Dad, Eliot and I were vactioning in Hawaii when we got the call, the morning of the day before the first eve of the holiday. People plan, God laughs. Dad quickly re-arranged our travel plans so we could get to New York for the funeral, and be with our extended family. Change of pace indeed. We flew through LAX (where Dad insisted on purchasing me a t-shirt with Fred and Barney doing the hula) and arrived at JFK on a blustery cold morning (the warmest item of clothing I had with me was an AU sweatshirt, needless to say no appropriate outfit for the service). Getting settled, Dad and I hustled out to Alexander's to get me a jacket and tie, etc.

The funeral itself has an indelible place in my mind: it may have been the last time that all 15 of grandma's grandchildren were together in the same place. I'll never forget spending those first few eves of that Hanukkah centered at my uncle Harold and aunt Shirley's house - Dad and his siblings and cousins recounting stories, the aunts and uncles bragging about us kids, and even seeing the Japanese flag Harold had captured in the Pacific during the war. Tears, laughter, camaraderie, love....a touching festival of light.

This year, as we celebrate the onset of Hanukkah - be mindful of those in your life (living and long gone) who fill you with light.

CHAG URIM SAMEYACH - wishing you a happy, healthy, love-filled Hanukkah.