Aside from the gifts, and the gelt, and the dreidels, aside from the latkes, and the jelly- filled donuts, and the Hershey silver-wrapped Kisses, aside from the games, and the decorations, and the festive meals, and- of course- the Story of the Maccabees, we can gain enormous spiritual strength and emotional courage from the lesson of light overcoming darkness at Chanukah.
Two of the darkest places that I remember from my early childhood were the Buhl Planetarium and my grandparent’s dining room during an air raid drill in Pittsburgh. (When the sirens sounded one never knew if it was a drill or a raid.)
As a child I was fascinated by the huge, round, auditorium of the fifth planetarium built in America. When the audience settled, the illumination dimmed to twilight. One could dimly see the black silhouette of the slow rising planet projector which seemed like a skeleton menace coming out of the ground.
And then there was a frightening darkness that I remember, always. A suffocating darkness, but then, suddenly, a white light burst forth and constellations were projected on the curved dome. The star shine broke that darkness.
And then, I remember a night at my grandparent’s home during WWII when the whining, overpowering air raid sirens sounded. My parents helped them slide closed the black velvet curtains which hung inside the drapery. Someone explains about why they were closed.
One couldn’t see anyone in the room. And then, my grandmother lit one of the yellow tallow-colored Chanukah candles that she used in black outs. It was shaped like a taper, not much longer than the white Shabbos candles. (Much later, I learned that they were Shabbat Chanukah candles to be lit before sundown on Friday and meant to extend into Shabbat Eve. They didn’t use a flashlight taped to a slit. I remember her saying, “Chanukah licht (light) for the air raid.” I could tell that the candle had special meaning for her, beyond illumination. As for other Jews of her Eastern European origin, the Chanukah licht (candles or oil) somehow conveyed strength and courage against the fear and danger symbolized by the dark.
So, in this time of Covid, the lights of Chanukah, and the Holiday itself, offer us a holy strength to move through these testing times. Yes, the story of the Maccabees has always taught of a victory against an overwhelming force; courage in a fearsome time. Yet the light (licht) is the pinpoint of that courage.
And yet, at the heart of Chanukah there is a celebratory spirit. When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple to Jewish worship, they had an opportunity to celebrate a long
postponed Succot which was then the major holiday of those times. It wasn’t so much a celebration of a victory, as it was an opportunity to affirm the light of faith and trust. Similarly, the light of the celestial constellations projected on the dome of the planetarium, and the light of the yellow tallow Chanukah candle in the blackout of the air raid drill, as well as the light of our Chanukah menorahs, testify to the spiritual component of finding the strength to overcome the dark times of our lives.
Yes, the songs, and the gifts, the dreidels, and the gelt, along with the latkes and donuts, and decorations are all fun. But the blessings that we say over the lighting of the candles suggest a deeper and more profound lesson during our Festival of Light.
Join us as we light the Chanukiot, during our Chanukah service on December 11.
Rabbi Fred Pomerantz
Our President’s Message
Patience and fortitude are prominent themes in Judaism. If there was ever a time in our lives where we needed to find those qualities within ourselves it’s now. The pandemic is raging but it will end and it seems that there is realistic hope that a number of vaccines will be distributed shortly that will help that happen sooner rather than later. In the mean time, we all need to patiently wait to gather and while we wait, we must continue to wear our masks, wash our hands and remain socially distant. Stay strong – don’t drop the ball when we are so close to the end. We all need to find our patience and fortitude.
It seems we all need to remember that everyone is struggling. America’s politics have left people on both sides of the fence anxious. Friends and family are faced with differing views in ways they have never experienced before. People are worried about their health and the health of loved ones, many are lonely and the holidays are amplifying that loneliness. People are worried about their own finances and the future of their young and even adult children. Now, more than ever, please be patient with friends, family and acquaintances. We can’t always know their personal struggles. It’s a good time to let words and attitudes pass by unchallenged, take a deep breath and move on.
Throughout the year I have found that joining the Zoom Shabbats help. Each month there are both familiar and new faces to share the experience with and being part of a community-even though it is virtual- has been grounding and affirming. Please consider joining us on December 11th to share the inspiration of Rabbi Pomerantz, the amazing music of the Levins, and this wonderful community that we have built together.
On behalf of the leadership of Agudas Achim, I want to wish you a Happy Chanukah and very Happy New Year. May you and your loved ones be happy, stay healthy, and find 2021 to be a year full of wonderful experiences.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to the Schneider family for creating a designated endowment fund in the name of Allan Schneider, the husband of Mary Jane and the father of Henry and Joe. This fund will help ensure that we are able to maintain our very special building for generations to come. With heartfelt thanks and gratitude we want the family to know how much we appreciate their generosity. As soon as it is safe to gather again, we will have a special reception in their honor and dedicate the stage area of the social room in Allan’s name.
Traditions and Tales
by Karen Blocker
Chanukah – Hanukkah!
Somehow, I had always been more comfortable with the former spelling of Chanukah – that which began with the “Ch” rather than the spelling that started with the “H.” As a Jewish youngster, the absence of a finely decorated evergreen, missing brilliant home decorations, endless wrapped gifts, and joyous parties, lead me to believe that Chanukah with a “Ch” was a better way to celebrate! I met Chanukah with disdain each year until my Orthodox grandmother set relevant facts before me relating to our Chanukah. After youth groups and the study of history, I came to celebrate the joyous victory of brave Jewish fighters, the Maccabees, over Antiochus of Syria over 2,000 years ago. Jews of that time were forbidden to study Torah and were forced to follow idolatrous practices of pagan Greece. Despite overwhelming odds, the brave Jewish soldiers resisted the invaders and waged fierce battles and ultimately drove the enemy from the land. The Syrians fled. Jerusalem was freed! The temple that had been defiled was then rededicated. One of the translations of the word “Chanukah” or “Hanukkah,” as you may wish, is “dedication.”
Our family observed Chanukah with the lighting of the brass “Chanukiah” (menorah), a nine-branched candelabrum. We shared delightful meals of fried favorites, doughnuts and latkes, or potato pancakes, opened thoughtful gifts, played dreidel games with our spinning tops, and sang songs to remind us that we overcame stunning obstacles. We recalled the belief that the righteous ultimately triumph.
Years passed, and our Chanukah took a different direction. My husband, Alan, and I began what would be a new tradition for us. We began to collect menorahs and hold a unique community candle lighting. Each year, after careful study of numerous catalogs, Judaica shops, art centers, and galleries, we set out to choose the menorah of the year. Our choice usually reflected a significant event, challenge, or issue relevant to our lives during that calendar year or one that recalls a time in history, often one in our family or in our Jewish community worldwide. Perhaps the birth of a blessed grandchild, a political event, or a milestone wedding anniversary would create the direction of the choice. Then, during the Chanukah week, as the winter sun throws dark shadows at sunset, our menorah collection, having been taken from their oak display cases, were polished and readied for the lighting that would begin our community sharing.
Numerous friends and family are invited to our candle lighting. Each family, of many backgrounds and faiths, finds a place card with their names and the name and history of their Chanukiah. Age old blessings celebrating the joyful victory of the Maccabee warriors over their foes, the Syrians, are recited. Using a treasured silver candolier, my husband leads the lighting ceremony touching waiting tiny cups of oil on our towering brass oil lamp. All the candles on dozens of menorahs are then lit. The multitude of glowing candles always creates a very powerful moment as guests are filled with delight. A festive meal, children’s games, Chanukah “gelt,” shiny coins of chocolate, and song complete our warm holiday tradition.
We believe that we have collected about fifty menorahs although we have yet to have an exact count. Some have been gifted to us. Certain menorahs have since been donated to other organizations and some are still out there waiting to be purchased to recognize new life cycle events, such as the graduations and special birthdays ahead. This year we have added several that were gifted by a dear relative. This year, altered by Covid, our heartfelt tradition of community candle lighting will not be held. However, it is our plan to dedicate our newest menorah to commemorating this unprecedented 2020. Please be confident that next year the lights will all shine once more!
May each of you have winter holidays that bring the joy and warmth of candlelight into your home!
December 11, 2020 7:00 PM Social Time/7:30 PM Services
*Grab a beverage of your choice and join us!
*Have your Hanukkiyah ready to light together!
*Chanukah begins December 10- 24 Kislev 5781 and ends December 18 – 3 Tevet 5781
January 15, 2021 7:00 PM Social Time
Shabbat 7:30 PM Services
February 12, 2021 7:00 PM Social Time
Shabbat 7:30 PM Services
Many enjoyed Michael Craig Palmer’s illuminating presentation
about Erick Mendelsohn, Architect
On November 30, 2020, thanks to Don Simkin and his connection with Michael Craig Palmer, 15 congregants attended a fascinating Zoom presentation about the life and work of Jewish, German-born architect Eric Mendelsohn.
Eric Mendelsohn was born in 1887 in Allenstein, East Prussia, Germany (now Olsztyn, Poland) and after studying at the Technical University of Berlin and then of Munich to become an architect, practiced his art from 1912-1933 in Germany. With the occupation of Germany by the Nazi regime at its onset, Mendelsohn, his wife, Luise, and their daughter presciently relocated to the United Kingdom, fearing the onslaught of anti-Semitic legislation against Jewish professionals. Having intense passion and talent for his work and fortunately, the financial means and personal connections to do so, he and his family once again relocated to Palestine (now Israel) in 1935 from the United Kingdom, where he had become a British subject. He practiced in Palestine with remarkable skill and influential style until 1941, when he again relocated his family and his practice to the United States of America. Despite his portfolio being replete with his designs and experience, he was not able to practice architecture in the United States until 1945. At last, he was able to begin his professional life again. It was during the years of 1945 until his death in San Francisco, CA in 1953, that he was contracted to design four American synagogues: Mt. Zion Temple, St. Paul, MN; B’Nai Amoona, St. Louis, MO; Park Synagogue, Cleveland, OH; and Temple Emanuel, Grand Rapids, MI.
Mendelsohn has countless buildings around the world, most designs intersected modern structures, symmetry and both flat and domed roofs. For these synagogues, he demanded that the plans include great amounts of clear glass and soaring ceilings in all four sanctuaries and rebuffed any synagogue board’s protestations of constructing them otherwise. He may have intended the glass to announce to the non-congregants of these communities that the Jewish people in America are not in hiding any longer and that they want to be noticed by offering a transparent look into their religious world, suggested Palmer in his presentation. As paraphrased by Palmer, Rachel Bernstein Wischnitzer, an architect herself and an architectural critic of the day, wrote about how Eric Mendelsohn built “flamboyant buildings” of “enormous scale” to announce who was here in the neighborhood.
Through author and photographer Michael Craig Palmer’s presentation, we learned about the significant impact that the designs of this tenacious man had on both secular and Jewish world leaders and international societies along with the Jewish congregations in our own country. Upon viewing a map of Mendelsohn’s path, Palmer helped us peer into Eric Mendelsohn’s vast career that finally led him on his journey to America. While still providing a lifeblood for their congregants or still serving as centers of their current communities, more importantly, these synagogues that Eric Mendelsohn built in America continue to brazenly declare the Jewish presence that they were meant to announce when they were built.
Monthly Book Suggestion from the Congregation Book Club:
Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander
Three members of our congregation enjoyed a fabulous Zoom book discussion on our first book, Holy Envy, by Barbara Brown Taylor. Our next choice is Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander. The protagonist, Larry, brought up Orthodox, doesn’t want to say Kaddish after his father’s death due to his own current views of Judaism. Yet, his failure to do so could leave his father “hanging” in the afterlife.
We will meet again on Zoom in early January 2021. Contact Michele Hemmer at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like more information.
Alan & Linda Rajlevsky 12/16
Drs. Jack & Joyce Rubenstein 12/27
Dr. Paul & Greta Salzberg 12/28
Bea Brown 12/11
Susan Elinoff 12/11ll
Lea Schwartz 12/16
Ryan Weiner 12/16
Dimona A. Galli 12/21
Joe Watson 12/31
Jackie Chiger 1/1
Lewis Skolnick 1/2
Steven Fishman 1/5
Alan Blocker 1/7
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SPONSOR AN ONEG
In an era when we are not meeting in person, our zoom Shabbats have been a silver lining. Friends and family have joined us from all over the country for a relaxed Sabbath service. You can do a mitzvah and sponsor one of the evenings in honor of a special event in your life: a birthday, an anniversary, the birth of a family member… anything that brings you joy. Pick a Shabbat, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and send us a donation. We will post your name and the special event that evening and in the newsletter associated with that Shabbat.
Congregation Agudas Achim | PO BOX 714, Rock Avenue, Livingston Manor, NY 12748