Hanukkah Apps, Videos, and Favorite Tech Gifts

Hanukkah Apps

This post is part of an ongoing series of lifestyle tech as a participant in the Verizon Insider influencer group. I’m thrilled to be part of this group for the past several years and I hope you enjoy my unique perspective on tech for families and entrepreneurs. There are affiliate links in this post, which help me to run this site and buy cool tech I think you’d love to know about.

This year Hanukkah starts on December 24th. This is so exciting! No only do I have something fun to do on December 25th but I get to take advantage of all the sales. And though Hanukkah is a festival holiday and, traditionally, not a big gift-giving holiday, it’s become more and more a celebration that includes gifts. Gifts go well with latkes and pear sauce, right?

What I love about tech is that it allows everyone to get in on the games and fun smartphone apps. Even songs, lots of Hanukkah songs! So I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite Hanukkah tech, from apps to videos to small gifts to things that may qualify as ‘the big gift’ this year.

Fun Hanukkah Apps

Light My Fire (iOS, Andriod) – Created by The Jewish Museum in New York, this app allows you to select one of the many exquisite Hanukkiah from their collection. I love this, especially for college kids and young adults who may not be able to light actual candles where they live. It’s also great for little kids so they can participate in lighting candles. I think it would be a great option for seniors who may not feel comfortable with open flames in their homes or senior living apartments and for parents of kids with special needs that may not be able to light candles in a traditional way.

Menorah (iOS, Android) – This is a nice app, with music by Mo Kiss, that lets you light the candles and sing along. Again, great for those in need of a virtual menorah.

The Chanukkah App (iOS, Android) – With a virtual menorah, some history, and a virtual dreidel game it’s a mobile party! This app features the blessings in 7 languages as well as incorporates social sharing so you can celebrate with your friends all over the world.

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah (iOS, Android) – An extension of the 2012 musical album of the same name, this app brings lots of fun holiday music to your smartphone with an epic musical battle between Christmas and the Festival of Lights. Something new and fun to give a tech/music spin to your celebration.

Match 8 Hanukkah Game (iOS, Android) – Tired of playing dreidel? Who isn’t! Here’s a fun little game to distract you from whatever it is you need distracting. This candle lighting game will test your skills at speed lighting. A great app for kids of all abilities to get involved in playing Hanukkah games.

Chai on Chanukkah (iOS) – A top app among Jewish families with special needs kids, everyone gets in on the festival fun!

Hanukkah Match Games (iOS, Android) – A Hanukkah twist on the traditional game of matching tiles. Fun for young kids and helps them make a Jewish connection.

Festive YouTube Videos

The Chanukah SongAdam Sandler Chanukah Song (3:55) – The original by Adam Sandler. In 1994, Adam Sandler wrote a Hanukkah song for SNL’s Weekend Update and it’s become a classic. Before this there really weren’t very many non-traditional Chanukah songs, so this is really the one by which all modern songs are measured. Most are parodies, but The Chanukah Song and it’s subsequent versions are all classics. Sandler’s Chanukah Song Part 4 was released in 2015, at a fundraiser with Judd Apatow. (Image Source: NBC)

Sesame Street: Hanukkah With Veronica Monica (2:43) – if your kids love Sesame Street, this is a fun little video of the Hanukkah story. If you like this one, check out Shalom Sesame.

The Maccabeats – Candlelight – Hanukkah (3:41) – Candlelight is a Jewish parody of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite. With over 11 million views, I find myself singing this all year ’round. Funny thing is that when this song came out BabyGirl had never heard Dynamite and months later when she did she thought it was a parody of Candlelight. True story!

The Maccabeat – All About That Nais (2:55) – Not as popular, but still fun, this parody of Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass is a nice little story about latkes, dreidels, bubbies, and presents.

Six13 – Chanukah (Shake It Off) (4:34) – New to the Jewish a Capella scene a few years ago, Six13 puts together a Festival of Lights parody of TayTays Shake It Off. It’s a fun little ditty!

The Story of Hanukkah (2:15) – This is a storybook video of the story of Hanukkah geared to help young readers. Perfect for kids!

Favorite Hanukkah Tech

OK, so there isn’t really such a thing as Hanukkah tech (other than the cool electronic Hanukah menorahs) but when it comes to gift giving, Chanukkah can present more challenges than just how to spell Channukkah. Since Hanukah is a festival holiday, many of us grew up with little emphasis on the gift-giving  part of the celebration. Some small gifts for each night (candy, puzzles, games, etc.) or maybe one “big” gift (a bike, designer jeans), but gift giving has only recently become associated with Hanukkah so it can be difficult to figure out the ‘right’ gift. And that’s why I’m taking the stress out of your holiday and giving you some suggestions for gift options for your Hanukkah-celebrating friends and family. [Note: Chanukah begins on Dec. 24th this year, so waiting for those after-Christmas sales is highly encouraged!]

Bluetooth Trackers – These little devices that attach to your keys, slide into your wallet, fit nicely in your center console of the car, attach to a zipper in your luggage, or connect to your child’s backpack, are awesome gifts. I’ve used the Tile, Tile Slim, and Mynt trackers and all have saved me from what could have been stressful moments. When I switched planes (and airports) to allow for a family to stay together, my Mynt tracker gave me peace of mind when I saw that my luggage had arrived to my destination. The Tile tracker was with me on a three week trip to DC this summer and when I left my luggage with the concierge I could see it was safe. And when I can’t find my phone, these little devices let me get an audible tracker even when my phone is on silent. Retail: about $20 each

Portable Speaker – When we went to Israel, we took the UE Boom with us so we could easily listen to music. We take it with us when we travel because it’s so easy to use and doesn’t take up much space. CycleGuy loves it for taking business calls because it turns his smartphone into a real speakerphone. The UE Boom 2 is shockproof and waterproof, making it even more versatile. The UE Roll is small, lightweight, and so easy to use for those with active lifestyles. These range in price, but are well worth the money!

External Smartphone Battery – Let’s face it, we’re busy people and don’t have time to worry about our smartphone running low. Sure, we can get a car charger or connect at home. But, with music and games, social media, and all the photos, those long-life batteries don’t always sync with our busy lives. I have 7 or 8 different powerbanks, each for different purposes. I have the ultra-thin charger for those times I’m going out and have a small evening bag. My original Mophie is always in my purse and CycleGuy has one in his messenger bag. I have a few larger Limefuel chargers with multiple ports so BabyGirl can always plug in with friends.

Multi-Port USB Charger – Seriously, you need one! Instead of plugging in all over the house or fighting for outlets at a hotel, a multi-port USB charger is a dream. I have three of these and they are the best! We have 7 smartphones, a Nexus, two iPads, wireless headphones, CycleGuy’s bike light, and quite a few other things that need to be charged and we can do it with such ease and convenience. A few brands I like are Anker, this value-priced Sabrent 4-port hub, this Photive 6-port rapid charger, as well as the more permanent option of changing out your outlet to a Top Greener Dual USB wall outlet.

Of course, who wouldn’t love a new phone? Sometimes that’s a very personal decision, but if you’re looking for a smartphone that is unique and has really cool add-on options, check out my experience with the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge either.

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Finding True Love Online With JDate

jdate Jewish online dating

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by JDate. I’m sharing my thoughts and feelings in hopes that more Jewish singles find their true love.

CycleGuy and I have been together almost 30 years. We’ve been married 21. So when JDate approached me to work with them I wasn’t sure at first. Then I saw their new video for the fictitious dating app called “Eh”, created with Saturday Night Live’s Jon Rudnitsky, I had to work with them because my family talks about these weird online dating ads for niche dating sites we see on late night tv and “Eh” kind of captured their absurdity. I also have this thing for JDate – I just love the name.

Among your friends, if you were to give a number, how many met online? Online dating is so mainstream today that I recently read there were over 1,000 dating sites. That’s a lot of sites! Which makes a site like JDate even more important among Jewish singles. If you’re looking to date another Jewish person, the non-JDate options are much more limited. At least with JDate, if finding another Jewish single is one of the non-negotiable items, you’re not having to rely on your Aunt Linda to get you her MahJong partner’s cousin’s daughter’s phone number. Besides, who calls anymore. Right?

And while we love Aunt Linda, and all the moms and bubbes and aunties out there playing matchmaker, sometimes it’s not that easy. Dating today is very different. And not just for the 20-somethings. I think we all know people who are divorced or widowed but are looking for a relationship. With smartphones, dating has gone high-tech with easy to use apps.

I think the all-new JDate has a lot of benefits – you control the information so it’s consistent with your other online profiles, you can filter others based on criteria that are “musts”, you can go beyond the photo and read more about the person, and you can do it all in the privacy of your phone. No more worrying if the kids or your mom will find the profile on the kitchen computer. And since you don’t have to use your real name for your profile name there’s an added layer of security. Even better, you can communicate within the app for greater privacy and safety.

My friend Beth shared about how her brother and sister-in-law found true love on JDate. That was 10 years and 2 kids ago, so it does work. JDate is kind of like a tech version of a matchmaker. It helps to avoid some of the awkwardness of going up to people, which makes it a little less stressful. In addition, JDate has events around the country you can check out and attend knowing there will be others there looking to make the in-person connection too.

Being single and looking for “the one” has special challenges. You can only go to the J, visit every shul in town, and attend Jewish mixers so many times before you get tired or they start to think you’re a freak. So if you know someone who may want to get started, but is reluctant, give them the gift of JDate. And if you’re the mom or the Auntie, don’t be offended if your bubelah doesn’t write a formal thank you for the gift. It’s appreciated. Besides you can tell them JDate is responsible for more Jewish marriages than all other online dating sites combines. That’s a pretty good track record! But don’t break out the Bartenura just yet.

My grandparents were married 52 years. All my bubbe’s siblings were married over 50 years. I’m heading toward 25 years with CycleGuy. We all deserve to find our beshert!


Join the JDate Twitter Party for a Chance to Win an HTC One M9 Smartphone #JDater

JDate JDate

When it comes to finding your one true love, more and more technology is bringing people together. For Jewish people, many of the online dating sites just don’t seem all that kosher. That’s where JDate comes in. If 2016 is the year you have set to find ‘the one’ (and, let’s face it have your mom and bubbe stop asking who you’re dating) then you need to join me Monday, December 21, 2015 at 9 PM EST for a Twitter party to celebrate the all-new JDate online dating  site. I’m working with JDate to help them spread the word that the online dating scene for Jewish singles just got a whole latke (see what I did there?) easier. And to help one lucky person put finding their love in the palm of their hand, we’re giving away an HTC One M9 Smartphone so they can try the even easier to use JDate’s Mobile App (which is available for both iPhone and android).

Did you know that JDate is responsible for more Jewish marriages than all other online dating brands combined? And because modern Jewish men and women love a good laugh, to celebrate its new look, JDate worked with SNL’s Jon Rudnitsky to create a hilarious (and maybe not-so far off from some of the options out there) JDate video about a fictional dating app called “Eh”.

RSVP for the party  by leaving a  comment on with your Twitter handle on Melissa’s post and make sure to follow the hosts @MelissaSChapman on Twitter and @JDate on Twitter to be eligible to win the HTC One M9 Smartphone. Follow #JDater on Twitter to chat with us about how to make your online dating experience better than “Eh”. And if you happened to have used JDate in the past to find your one true love, we’d love for you to join us and share your tips.


Ultimate Passover Pinterest Finds For A Delicious Seder

Passover Pins

OK, perhaps not the ultimate list of all things Passover but it’s a great start to finding recipes, crafts, and things about Passover that aren’t the same ol’ thing. Most of us have all the traditional recipes for Passover. But, what we really want are new things that others have tried and know work. I like having options from different cultures because I get tired of eating the basics night after night. Passover pins

So, I put together my Passover Pinterest Finds to help me stay out of the rut that has me hating matzo after just a few days. Hope you enjoy these and I’ll keep searching for more things to add because there are some super home cooks out there making delicious foods for the holiday. I mean, a girl can’t live on matzo alone! Passover pins

Whether you’re looking for alternative to gefilte fish, ways to make those four glasses of wine more fun, crafts for the kids, or better desserts than we had when we were kids, I promise you’ll find ’em on my board. Now, it’s so common to head to Pinterest before searching through the bookcase filled with cookbooks. Pinterest is also a constantly updated resource for how to make our holidays more memorable to everyone. And, in many cases, less work for us.

Gone are the days of bland matzo-filled meals. Pinterest has opened up a world of options, from grilled cheese sandwiches to lasagna to beautiful sides like Potato Roses and wine-inspired desserts.


On Choosing Israel To Celebrate Her Bat Mitzvah

Israel Bat Mitzvah

This year BabyGirl becomes a Bat Mitzvah. In fact, according to the Jewish calendar she has already become a Bat Mitzvah. At the age of 12, a Jewish girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, literally “daughter of mitzvah”. It means that she is viewed as an adult with regard to mitzvah observance. This is the more technical side of this ritual coming-of-age event, while most people are more familiar with the public celebration and commemoration.

When I was 12, it took many conversations with my grandparents to finally get approval for me to have a public Bat Mitzvah ceremony. My mom worked at a reform temple but we were what I’ve come to call “conservadox”. My grandparents were orthodox for much of their life, but by time I lived with them they were much more conservative-leaning. Still, they had not fully embraced the idea of my having a Bat Mitzvah. It was when we moved to California and I went to Hebrew School at the temple where my mom worked that I wanted to be part of what all my friends were doing.

At the end of the conversation I was able to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony; but it had to be Havdalah, the Saturday evening service that marks the end of Shabbat. I would still be able to learn to read Torah and prepare the Haftorah but there would be limitations. Something was better than nothing. That’s how I looked at it. At least I would be up on the bimah leading the service and my friends and family would be there to celebrate with me. Family. An extended family that came together for this very important day in my life.

Now, I have a daughter who has become a Bat Mitzvah and it’s her turn to stand up and take her rightful place among the many strong, generous, kind, brilliant, and giving Jewish women who have come before her. Only now there is no family to come to town and fete her milestone. And there isn’t a class of peers who are part of “the circuit” that is the bar and bat mitzvah season when you’re 12. Instead, we are an unaffiliated Jewish family. I say unaffiliated but that’s not really true. No, we don’t belong to a synagogue per-se. But we are part of our local Chabad.

That came to be because of my grandmother, of blessed memory. She was involved in their Smile on Seniors program and during her final weeks I had the good fortune to see why she chose Chabad after she moved here. But now she is gone. A year ago. Yet I still need to give my daughter her special day even though our family is now just the three of us. While there is very extended family, the reality is that other than her dad and me there would be no other family. Which is why we’re going to Israel.

In her final days, my Grandma’s had me assure her that we’d make a Bat Mitzvah celebration for BabyGirl. We talked about going to Israel and as she shared stories of her and my grandpa’s several visits a smile came to her face and her eyes began to tear. She knew she wouldn’t be there, yet she knew that going to Israel was the right place for Baby Girl’s Bat Mitzvah.

So Israel it is! When I tell people we’re going to Israel I get that look of “are you crazy” coupled with “that’s so amazing”. And to tell you the truth it’s a bit of both. Yes, it’s a crazy idea to plan a bat mitzvah in Israel when you know no one there and are not doing one of those package deals. But at the same time it is so amazing to be able to do this for my daughter, for my family. It will be a bit bittersweet, although I’m sure I’ll look out among the people of Israel and know that we’re exactly where we should be for this special event.

If you’ve been to Israel and have suggestions, let me know. Planning a trip like this does, as they say, take a village.

Image Credit: imnewtryme (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) graphic added


Holiday Traditions With Food

Holiday Foods

Thank you to Safeway for sponsoring this post and asking me to share
my thoughts on holiday traditions.

Mention any holiday and pretty soon we’re talking about food. Food comes into the conversation as memories from childhood, treats for teachers or co-workers, desserts we’ve always wanted to make, or all the delicious delights for a cookie exchange. Food is a universal connector, even when it’s not your holiday.

Growing up, Hanukkah was spent either at my grandparent’s house or at the Jewish Chapel on base. There were latke parties, games of dreidle, and lots of laughter. But, ultimately, we all came for the latkes. Holiday traditions for Hanukkah almost always feature latkes. And while latkes are really very simple to make, for some reason they’re almost always reserved for Hanukkah. The debate around how latkes should be made and eaten can lead to heated conversations and great divides among friends. It’s hard to understand how two simple toppings – applesauce and sour cream – can cause grownups to argue.

These holiday traditions, some new and some passed down for generations, keep us connected. Maybe it’s to a more simple past or fond memories. Or maybe it’s new traditions to take the place of those we don’t feel connected to. Either way, as holidays come around we strive to create some meaning in what we do, what we serve, and how we observe.

As I walked up and down the aisles at the store, I hear people talking about the meal or appetizers they’re going to make. It’s fun to hear kids talk about making cookies or helping in the kitchen. Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, one of my fond memories of childhood is making Christmas cookies with my mom. We’d make 10 or so different kinds and she’d package them up for her coworkers, the postman, the ladies in the office at school, neighbors and friends. Lots of cookies for lots of people. It’s something I really miss and just haven’t been able to recreate.

One thing I have been able to recreate is making sure others have food for the holiday. Even though we didn’t have a lot, my mom always made sure we gave food baskets to others who were in need. Some years it was adding to the canned food drive. Other years it was an “adopt a family” type program. This year, Safeway provided me with a gift card to share. I was able to ensure that several Jewish families would be able to have kosher food for Hanukkah. Often overlooked, it’s important to me that religious Jewish families are able to maintain their observance even though times are tough. Luckily, the Safeway stores have excellent kosher-food sections and the prices are very good. Doing good deeds, especially around the holidays are a wonderful way to multiply joy.

If you’re thinking of new food traditions – maybe it’s cinnamon rolls to greet the kids, fluffy biscuits for breakfast, or delicious hummus for snacking – now is always a great time to start. Sharing food is a wonderful way to show your love. What are your favorite holiday foods and traditions?

From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!


Photo Credit: Coffee and festive Xmas doughnuts by freefoodphotos.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Image edited.


6 Ways To Ensure The Holidays Are Merry And Bright

Tips for Happy Holidays

This post is part of the HEALTHY ESSENTIALS® 2014 program by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. and The Motherhood, who sent me a box of products and compensated me for my time. Opinions, experiences and photos shared here are all my own. Thank you for reading and I hope you’ll take some of these tips to make the holiday brighter.

Winter and “the holidays” start to take over our conversations as the year comes to a close. There’s lots of talk about food, activities, decorating, more food, ugly sweaters, cookies, lots more food, and the inevitable cancellation because someone is sick. Every year I vow not to get so stressed, and I learned a big lesson about that in 2013. So as winter and “the holidays’ come around for 2014 I want to share with you some healthy essentials to making this time of year more merry, happy, and bright.

1. Eat Breakfast – We all know what happens when mama is sick. Add to it trying to get everyone to wear matching clothes, having to bake 12 dozen cookies for the cookie swap, wrapping a present or two, and keep the kids busy while they’re off from school and there’s just no time in the schedule. I can go on and on about eating healthy and avoiding this food or that. But, how about we just eat. Something. Other than the cookies we’re baking. Starting with a real breakfast – whether it’s a power smoothie, a quick scramble, or even leftovers – is really what we need. Sure, grabbing a muffin on the go works in a pinch, but we’re worth that few minutes to have a real meal.

2. Go to bed at a decent time – See, I didn’t say at 8pm or 10pm. Just a decent time. I’m terrible about staying up late and trying to get all the things done that didn’t get done during the day. Then I’m dragging in the morning. We hustle to get the kids in bed so they get enough sleep, so they don’t get sick, so the jam-packed schedule isn’t sent into disarray. Yet we stay up. I tell you, that’s no way to keep things merry and bright (although some good concealer would help with the bright). Go to bed and if something has to give, then so be it. Chances are, though, you’ll be better prepared to take on the day when you’re rested. Think about it. Santa pulls ONE, JUST ONE, all-nighter a year and he manages to get everything done. The guy’s not up late 365. Embrace your inner Santa and go to bed!

3. Meditate – I’m not talking about communing with the monks or ohming yourself into a trance. I meditate every day. I’ve been doing this for most of 2014 and I find that my 20 minutes of guided meditation make a huge difference. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or rushed it’s nice to pop in the headphone, go to a quiet place, and tune out the world and all its busy-ness for a short time. Sure, locking yourself in the bathroom so you can check your email or just get away for a few minutes sounds great. But, let’s not kid ourselves. No one leaves us alone in there.

4. Be present – Invite friends over, turn off the tech and have a game night, snuggle up and watch a favorite movie, pile in the car and go look at holiday lights. Forget the list of things that have to be done, stop the multi-tasking, don’t keep checking Facebook to see what everyone else is doing. Be present. Being present is a gift to ourselves just as much as it is for the people we’re with. It’s so much fun to take photos and share them immediately, but sharing photos isn’t really all that fun if when you look back on them and you don’t have the 1,000 words to go with them.

5. Make memories – During the holidays we talk a lot about memories. I grew up with big latke parties, huge gatherings at the synagogue, singing, and every night rushing to light the menorah and say the prayers. Memories are what connect us to our past and keep us doing all the things we do for our kids (or grandkids). So we have to help them make their own memories. And when I think about it, rarely are the memories about specific items. They’re about feelings and emotions from shared experiences.

6. Give to others – While giving is a message we hear a lot during the holiday and winter seasons, it’s one of the easiest ways to incorporate good things for us, our family, and others all in one. The best thing is that it doesn’t have to be anything huge or elaborate. Drop a few coins in a donation bucket, take the kids to buy a gift from one of the angel tress at the mall, make cards to drop at a nearby senior center, tuck a positive note where someone will find it, or use your love of technology and Donate a Photo. Giving to others is such an amazing way to boost your own spirit. And it’s a wonderful teaching opportunity for our kids.

None of that seems too hard, does it? Sometimes we just need to see these things and realize we’re worth it. As a way to help you enjoy the holidays more, Johnson & Johnson wants to help you stock up on Healthy Essentials – or create a gift to donate – by helping you save up to $35 on your favorite products (like those Frozen Band-Aid bandages you know would make most any little girl squeal with delight!). Just visit the HealthyEssentials website to grab fantastic savings on those everyday essentials to keep your family healthy.


Who Moved My Hanukkah?

 Hanukkah Disney

Since I was in elementary school, it seems I’ve had to explain Hanukkah to at least one person every year. It doesn’t bother me and I never mind giving the 3-minute version of why Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah. I don’t get in to any of the deep religious “compare and contrast” type explanational materials. A basic question just calls for a basic answer.

But when it comes to Hanukkah, there are so many ways to explain it. Some people want to know if it’s just Jewish Christmas or if Jewish people wanted something to celebrate because there was all this celebrating around Christmas. Seriously, I don’t make up the questions, I just answer them and file them away for future use (such as blog posts like this).

Recently, though, I’ve had a lot of questions about why Hanukkah keeps moving around. Last year it was mid-December. This year it’s earlier in the month. Next year it’s the end of November! Black Friday 2013 will be more like The Great Kvetch as Jews around the US lament that Hanukkah is too early.

For the record, Hanukkah is the same day every year. Has been since, well, even that’s a funny story. The first Hanukkah celebration wasn’t even really Hanukkah but was called Hanukkah. That was back in the second century BCE when particularities such as “What do we call this celebration” were overlooked. Nothing like adding to the confusion, right?

For us modern folks, Hanukkah is always the 25th of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle so the Jewish months are not exactly aligned with the more secular solar-based Gregorian calendar. It’s way more complicated than can be explained here in a few sentences. The Jewish leap years add a month (take that February 29th!), which happens 7 times in every 19-year cycle. And considering that in traditional Jewish history there is really no concept of what a “day” is the 24-hour time period just complicate things. If you’ve read even the first few chapters of the bible (or Torah for that matter), you’ll recall in Genesis that G-D created a day. That day, curiously enough, began at sundown and continued until the next sundown. So, for Jewish people around the globe, sundown is the key time marker for our calendar and all associated events. Are you even more confused?

Anyway, so, a day in Genesis-created-Jewish-world is pretty easy to grasp because we lived in the Mediterranean with lots of sunshine (an oppressive Pharoah, a fearless leader who somehow split the sea but got us lost for 40 years, and flat tasteless crackers that will one day give us the deliciousness known as Matzo Crack. Or so the story goes.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, Jews move around and end up all over the world. Long before Jonathan Larson wondered how we measure a year, Jews knew how to measure a year, and a day too. Except when they started moving to Upper FrozenLandia and there was no sun to go up or down. More confusion. And you wonder why Jews flock to Florida in the winter? It’s just part of our modern DNA!

Well, now we live in a nearly borderless world and there are Jews everywhere, even most recently on the International Space Station. And we’ve adjusted to this modern secular calendar and many of us have intermingled our Jewish lives into our secular lives. So every Jewish year has been overlayed onto the Gregorian calendar and like the magic of the 8-days the oil lasted Hanukkah is slapped onto a day, usually in December. Except when we’re not paying enough attention and it’ll pop up in November and laugh at us like a woman holding the last Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday.

All the back story is enough to glaze over anyone’s eyes, so I don’t mind that people ask me why Hanukkah isn’t the same day every year. And for many Jewish people, it does seem to sneak up on us too. That’s why some smarty invented the smart phone and alert notifications! OK, that’s not the only reason, but I’m sure it was one of the top 5 or so.

Now that you know all there is to know about the ping-pong of Hanukkah on your (likely digital) calendar, I bid you crispy latkes and sweet sufganiyot – all calorie-free as all ritual-oriented food is (because I read that on the internt, so it’s true!).

Any other questions about Hanukkah? Ask away. I’m happy to explain them.


Why Rosh HaShanah Is Kind Of A Big Deal To Jewish People


Unlike forcing yourself to stay up until midnite new year, Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year) is a bit more low-key and, well, religious. As one of the few holiest days, Rosh HaShana not only marks the beginning of a new year, but also celebrates the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Some call it the birthday of the world, but there are “experts” who disagree on when and how the world was created (but we won’t get in to that). What begins a ten-day period known as the Days of Awe, Rosh HaShanah is a pretty big deal.

Since you can read about the basics of Rosh HaShanah on a host of websites and blogs, I thought I’d give you a little more insight as to why Rosh HaShanah is a big deal to Jewish people, or more specifically to me and Jewish people I know. I won’t go in to all the deep religious reasons like asking forgiveness, reflecting on past transgressions or the all-important kid reason of not having to go to school. For every Jewish person, Rosh HaShanah holds different meaning. But for most Jews, it might be the second or third holiest day of the year. And while I don’t speak for the entire population of Jewish people, we’d all agree Rosh HaShanah is a pretty big deal.

So, Why Is Rosh HaShana Kind Of A Big Deal To Jewish People? Thank you for asking!

1. It’s as much about “me” as it is “we”. Birthdays tend to put a lot of focus on the one celebrating. Since Rosh HaShanah is the celebration of the creation of Adam and Eve (the birthday of the world), it’s not a coincidence that Jews world-wide focus a great deal of their attention to what’s going on in the world and how we can continue to make it better. It’s big ideas about world peace, but also small ideas about feeding the local homeless, making sure kids have food and clothes to go to school, and supporting others who seek to stop oppression. Adam and Eve might have started out all about the “me”, but their journey quickly turned into one focused on “we”.

2. R-E-F-L-E-C-T, that is what we do you see. I’m no musical talent, so just go with me on that. Like personal birthdays where there’s a lot of looking back and reminiscing, Rosh HaShanah stirs most people into a reflective mood. Even though Rosh HaShanah is about a new year, it’s important for Jews to look back at the year and take stock of how it went so each of us can figure out how to improve and do better.

3. Family. Unlike the secular new year, Rosh HaShanah brings families together. Whether it’s kids going home to be with their parents, grandparents visiting their children and grandchildren, extended families members coming together for the first time in a year, or opening your home to invite those who create a more world-view of family, Rosh HaShanah is a time to take to heart that we are part of a larger group that loves and cherishes us despite our transgressions.

4. Friends. What’s a celebration without friends? Sure, family’s nice and all but friends add a lot of joy to our lives and it wouldn’t be a party without them. I mean, Adam and Eve had to go find friends to enrich their lives. Isn’t that our first indication that while family is nice, friends are gold to the frankincense and myrrh of family relationships? Or something like that, without the baby Jesus reference.

5. Food. When it comes to celebrating important things there’s always food. And Rosh HaShanah is not one to disappoint. Food is so important to Rosh HaShanah that we even make the challah special. The challah isn’t just tasty and delicious. No, we make it round. There’s symbolism in that roundness. And we often make it sweet. Again, more symbolism. But we’re not done yet. Like most holidays with special food, Rosh HaShanah is not just stopping with round sweet challah. Jews around the world will dip apples in honey to symbolize a sweet year and remind us that even though there may be challenges to doing something, the reward is often sweet. (And probably to remind us of Adam and Eve. Like we’d forget!) Even though there will be fasting, the sumptuous meal that will be set before us will, once again, remind of that we’re connected to a bigger world and yet as we feast others may not.

6. Giving. – We call it Tikkun Olam, repair the world.  Despite this pretty awesome place we call Earth, after 5700 years or so things start needing a little extra attention. Just like we take care of our health, our homes, our vehicles, we also take care of the world. Rosh HaShanah is a time when we gather food, especially, to share with others who may not have. From the perspective of Adam and Eve, they walked out of the Garden of Eden with nothing. There was no one there to offer food or clothing or shelter. It’s not like that today. Jews around the world have a very strong sense of helping others and when reflecting on the year that has passes, we often evaluate how we could have helped a little more.

7. Feats of Strength. OK, it’s less of a feat of strength as it is a feat of lung capacity. If you’ve never blown a shofar, I guarantee it’s not as easy as it looks. And even if you played the trumpet through four years of marching band, you’re no shofar blowin’ Dizzy Gillespie. The sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) signifies both a reminder of our need to repent. The shofar is like the referee’s whistle telling us we’ve done something wrong and to get our head on straight and get back in the game. The other feat of strength is fasting. And while we’ve all forgotten to eat lunch a few times, it’s not the same as purposefully not eating and spending the day deep in prayer while standing, sitting, and feeling a personal connection to the Almighty.

8. One More Year. It doesn’t have that same sing-songy-ness to it, but like the political chant wanting 4 more years, Rosh HaShanah is a reminder that we get another chance to do our best. We don’t get to put off being our most awesome self to some time down the road. Awesome begins right here, right now! It’s like calling a “do over” when you’re 9 years old playing marbles. Everyone deserves a chance to start over with a clean slate and Rosh HaShanah marks just that – a fresh, new year ahead full of possibility and opportunity.

Even though I don’t speak for all the Jewish people everywhere, I think these 8 reasons sum up why Rosh HaShanah is kind of a big deal to Jewish people around the world. And while I injected some fun in this post, I take very seriously the message of Rosh HaShanah – Be the best you can be and help others.

Shanah Tova, u’metukah!

Image Credit: Davi Cheng via Morgue File


Yom HaShoah – I Remember. Because One Day They Will All Be Gone

Holocaust Memorial Plaque
Holocaust Memorial Plaque in Venice, Italy

The youngest survivors are in their late 60s, early 70s. It is a very real possibility that in my lifetime there will come a time when no one is left to recount, first hand, the horrors of the Holocaust. Six million Jews (and millions more who were also deemed inferior) perished at the command of one man. Today is Yom HaShoah and Jews around the world remember those who were killed. I lit a candle and in doing so remember those who otherwise would not be.

Most Jews can tell you of the time or times they’ve met Holocaust survivors. I don’t remember when I first met someone who’d been in the Holocaust. Mrs. Slusser was part of our congregation. I was probably 7 or 8 when I noticed the bandage on her forearm. I asked if she hurt herself. “No”, she said, and left it at that. Weeks later the bandage was still there. And it was always there. I mentioned it to my mom who said it was something Mrs. Slusser didn’t talk about. I left it at that. It was years later when I first saw her tattoo. By then I had read about the Holocaust. I knew what it meant. Only prisoners at Auschwitz were given numbers. From her age, she must have been a young girl when she was taken to the camp.

This year marks the 59th time Yom HaShoah has been observed. It is observed across the globe not only to remember those who died, but also to remember those who stood up and did something. There were many who hid families, arranged for children to be transported to safety, opened their factories and shops to the Nazi’s yet treated the Jews forced to work in labor camps humanely. There are many stories, not all of which are told in award-winning films. But they are told. By those who survived or got out.

I’ve heard their stories first hand. I’ve seen men and women slowly roll up their sleeves to expose their tattoo indicating they spent time at Auschwitz. One day, though, there will be no one left to bear witness first hand.

Listening to these elderly men and women tell their story of hunger, death, famine and countless atrocities is sobering. I also hear them speak of love, beauty, family and hope and my eyes fill with too many tears for a single tissue. I close my eyes and listen raptly as they share this horror with me, with us. And with each time they tell their story a little part of it escapes, to allow that space to be filled with love.

My family had emigrated to America many years prior. Although in the military, during the time of liberating the camps in Europe my grandfather was in the South Pacific on secret missions. And while I have no family connection to the atrocities, as a Jewish person I am forever part of continuing to tell the story.

On my recent trip to Italy I visited Pompeii. A civilization destroyed by a volcano. But some had left prior. And others knew the city existed. But at some point their story stopped being told and the history died for thousands of years. Then one day a man unearthed a fragment of their history. And now history is rediscovered.

We can’t let that happen to those who died in the Holocaust. Regardless of religion, we can never forget. And we can not stop telling the stories to our children and impressing upon them the importance of why we do this. One day there will be no one to say “I saw it with my own eyes”. And on that day, it will solely be up to us to keep their memories alive.

In memory of all those who died in the Holocaust, I remember. Please join me and helping to keep history alive.

Today I also remember those who lost their lives, and whose lives were forever changed, by the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I was in law school at the University of Oklahoma at the time. I remember everything about that day. It’s been 17 years since the Oklahoma City Bombing and I remember that day like it was yesterday.

Photo: Sara Hawkins, taken March 2012 in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, Italy