Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Fall Fancies - Hanukkah Hanukiah

Today is the first full day of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.

While most of us in the United States are preparing for Christmas, the Jewish people of this country have been getting ready to celebrate Hanukkah.

In Binghamton, there is a wonderful museum in a historic mansion that opens for a month every year, this year from November 15 to December 27.  Run by volunteers, Hanukkah House is free (but donations are accepted).   You can search my blog for other posts about Hanukkah House, such as this one.

One thing that Hanukkah House displays each year is a wonderful display of hanukiah.

A hanukiah is a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, which commemorates a miracle that happened over 2,000 years ago.  It differs from a menorah in that the 9th candle holder is held higher than, or is aligned with, the other 8 candles. 
Haukiah and menorahs come in many sizes.  Some are beautiful works of art.  Others are homemade.
They can be deeply religious, or whimsical.
Some are oriented towards children.
The oil of the original menorah (see yesterday's post for a brief description of the holiday, and this blog post for the whole nine yards, so to speak) was only supposed to last for one day, but the menorah kept burning for the eight days it took to get a new supply.  Now, many of these use candles (some are electric) instead of oil.  This one is using beeswax candles.  The candles can be white, or of many colors.

The ninth candle, or the shamash, is used to light the other candles.  On the first day, my tradition dictates one candle plus the shamash is lit.  On the second night, two candles, and the shamash, and so forth.

The candles are lit from right to left.  By the eighth day, all eight candles are lit by the shamash and it is a beautiful sight.  While lighting the candles, two prayers (three on the first night) are recited or sung.

A festival of lights is what we need in today's world - a symbol of the victory of light over te force of darkness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Latkes #FlavoursomeTuesday

Tonight, at sundown, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins.
Hanukkah House, Binghamton, New York

Tomorrow, I will blog more about this year's visit to Hanukkah House, a museum in Binghamton, New York open one month a year, but today is a time for food memories.

Hanukkah is an eight day holiday - this year beginning at sundown tonight (December 12) and ending sundown, December 20. (Our days begin at sundown, and we follow a lunar calendar, so holidays fall on different days on our secular calendar each year.)

The holiday (briefly) commemorates a miracle where, after enemy occupation, our Temple was restored to us, and a menorah, powered by oil, was to have been lit.  But there was only enough oil for one night.  It would take eight days to get more oil (remember, transportation in the second century BCE was somewhat slow) and, the flame burned those eight days until more oil arrived.

Several types of foods are traditional for Hanukkah in my cultural tradition:
Fried foods - two examples would be jelly donuts and latkes.  There are many more.
Hanukkah gelt - chocolate coins. Ok, chocolate in the shape of coins, with foil wrappers.  Fun!
Dairy - I didn't eat these as a child, but as adults, my spouse and I enjoy a fried cheese patty which, blending in his Italian tradition, he covers with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and bakes in the oven. Not like the original.  His own.

But as for those latkes - I loved when my Mom made them.  (And I love when my spouse makes them in his own way.)

Mom would take out a 4 sided grater and hand-grate Russet (baking) potatoes, followed by onions.  She would squeeze any accumulated water.  To the mixture, she would then add matzoh meal (you can substitute flour), eggs, salt and pepper.  She would form into patties and fry.  Many Jewish households of the day used chicken fat for the frying but if you did that, you would not be able to eat with dairy food.

I can smell them cooking now, filling our small apartment's kitchen with the scents of Hanukkah, as I watch the candles burn.

My Mom would serve with homemade applesauce if a meat meal, or, with sour cream for a dairy meal.

This is how my spouse, the family cook, makes them nowadays.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish?

Happy Hanukkah to all of my readers who celebrate.

Join Bellybytes at Mumbai on a High and Shilpa Gupte at Metanoia for #FlavoursomeTuesdays.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Music Written by Jews #MusicMovesMe

This seasonal post has become one of my favorite features on my blog.  For the first time, I am sharing it with my friends at Music Moves Me, where our December theme is Christmas music.

But before I do, a belated 101st birthday (December 9) to Issur Danielovitch, better known as actor Kirk Douglas.  Born in upstate New York (and yes, he is Jewish), he has gone on to great acting fame.

But did you know he sometimes sang?  Here, from the movie 20,000. Leagues Under the Sea, is a song called "Whale of a Tale".

Now, since the theme for today is Christmas music and not Kirk Douglas music, onward...

Today, I pose a question: Why do Christians in the United States dream of a White Christmas?  Why is it so important that snow is on the ground?

White Christmas (the song, as sung by Bing Crosby) is the best selling single of all time.

It may surprise you that White Christmas was written by a Jewish song writer.  It may also surprise you that Jews are responsible for many other beloved Christmas songs.

My quest to find out more started in 2010, after reading a NY Times Op Ed.  Many writers have done the research for me:  I thank them, including the wonderful people at Mental Floss and this article. (a must read, based on extensive research).

Some may argue that these are NOT Christmas songs, but rather songs about what I would now call the "secular Christmas". True, these are not hymns.  But it is true that the American celebration of Christmas incorporates many aspects of non-religious symbolism - this ground has been covered by other writers.

I consider them Christmas songs.  I think, in particular, few would argue that "I'll be Home for Christmas" isn't one of the most heartfelt Christmas songs every written.

Additionally, in the several years, I have discovered a wonderful blog and - hey, great minds! - John Holton of The Sound of One Man Typing (a 4M contributor) has also blogged about this very topic. I welcome you to visit John's blog and read even more - a lot more - on this topic.

Here's my list: (this is a You Tube playlist; you can click on the upper left hand corner for all the songs)


1.  White ChristmasIrving Berlin lived to 101, married a Catholic woman back when that type of intermarriage was extremely scandalous (to both families) and wrote a song which defined Christmas for entire generations of American Christians.  (Incidentally, Berlin also wrote "Easter Parade" and "God Bless America".) The next time you wonder if you will be having a white Christmas, and if you can't figure out exactly why that should be so important, well....blame Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin.

2.  Silver Bells:  this one is another movie song, and talks about the bells of the Salvation Army "in the city". (I always assume it is New York City.)
Another Bing Crosby classic.

 3.  Winter Wonderland: the author of this song was a Jewish man from Brooklyn.  The air must have been a lot less polluted in those days.   When I grew up in the New York City of the 1950's, a snowy day was more like a Black Crusted Snow Wasteland.

This version is sung by Johnny Mathis.

4.  The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). The Nat King Cole version is one of my favorite songs, ever.  This brings back so many memories of the holiday season in the late 60's in midtown Manhattan and the vendors who sold roasted chestnuts.  The fragrance carried for blocks.  For this song, we thank the Jewish songwriters Mel Torme and Robert Wells.

Jack Frost would certainly nip at your nose in NYC.  The climate there is so damp, it feels way colder than it really is.

5.  Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow:  the duo, both Jewish, who wrote that song, also wrote "The Christmas Waltz".  This version is sung by Dean Martin.

6.  I'll be Home for Christmas.  Again, sung by Bing Crosby (do you get the feeling I'd rather listen to the older singers?)  As an almost-history major in college, this song makes me think of my aunts and uncles who served during World War II.  This song was originally from the soundtrack of the movie Holiday Inn - yes, the movie that the hotel chain Holiday Inn took its name from.  Two of the three writers of this song were Jewish - Walter Kent and Buck Ram.

Finally, something I picked up in my research:  remember Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  It would seem that Johnny Marks, the author of that song (and also "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas")  was Jewish.

Think of the themes of these songs:  Missing your home.  Childhood nostalgia.  Enjoying a season of lights and happiness. The different child (or reindeer), scorned by others, who becomes the best of all.  These are universal themes, and this is why these songs, I think, are so appealing, no matter who wrote them.

So, thank you for the people responsible for Music Moves Me:and if you love music, why don't you join Xmas Dolly and the other Elves under the mistletoe?

The Head Elf is XmasDolly.  Her co-elves are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice, and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥  & The Rockin' elf Cathy from Curious as a Cathy !

Come join us on this musical train to Christmas!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Age Is More Than a Number

I used to work for a man, a man who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, whose favorite expression was "age is only a number".  I haven't been in touch with him in over 15 years, but I knew he had gone into business for himself - actually, less than a mile from where I live.

I went to his website the other day, and saw that he is still active in the business (he's older than I am).  The motto of his business impressed me: Loyalty/Integrity/Compassion.

Aging really is more than a number.  It is a sum of experience - good times, bad times, happiness, grief, and more.  These accumulate in you as you age, and make you the person you are, for better or worse.

Some people grow bitter as they age.  Others gain in - yes, compassion.

The other day, I read a blog post about the Beatles, growing up, and a long lost friend.

It made me think, as I sit here and watch snow starting to come down.  I'm 64 years old but not for much longer.

I love the Beatles song "When I'm Sixty-Four".  It's said that Paul McCartney wrote this song, one of his first, when he was 16 years old (but I can't verify that).  It talks of a man wanting to grow old with his love.  Unfortunately, the complete Beatles song does not seem to be on You Tube; this is a cover by a tribute band.

When I'm no longer 64, I may be thinking more about retirement, although I am not ready to retire as of right now.  My first cousin to retire is going to retire in January.  I have cousins in their late 60's who are still working.  One of my aunts was still working full time at age 77 when she died in a car accident.

And there's my long-lost friend who, if she is alive, would have turned 65 on December 7.

I have tried countless Internet and Facebook searches.   She moved from my part of New York City to another in 1964, and we lost touch just after her 16th birthday party.

Getting ready to turn 65 makes you think.

It makes you think of the people in your life who did not have the privilege of enjoying 65th birthdays.  That list includes my mother, my childhood best friend, and several co workers (including one I've blogged about a couple of times).   It makes me think of the things I would like to do while I still can. Maybe I'll be able to for years.  Maybe my cutoff will be tomorrow.

We never know, do we?

What are your thought as your age numbers creep upwards?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Local Saturday - And Alabama Snow

Some pictures of the season where I live in upstate New York.  No snow to show you - not yet.

But we have plenty of poinsettias in stores.
And even a poinsettia tree.

I know that my readers are clammering for snow, but I have none to give them yet.  We've missed the snow that has hit so much of the east coast and the south - snow to the east of us, snow to the north of us, but here we are.

So the sister of my guest photographer had to provide the pictures, from a place where it rarely snows - Alabama.

I don't know if this is a rose or a camilla (I think it's a rose), but either way, this isn't how they are supposed to look.

And, peacefully, the snow fell in the Alabama dark.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Supermoon at Sunrise - #SkywatchFriday

Monday, as the supermoon was setting and the sun was starting to dawn, I left for work.  I slammed my front door shut, and about two seconds later, realized I had left my purse in the house.

Fortunately, I had my tote bag, with my lunch, my badge, a book, and necessities for transportation.  But what I didn't have was my phone.

And so I stood there helplessly, and marveled at the sight of the supermoon.  And said "oh no!  This would have been perfect for Skywatch!"

Fortunately, the woman who I call my "guest photographer" was taking some shots that morning.  And, maybe it is against Skywatch rules, but I am using her photos.
I don't know that the moon was bigger, but it was definitely brighter.


My guest photographer lives in the country while I live in a village.
So, thanks to her, you get a couple of bonus shots of dawn in rural upstate New York.

I might just use her wonderful photos again next week, , because...well, I'll tell you that story next week.

Join Yogi and other intrepid watchers of the sky at #SkywatchFriday.  Come watch (and photograph) the sky with us!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Disappearing Anniversary

Last year was the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Pearl Harbor Day was the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which was not yet one of the 50 United States.  Japan declared war on the United States shortly after the attack. The United States declared war on Japan the next day, and Germany declared war on the United States three days later.

The official death toll of Pearl Harbor was 2,403.

 December 7 is a day meaningful to the generation that preceded mine - the generation that is sometimes called "The Greatest Generation".  In the same way, November 22 is that date for my generation -  the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.  For a newer generation, January 28 is the date the shuttle Challenger exploded not long after liftoff.  There is September 11, 2001. For the people of India, there is what they call "26/11" in their way of writing dates, the terrible Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008.

But the anniversary of Pearl Harbor may not live on for too much longer.  Eyewitnesses to the attack are dying of old age.  Take the most famous ship in that attack, the USS Arizona.  As of July of this year, there were five survivors still alive.

My parents are long gone.  If my Dad, a World War II veteran, was still alive, he would be over 100. The man who is interviewed above (his parents immigrated from Mexico) is 105 now.  Ray Chavez, a World War II combat veteran, survived Pearl Harbor and still remembers it. And Pearl Harbor wasn't the only tragic thing that happened to him, as he weathered the tragic death of his daughter, grandchild and son in law in a car accident.

This is a report on his 105th birthday celebration.

Yes, he still works out twice a week with a personal trainer.

And he says "I am not a hero".

I disagree.

We must never forgot our history.   Without knowing what has come before, we don't know the consequences of what happens today.  We can not make good decisions about what is happening now.  Not just on December 7, but every day.