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Chanukkah: The Holiday of For, the Holiday of That and
the Singular Holiday of “Thanks”

In his most famous work, the Pachad Yitzhak, Rabbi Yizhcok Hutner (1906-1980), points out that the term, hodaah, usually defined as “thanks” ( הודאה or להודות ) has two separate meanings -- appreciation and acknowledgement.

Hodaah is an expression of appreciation of goodness received, as in the morning tefilah of modeh ani.  There we thank God for the blessing received-- restoring life in order to face the new day. R. Hutner calls this hodaah al ha’avar, על העבר --thanking for a kindness that has been done--it is a thanking for.

Hodaah is also an acknowledgement.  it is an acknowledgement or admission of the position of the other side.  When I realize the validity of your position, I am modeh to it.  Hodaah is also an understanding one’s place in the world.  It is an internalization of who we are in relation to others, whether it be realizing our place as Jews, as Americans, as parents, as siblings…
A Jew’s Poem and a Celebrity’s Plea: Messages on Pittsburgh in a Week of Tragedy

Pittsburgh continues to be the central focus of our emotions.  From vigils to articles, to prayers and conversations with people of all ages, we are all, in some sense, Pittsburghers this week.    As last week unfolded, I also decided to connect in one other way -- to connect with the lessons of maybe my greatest teacher from Pittsburgh, the late Mr. Rogers.   For over 31 years, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood taught children and all of us so many important lessons. Below are two Pittsburgh moments:  The first is an incredible poem dedicated to the baby who was to be named on that fateful Shabbat.  Of all that I read this week, for me, this was among the most jarring, heartbreaking and powerful. The second is an inspiration.   My parents used to watch Mr. Rogers with me as a child, and highly recommended the movie, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” to me.  Among the many meaningful moments in the film, were the words of a…
The Acorns Fall while the Quaker Philosopher and the Chassidic Rebbe Speak

Our Sukkah took an unusual pounding this year.  Throughout the chag, there was a constant thunderous noise on our Sukkah.  It was not the sound of rain or thunder or even of schach falling, but the sound of acorns.  For some reason, acorns fell from our high trees in droves this Sukkot. Night and day, they kept falling in numbers never before seen by the Franks. 

After some intense scientific Google research on the subject, I found out that this is part of the natural rhythm of autumn.  It is not so unusual.  Some years, there are few acorns that fall. And other years, acorns can “sound like little bombs as they rain down on your house.” 

And as I listened to the acorns fall as I sat in my sukkah, I lamented -- lamented the end of summer and the beginning of the long cold winter. 

But some quiet moments with the words of a Quaker Philopher and a Chassidic Rebbe from my seat in shul changed my angle of view, fr…
Which Day Defines Your Year? A HaYom Challenge for the Yamim Noraim
The theater has it right about the day. Whether it is Emily begging the stage manager to return to Grover’s Corners for one more day in Our Town, Billy getting one more day to visit his daughter Louise in Carousel or Mark in Rent talking about “single frames of one magic night forever flicker(ing) in close-up,” it is often one or two moments, one or two days in a year, a Yom, that teach us most about ourselves and what matters.
At Elli Kranzler’s annual slichot concert last night into this morning, the sole thread (and the soul thread) that weaved through his music and tefila was the day of his mother’s death this summer.  While every year’s concert is incredible, it was this one that stood out—as his words, his voice and his music, his lens on the slichot was shaped by one day where he lost his mother, his teacher and his nurturer.  As one who was blessed to be there last night, I would say that it was his Yom.
As I…
Discomfort and Responsibility in the Houses We Live In:  A Blessing for Elul and the Opening of School 

As we wind down the summer, many feel that at a certain point, we have had enough.  Enough of the travel, enough of being out and a feeling that it is time to go home.  

In Elul, as we prepare for the chagim, we long for a spiritual return home as we recite Tehilim 27. (27:4)
אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה--    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.
As we enter into another house, the schoolhouse in the coming days, we do so with the hope that it will be a space for us for dwell in and achieve continued growth and learning.  
As we enter this house in the month of Elul, I wanted to share three brief lessons from this month. 

Elul is not the month of history, it’s the month of responsibility

In this book about the holiday experience, Rabbi Al…

My 2018 Summer 12 Movie “Challenge” and 12 Short Lessons Learned

My 2018 Summer 12 Movie “Challenge” and 12 Short Lessons Learned

One of the most important lessons in life is to embrace the stage that you are in.  A few years ago, when my children were still very young, I looked at my friends who had older kids jealousy.  They would talk about inspirational beach books or meaningful summer movies and I would only have read Dr. Seuss and watched Disney with my young ones.  I used to ask myself, “Will I ever have time to read a book or watch a movie for pleasure?”

Now, this summer, I am embracing my stage and accepting what my friend calls the “Summer 12 Challenge.” Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, over that 14-15 week span, I have spent time on planes, in theaters and on Netflix with friends, family or on my own watching movies once a week or so.

Here are the 12 from this Summer and a 1-2 sentence thought on each one.  They are in no particular order…

Maktub-A fun movie that has everything-mafia, Israeli flavor, drama, humor, theology and religi…

How Summer Can Fool You- The Spinning Wheel of Tisha B’Av and Chanukkah

Chanukkah kept coming to my mind.  Even when the rabbi said that, “Tisha B’Av is a a fast day like Yom Kippur and a day of restrictions like shiva,” images of menorahs in the window were in my head.

Yes, in the midst of the most depressing holiday on the Jewish calendar, the concepts of Tisha B’Av’s timing and focus on space hearken me back to Chanukkah.

Time

In the middle of the winter, darkness pervades our lives.  Days are short and it is not unusual to experience some level of Seasonal Affective Disorder, where moodiness and depression emerge due to the sparse commodity of sunlight. LIke in many other religions, we, as Jews, celebrate a holiday to addresses those doldrums-- Chanukkah. Among the many lessons that Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights, teaches us is that even a little bit of light can chase away the darkness.  In the time of year where we can lose hope, comes Chanukkah to teach us that the spirit of positivity, of hope and of light is always present even when it seems fa…