Monthly News from JNF’s Advocacy & Education Department
December has arrived and we are looking forward to celebrating Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. This year Chanukah falls late on the secular calendar, on the 25th of Kislev, coinciding with the evening of Sunday, December 22. Students and teachers will have a much-deserved break from school as we all enjoy the winter holidays, and we look forward to the dawning of spring in Israel and the celebration of Tu BiShvat, which is not too far away. For those schools who have signed up for our Tu BiShvat in the Schools program, you can expect to receive your box of materials the week of January 6. In the meantime, we are pleased to share with you some recent happenings around the country. Wishing everyone a wonderful Chanukah celebration filled with bright lights, spinning dreidels, and some delicious latkes and sufganiyot.
Co-Founder of SpaceIL Visits Krieger Schechter Day School
By Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, Head of School
The 5th grade students at Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS) in Baltimore, MD welcomed Yonatan Winetraub, Co-Founder of SpaceIL, who spoke about last spring’s Beresheet mission to the moon. Yonatan’s visit coincided with the annual Jewish National Fund-USA Maryland Breakfast for Israel, hosted at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore. In addition to sharing some of the science behind the nine-year space project, Yonatan also acknowledged this fabulous video produced by their class last year, that won first prize in the Israel Embassy’s Beresheet video contest.
Beth Torah Early Childhood Academy Raises Money for Sderot Indoor Playground
Claudine Ackerman, a participant in JNF’s 2019 Summer Educators Mission to Israel, was inspired by her trip and especially her visit to the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center. The recreation center, built by JNF in 2009, was established as a safe place for children in Sderot to play. These children live in an area that is besieged by rockets from Gaza. When a siren goes off in Sderot, it means a rocket is incoming and residents have only 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter to be safe. Claudine shared some of her takeaways from her summer experience:
- The importance and the need to educate people about the impact of JNF, which extends beyond planting trees for Tu BiShvat.
- The inspiration to create a joint fundraising effort that is meaningful to the school’s children.
- Being grateful and appreciating the blessings of life.
- Instilling a culture of giving tzedakah.
The children at Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus took home JNF blue tzedakah boxes to help make a difference. Blue Box Bob is looking forward to his visit to Beth Torah to meet the children and collect the blue boxes! Thank you, Claudine and the students at Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus!
Dvar Torah: Why Do Chanukah Lights Shine So Bright?
Written by Michael Sunshine, Israel Studies Educator, Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
Chanukah is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays. It is a fun holiday celebrated specifically in the home by lighting the Chanukah menorah, ideally placed outside the front door, with the delicious addition of latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
The light from the Chanukah candles serves to remind us of the miracle that occurred during the Second Temple period when the Macabees fought and defeated the Seleucid Greek Empire. The smaller and weaker Maccabee forces defeated the mighty and well-armed Seleucid soldiers. Upon entering the Beit Hamikdash/Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews cleaned up the Temple and attempted to reinstate the Temple service. They found only one cruse of oil to light the Menorah, enough for just one day. It would take eight days to produce pure oil under the watch of the Kohen Gadol/High Priest. As the story continues, G-d performed a miracle and the single cruse of oil lasted for eight days.
It is puzzling, though, that the story of Chanukah is memorialized by a miracle of oil, when it was the military revolt against the Seleucid army that saved the Jews. Perhaps, then, instead of lighting a menorah, we should publicize the miracle of victory by leaning a sword and shield just outside the entrance to our homes.
To understand why we focus on the oil, and not military equipment, we need to understand why the Maccabees revolted.
Although requiring a more thorough study to comprehensively understand the Jewish opposition to Hellenism, even a brief analysis will enlighten us.
In essence, it was a clash of civilizations and culture.
The Seleucids were not interested in battling the Jews. Continuing in the tradition of Alexander the Great, they wanted to spread Hellenistic culture. As long as the people in the lands they controlled practiced Hellenism, they could live in peace. It was the Jews who upended the status-quo and revolted.
Greek culture is in many ways the foundation of our modern Western culture. It contributed greatly to humanity and the modern world and therefore we cannot, with one stroke, declare it void and evil.
Why, then, did they revolt and plunge the Land of Israel into decades of war?
While Hellenism has imbued in the world an appreciation of art, an intellectual study of philosophy, and a recognition of the physical strength and abilities of man, it is specifically the lens with which the Greeks understood them that contrasts greatly with Judaism, and ensured the revolt of the faithful Maccabees.
Whereas the classic Greek drama is tragedy, the downfall and destruction of people, in contrast, the message of our Tanach/Bible, the stories of our ancestors, teach us about hope and rebirth.
While Greek art focuses on beauty and the perfection of the human body and athletics attest to man's ability to defeat and conquer others, in opposition, Judaism places G-d at the center of our Universe and focuses on man's spirit and soul to create a world of kindness where we are tasked with taking care of others. As Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein says, “Judaism rejects the holiness of beauty and embraces the beauty of holiness.”
Greek philosophy probes the depth of existence and claims that nothing is beyond the understanding of the human mind. While Judaism is also concerned with the nature of G-d and the Universe, we recognize the limitation of the human mind, accepting that some things are beyond our scope of understanding, and focus our efforts on how to live a holy and godly life in this world, partaking in the G-d-given directive of creating a world of chessed and taking care of others.
It is precisely because of the reasons for the revolt that the miracle be represented in oil and light, and not in military gear. The anti-Hellenists, the faithful Maccabees, could not fathom a Jewish world that accepted the values of Hellenism while being forced to give up their heritage. It is these ancient and historic values of Judaism and the Jewish people that is represented by the light of the Menorah. The light of the pure burning olive oil fills the Temple and radiates out into the world.
At Alexander Muss High School in Israel, through our study of Jewish History, we engage in the Judaism vs. Hellenism debate and challenge our students, and ourselves, to ponder the question: How do I enjoy the benefits of the world I live in, with the value of my heritage? What is the balance that works for me?
As we celebrate Chanukah this year, let us remember the Maccabees and their decision to fight for the spirit of our Jewish identity. Let the light of the Chanukah candles remind us of the light of the Menorah shining out of the Temple into the homes of the Jewish people, and throughout the world in which we live.
Know a great candidate for AMHSI-JNF? Interested in hosting an Information Session? Contact Rabbi Greg Litcofsky, National Director of Recruitment.
Summer Educators Mission to Israel Reunion
Temple Beth Emet, Plantation, FL
One of the wonderful byproducts of our annual Summer Educators Mission to Israel is the comradery and friendship that develops among the participants. In addition to staying in touch with participants, throughout the year we offer resources to help them take what they learned on the trip and bring it back to their schools and communities. In early November, we held a reunion and training at Temple Beth Emet in Plantation, FL. Participants from Southern FL who attended both summer 2018 and summer 2019 trips joined together for a lovely evening of singing, reminiscing, and learning. Special thank you to Sylvia Guerra and Gayle Abbondandolo for hosting the event and to all who participated.
Meet Our Team
Dana Klein, Israel Programs Admissions Director
Dana Gerbie Klein is the Israel Programs Admissions Director in New England. She grew up in Evanston, IL and currently lives with her family and two dogs in Boston. Dana’s first visit to Israel with her Temple confirmation class on a NFTY trip when she was 16 was lifechanging and she became addicted to Israel! After graduating from Tulane University, she lived for a year in Yoqneam, Israel as a Sherut Laam volunteer. She then studied at Brandeis University, receiving a Master's degree from the Benjamin S. Hornstein Program. Dana is passionate about Israel and believes that there is no other way to learn about Israel than by being there. She loves sending teens, college students, and anyone she can to Israel through the many programs that JNF offers. In fact, her three daughters are all Alexander Muss High School in Israel alumnae. Dana can be reached at [email protected].
For more information on how you can get involved with Jewish National Fund, send us an email at [email protected] or give us a call 212.879.9305 x245.