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Tale of Two Corporate Hanukkah Displays

The bank manager at Citibank ran over to me when I came by this week to show-off the company menorah. Each branch received a menorah. Well, they actually were sent two. What had happened? My friend the manager explained. The first one arrived with only one on-off switch to control all the lights. That was replaced a week later by a new menorah that had one on-off switche for each light. While there we noinstructions included, the bank must be relying on the wisdom of the employees to know what to do.

The entire episode prompted another great conversation with my banker. (As one of the only customers at that branch who is a rabbi, we end up discussing every holiday as they arrive in some detail.) When he was early in his career as a banker, he brought in an electric menorah himself to display at the bank. In his native Russia, the thought that you could even have a menorah in a public place was unthinkable. He proceeded to light all the lights at once for the holiday to really promote Hanukkah and his menorah.

The next thing he knew, a Jewish customer approached and castigated him for not lighting them one at a time. This Russian Jewish immigrant, a junior banker trying to make a difference, was being given lessons in menorah lighting at the bank. Yes, we sometimes overlook the good that people are trying to do. Instead we make sure they are doing things the way we want them, ignoring or forgetting to thank them for trying in the first place.

Later in the day I had to go into an adjacent Wells Fargo branch. The Wells Fargo Christmas Tree dwarfed the 4-footer at the Citibank. It was festooned with a myriad of ornaments and candy canes. Arranged around the base were presents, a stuffed fake reindeer and snow, making a real Christmas diorama. I searched for a menorah and didn’t see one. I asked a banker walking by, “Excuse me, is there a menorah too?” She looked around and said they didn’t have one. To which I replied, “well you better catch up with your competition — Citibank has one!”

At Citibank, while the menorah was small, understated, and directionless, it still fared better than Wells Fargo. There may be other branches of Wells Fargo that are doing things differently in Jewish areas. But Citibank made the effort to ship these menorahs to EVERY branch. It didn’t matter if they were in an area with Jewish clients.

I sometimes wonder if my shopping, banking, or car repairing will depend on a company’s decision of how to celebrate the holidays with their customers. Is there some subliminal or outright conscious decision that I make which determines my behavior toward one bank or another? Can a holiday decoration turn me from being a customer to being critic?

Honestly I don’t expect, nor would I want to see, a 7 foot high menorah with golden inflatable driedels — though that could look kind of cool. But I think in this day and age we can expect some kind of token concession to Hanukkah.

Maybe I’ll just leave it to the expensive consultants to offer suggestions to corporate America to tell them if a menorah is a good idea or not.

Or they can take the advice from a Rabbi for free: a menorah of any size or shape is greatly appreciated.

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Midrash of Hanukkah Rocks: Volume 2

Two years ago I published the first of two volumes of my own commentary on one of the most important commentaries on Jewish life in America that was sadly flying under the radar. Even when recognized, it is usually misunderstood. I am speaking of course about the album Hanukkah Rocks, by The LeeVee’s Hanukkah. The LeeVee’s not only have recorded an album with great melodies, rhythms, and lyrics, but they have authored a profound statement on the nature of being Jewish, Jewish values, Jewish nationhood, and Jewish philosophy.

Looking at Hanukkah Rocks from a rabbinical perspective, the issues, the topics, the mitzvahs literally leap off the page, it all screams darsheni “interpret me!” What follows is the long anticipated sequel to Volume 1, humbly called the Midrash of Hanukkah Rocks: Volume 2.
Kugel
(6th song on the album)
Reaching into the pleasures of the Jewish feast, kugel becomes a metaphor for a discussion on the nature of Jewish traditions. Kugel, a heavy, sweet and creamy baked noodle dish that the LeeVees remember Grandma making, has undergone a radical shift. Brought on by low-fat concerns, and other seemingly important cultural and social factors, kugel has been fundamentally altered, nigh, desecrated. Their mother’s kugel just isn’t the same as Grandma’s kugel. Which brings up a discussion about Minhag Yisroel, Torah Hi, “Jewish custom’s pre-eminence is religious matters.” This rabbinic adage, ascribing the importance of tradition and custom in religious practice, is an honest warning against wanton abandonment of Jewish ways. They sing in kugel “So don’t try to tell me things they haven’t changed/ the way your made these days you should have another name/ I just wish things stayed the same.” Is this not an appeal to forestall the wanton abandonment of Jewish tradition, the reckless endangerment of Jewish civilization through casting off seemingly unimportant cultural and religious artifacts that we have adopted on our journey through 2000 years of exile?

And if this is not an appeal to rejoice and empower a return to minhag avos, beautiful traditions left by the wayside. Is this not a a call to respect traditions. It is not by accident that Fiddler on the Roof uses the refrain, Tradition, to concentrate Jewish experience into one word. Kugel, is Tradition, in hipster speak.

“Now I’m getting hungry… ” In other words, there is a deep longing for meaningful traditions—not fluff, not new-age shallowness, not cultural appropriation and misappropriation of the sacred creeds of other traditions, melted into a Judaism.

“Sorry mom your just ain’t the same…” I respect where my parents have gone, but truly, they have gone so far, that we have lost the essence of being Jewish, the path of spirituality, the deep connections to our creamy-thick and rich past.

At the Matzah Ball
Song #7
Almost nowhere in contemporary music has their been a more poignant and beautiful ballad in favor of Jewish continuity, the importance of finding your beshert. Jewish artists rarely take this issue head on. They don’t want to upset the apple cart —many of their fan base is not upset by the specter of intermarriage and deep assimilation. They write fluffy songs. They fill the airwaves with all kinds of gooey stuff, but when the rubber hits the road—the future of the Jewish community—they have let us down.

The LeeVees have taken the issue by the horns, and have penned an appeal to Jewish men: find a Jewish girl. “Jewish girls all shapes and sizes, waiting for you…” you might be convinced that all Jewish girls are the same—they aren’t. God created Jewish women and men in great diversity. Each person has a beshert. We don’t know when or where we will meet them, it might even be while you are sitting on a metal folding chair at the JCC’s mitzvah ball.

“Didn’t know you were a member of the tribe,” You might not even realize, sing the LeeVees, that the girl you have been looking at is Jewish! She might not wear her tribal affiliations around her neck. That doesn’t mean that being Jewish is not important to her. She can be a passionate and dedicated Jew, and be a private person.

There is another message of the song, hidden beneath the layers of harmony and a catchy beat: “Loneliness won’t keep you warm in winter.” They are telling us, don’t be a martyr on the alter of your ego. And don’t think that your true happiness will come in playing the field indefinitely. Is it an accident that Chanukah comes now? And finally, the moral of the story, perhaps, is that we cannot find our beshert, without looking for them.

Gelt Melts
Song #8
Again, the LeeVees use the metaphor of a common Chanukah celebration, in this case the eating of chocolate coins, to instill a deep message about performing mitzvas and the nature of why we do mitzvahs.

Many times we are confronted with the thoughts of why it is a mitzvah to do this or that—eat matzah on Passover, wave the lulav, not eat milk and meat together—and we are stumped. It makes no sense.

One of the primary reasons we do mitzvahs is not because we understand always the nature of the mitzvah. We do mitzvahs with the belief that we will internalize an essential connection to God through performance of mitzvahs. Later, we will come to an understanding. It will not be apparent, it may not come right away. Nonetheless we cannot refrain from doing mitzvhas, because life is short. Life is fleeting, life melts as fast chocolate coins in your pocket.

Of course we will be ridiculed by the world. The world will look at our mitzvahs and try to humiliate us with them—but look who is talking! As they sing “If goys can eat a chocolate bunny, why cant we eat chocolate money?” The goyim might ridicule some of our traditions, some of our mitzvahs, but look whose talking! And chocolate bunnies is just the start.

“You gotta get while you can, won’t last long/we don’t claim to have the answer this song/but your good thing will be gone” Mitzvas are fleeting. You cannot make Kiddush Sunday morning. You can’t make up for Chanukah in January. The time is now. Carpe Mitzvah!

Nun Gimmel Heh Shin
#9
You might think that dreidel is just a game. Dredel is really an eloquent way to teach children about life, giving, service, self sacrifice, thinking of others. This song goes against the entire grain of society now, which is all about me, all “I” this and “I” that. Where is the “thou” where is the other? Life is about giving. “You’ll get out what you put in.”

Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin then teaches us that even the most innocent of Jewish childhood games has depth, character, and instructs us in the game of life. It is sacred. It is innocent. It is wholesome. Those that organize Texas Hold-em Dreidel contests, dreidel drinking games, and strip- dreidel, are contributing to the profound degradation of our consciousness, denigrating the innocent game at the expense of vice. They let chronic pornography, gambling addiction, and alcoholism become acceptable. The Maccabbes fought to save us from the Hellenism! The debasement of dreidel gives the Greeks a posthumous victory. Dreidel needs to stay just dreidel.

See below for Volume One: Read more