Rabbi Marc Soloway says "Bah Humbug!" and invites us to stop and think for a moment how much of this we are willing to partake in, as well as to reclaim some of the original values of Hanukkah.

What Shall We Buy for Hanukkah?

Let’s face it, it’s not really “holiday” music, it is Christmas music and we hear it in every store, in line for our coffee at Starbucks and just about everywhere and it is already driving me nuts!  It’s not just this tacky music, designed to make us feel like we are sitting by a cosy fire with our shining family gratefully basking in the reflected glow of overindulgence and way too many presents, but…Bah humbug, say I!  The cynicism is not meant to knock the stuffing out of the very positive aspects of this holiday season, but it is to make us stop and think for a moment how much of this we are willing to partake in, as well as to reclaim some of the original values of Hanukkah.

This has been a tough year with some of us living from paycheck to paycheck and many of us not even having a paycheck!  The world looks pretty gloomy and we sure need a festival of light to renew our sense of hope, but the consumerist pressures in the commercial, sleigh bell world out there hardly alleviate the burdens many of us are feeling this winter.  Everything points us to the Hanukkah presents that we feel we must buy so that we can join the chorus of happy consumers.  This may be a shock, but Hanukkah was never about presents.  It has been about all kinds of things throughout history; from military victory to a celebration of God’s miracles; a force of hope in a world of despair to a tenacious insistence of survival.  Not expensive presents.

The symbolism of the apparent miracle of the oil is central to the story and now we are using far too much oil; we are addicted to it and it is killing us and our atmosphere!  This year Hanukkah coincides with the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen and, as world leaders look to how we can cut back on our carbon emissions and reduce the impact of global warming, we should all be thinking about consuming less, not more.  I was recently in Hong Kong (yes, I did fly there) and the pollution from China is so disturbing; much of it from the toy industry.  Did you know that four fifths of the world’s toys are manufactured in one town in China?  These are the toys we are buying our children for Hanukkah.

This might be the year to think alternatively about giving for Hanukkah in ways that really give, rather than consume.  The World Land Trust (www.worldlandtrust.org)  is one organization that is doing a great deal to protect our planet and you can buy an acre or more of protected rain forest and give it as a gift to someone, for which they will receive a nice certificate.  Heifer International (www.heifer.org) is another wonderful organization whose initiatives significantly help communities in the third world become more sustainable and self-sufficient.  They have a great gift catalog that allows you to buy chickens, goats, love and hope for many, and the person in whose honor you buy this gift gets a beautiful card and a sense of fulfillment that most material gifts simply cannot give.  (Please see updated information below). These are just two suggestions.  If you feel you really have to buy a physical gift, perhaps spend less than you were going to and donate the rest to your favorite synagogue!

Whatever choices we make this year (with only five shopping days until Hanukkah!) I invite us all to rethink and to opt out of an over-consuming holiday wonderland and opt in to making positive contributions to ensure the survival of a more sustainable world.  The name Hanukkah refers to the rededication of holiness.  We can each rededicate ourselves to some of the core values of this wonderful holiday by lighting each candle with a sense of utter determination that we will, once again, survive, by each of us doing our own piece of the work to ensure that the light does not go out on our sacred Jewish traditions, nor on our beautiful, fragile world.

Hag Urim Sameach – Happy Festival of Lights!


Since writing this Hanukkah message this morning and sharing it, I have received a few responses that point out another side of the organization Heifer International (HI). Many animal rights activists claim that the treatment and inappropriate exploitation of animals is not a good way to reduce global poverty for ethical and environmental reasons. Not all agree, but PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) opposes their work. Here is a link to an article that examines this issue. There is no doubt that HI has done significant work in some of these communities and helped towards self-sufficiency in very poor areas, but the question is, at what cost? Many environmentalists and activists do endorse their work, but many do not.

Some other suggestions of organizations that may be worthy of our support this Hanukkah are:

The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
Village Banking
Water Aid
The Arava Institute – Israeli-based school promoting a more sustainable Middle East

Alternatively, you might want to give in a more traditional Jewish way and support the Jewish National Fund and plant trees in Israel, support our local Federation, or even more local and support Bonai Shalom!  Of course there are many, many other organizations most worthy of our support and these are just a few suggestions from myself and others.

I am grateful to all of you who responded to my message and I always learn so much in this process, which is wonderful.

Wherever we find ourselves and whoever we find ourselves with, may we all give and receive great light to blow away all that darkness. And may we keep WARM!

Rabbi Marc

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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