Friday, November 22, 2013

Maccagawea and the Thanksgivukkah Miracle

Was it a couple of millennia ago in the land of Israel, maybe a couple of hundred years ago in 1804 in the Northwestern Territory, or perhaps on a fall day in 1621 in New England, a woman from the SheineSheine family named Maccagawea [pronounced Mac-a-Jew-ee-oy because while in the northeast it would have ended "er" in the northwest it's "oy"] helped lead her people to victory over those who had determined that the biggest shopping day of the year should always precede Chanukah. Maccagawea prayed to God and filed suit to move the holiday so that the Jewish people could have the two Thanksgiving turkey drumsticks hold the Chanukah candles for the second night while allowing the people to use the turkey neck, often heretofore disposed of without use, to be used with the Shamash candle.  Miracle of miracles, it was made so, but because of scheduling problems only happens every 70,000 years or so.

Because of Maccagawea, this year Jews around the world will be getting great discounts and even door busters during Chanukah! 

In celebration of this great miracle, the Governor of the colony who was not named Antiochus and the Chief of the Wampamberg tribe, Squanto (the q is pronounced like “ch” in Bach), decided that the people should hold a great feast when the calendars align properly, light candles, and sing songs about gambling with spinning tops called dreidels while eating far too much and watching football.

For the Thanksgivukkah day meal eaten on the occasion of the confluence of the holidays of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, some say that it is customary to make Gefilte Fish out of Cape Cod and eat potato latkes with cranberry sauce.

We owe it all one heroic woman, Maccagawea. 

Maccagawea is also known for saying that 
April Showers bring Mayflowers.

 Happy Thanksgivukkah!!! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wrestling with God - In Honor of Superman Sam, Ethan Kadish, and Blake Ephraim

In Honor of Samuel "Superman Sam" Sommer, Blake Ephraim, Ethan Kadish and their Families

I thought that after Typhoon Haiyan brought devastation to the Philippines, and at a time when I am contemplating traveling to Indianapolis for a special fundraiser for Ethan Kadish, the boy who was struck by lightning while at camp this summer about whom I spoke on YomKippur, I might talk about how we react to forces of nature in our tradition even though that topic isn’t connected to our Torah portion this week. Then this week, two things happened.

The first is that I found out that earlier in the month, a sixteen year old active cheerleader from Kansas City with whom our Goldman Union Camp campers have attended camp named Blake Ephraim, suffered a debilitating stroke, cause as of yet unknown. Her sister was in the bunk next my daughter this summer. A sixteen year old active kid with no known risk factors having a stroke?

The second was the revelation this week that the eight year old son of friends from rabbinical school, Samuel “Superman Sam” Sommer, whose parents have chronicled his year and a half long battle with Leukemia and his recent bone marrow transplant through an inspirational blog kept daily,, has now lost that battle.

The posting on Wednesday from Sam's mother Phyllis that announced Sam’s relapse made untold numbers around the world burst into tears:
We are so desperately heartbroken and filled with sadness.
Sam has relapsed.
His ninja leukemia is so very strong... There is no cure.There is no treatment... [The doctors] are sad too. Terribly, horribly sad.
There is no cure.There is nothing they can do to cure our boy.
520 days ago we were told "your son has cancer." I never thought I could feel more pain than that day. I was wrong. He still feels well. We don't know how long that will last.We're going to "suck the marrow out of life" as long as we can.
Quite literally and figuratively.Capitalize on his good days.Fill them with joy and blessing and delight.Stick his feet in the ocean and his head in the clouds.Fill his days with wonder and love.
We have to tell Sam. Although we think he knows….he is wise.We have to tell David and Yael.These are the tasks that consume us today.How do we deliver such darkness into their shiny happy world?Love. We just remind them how much we love them. Over and over...
I can’t read yesterday’s post from the blog, entitled simply "Tears," out loud. It relays Sam’s thoughts after being told that his cancer is back and that there is nothing that can be done. The first line of that posting is more than enough, “I don’t want to die.”

Devastating. Heartbreaking.

We live in a world where it is now possible to repair DNA, to use stem cells for a wide variety of amazing, even miraculous, outcomes. We can restart hearts, fertilize human eggs, implant them, and turn them into wonderful children. We know and understand so much more, vastly more, than our ancestors did. But they understood something probably better than we do because they experienced it more often in their lives than we do in ours; 

sometimes things happen that we 
cannot control, 
cannot prevent, 
cannot change and 
cannot comprehend.

In just a couple of weeks, the night before Thanksgiving, we will celebrate the first night of Chanukah, the Festival of Light. Chanukah is a celebration of hope and light amid darkness. As we gaze upon the bright flames of the candles, we will focus on their light and remember wondrous events involving our ancestors that have enabled us to reach this day. Let us also think of and be thankful for those “miracles” that happen every day in our lives. Let us appreciate what we have and what we lack that we’re happy we do not have.

This year, I’m going to pray for a few big miracles as I think of my friends and their loved ones, give thanks for the bright lights in my life right now, and cherish those flames etched in my memory that will forever give me light.

With all of this, I indeed found myself thinking of this week’s Torah portion. In it, the angel tells Jacob that his name “will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for [he had] wrestled with beings divine and human, and prevailed.” This week, my colleagues, friends, and I are wrestling with issues divine and human. There is no battle in which to prevail, but we’re certainly struggling and I think living up to the name of our people, Israel, a name which means wrestling with God.

May this Shabbat bring comfort to the heartbroken and peace and well-being into houses far and near.

Shabbat Shalom.