Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Minority Observances: In Israel and the U.S.
Back in the dark ages, when I spent my junior year in Israel, Thanksgiving was Passover: uncelebrated. At best I might have treated myself to the nearby and inexpensive restaurant Sova, where I would have had turkey schnitzel for dinner. But as for the traditional trimmings of cranberries and sweet potatoes, let alone stuffing, forget it. Over the years some of my transplanted colleagues have chronicled their efforts to observe Thanksgiving in Israel. First they had to find a butcher that would sell them a whole turkey, which for many years was no easy task, though turkey has long been a staple of the Israel diet. No one roasts a whole turkey in Israel; only a few crazy Americans, once a year. And then to hunt down the other ingredients: canned cranberries are now available in a few markets; as are fresh pumpkins and even yams—which is what most of us use anyway, instead of a genuine sweet potato--.In recent years it has apparently become easier to shop for the holiday, at least in areas with larger populations of American Jewish olim. The Key problem is: it’s a Thursday, and it is not Yom Tov for Israelis; and so some defer the feast until the next day and it becomes a grand Shabbat dinner. And there is a second problem, namely the kids. The parents, who grew up in the States, still have an attachment to Thanksgiving. But for the kids who grew up in Israel, let alone grandchildren: why is this night different from all others? Perhaps this year the linkage of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will make a celebration perhaps a bit more palatable with sufganiyot, jelly donuts, serving as the dessert.
Meanwhile, a number of organizations have created Thanksgiving communal meals for homesick Americans: Nefesh B’nefesh, the organization in charge of aliyah, is one, as is the Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel. The Lone Soldier program, which ministers to soldiers who have moved to Israel without family, offers a dinner, as does the Hillel at Hebrew University. And apparently, a number of hotels, including the Inbal in Jerusalem, are also hosting Thanksgiving dinners for Americans off in Israel tomorrow. So even off in Israel, one can now have one’s Thanksgiving fix. And through the magic of Skype, family off in Israel can join in for the celebrations back in the States; that is if they stay up late enough—7 hours time difference--.
And so, while there are now ways to celebrate Thanksgiving even in Israel, celebrating Hanukkah here in the midst of a culture focused on Christmas is not difficult, but isolating. Sure, Shoprite in Commack had candles and chocolate gelt and Hanukkah napkins and the like. True, the local television stations wish us a “Happy Hanukkah” and there may be some store promotions that mention Hanukkah, and yes, there are some large Chanukiyot (Hanukkah menorahs) on display, such as by the Smithtown bull, but there is little reinforcement for the observance in the media.
This year, the Hallmark station got a jump on its 25 days of Christmas and has been programming non-stop since Halloween Christmas themed movies. Why Not 8 nights of Hanukkah or at least Jewish themed movies? I had hoped that “The Goldbergs” would have featured a celebration of Hanukkah; not to be; and the Big Bang gang despite having Thanksgiving at Howard’s mother’s house skipped over this year’s nexus with Hanukkah. (There was a seven-branched menorah in the background; but not a Hanukkah menorah.) Would it have killed them to have a token Jewish scene? (And why is quite Jewish Mayim Bialik, who plays true to form a neuro-biologist, having a doctorate in that field end up a very WASPy Amy?) Sadly, even Shalom TV, is not doing any significant amount of Hanukkah oriented program for the 8 days. Chaval; alas. Oh, well, I have a couple of CDs-with Hanukkah music. I can listen to them in the car while we drive to Great Neck for Thanksgiving dinner.
A joyous Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah and Shabbat shalom.
Chasdashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Protecting Your Mobile Devices: More Israeli Innovation
All of us who have computers are keenly aware of “viruses” that can wreak havoc with our systems and consequently frequently with our lives, as well. A new Israeli startup company called “Shine” is poised to deal with the next generation of viruses. These are ones that will be launched at our cell phones, our tablets, even our automobiles’ onboard computer systems.
The CEO is Ron Porat, who served as a technician in the Israeli Air Force, having earlier been a teenage gaming hacker. After his military service he became a professional archeologist. But after seven years of work in that field with all too modest paychecks, he became a programmer and worked his way to the top. Shine is the third startup company that he is heading.
Shine is designed to detect and stop viruses and malware in real-time on any device. Though not yet on the market—the target date is sometime next year--, the company with all of 2 dozen employees has been a target of buyouts by at least one of the three large anti-virus companies, which offered an 8-figure buyout.
The problems that Shine seeks to overcome are that viruses can steal information and send a costly message from one’s phone to get money; that can hack into your mic and camera without your knowledge on spy on you; steal contact lists and more. Shine differs from the standard anti-virus programs by “learning” what is normal on a device and then continually updating itself. For every day users, the idea is that the program will be free. The money will be made with companies with interconnected mobile devices. A smartphone is attacked and Shine will track down the first contaminated phone and undo the damage, while leaving updated data intact.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Mekaytz (Genesis 41:1- 52) is read this Saturday, November 30th. There is also an additional reading (Numbers 7:24-29) in honor of Hanukkah.
41:8 Next morning, his spirit was agitated, and he sent for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men; and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but none could interpret them for Pharaoh. (9) The chief cupbearer then spoke up and said to Pharaoh, “I must make mention today of my offenses. (10) Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and placed me in custody in the house of the chief steward, together with the chief baker. (11) We had dreams the same night, he and I, each of us a dream with a meaning of its own. (12) A Hebrew youth was there with us, a servant of the chief steward; and when we told him our dreams, he interpreted them for us, telling each of the meaning of his dreams. (13) And as he interpreted for us, so it came to pass: I was restored to my post, and the other was impaled.(14) Thereupon Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was rushed from the dungeon. He had his hair cut and changed his clothes, and he appeared before Pharaoh. (15) And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” (16) Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “Not I. God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”
The failure of the Egyptian magicians and wise men to find a solution that was persuasive for the two dreams that troubled Pharaoh compelled the cupbearer to cease from forgetting the period of his incarceration. He had to remember it because through it he was enabled to see demonstrated the wondrous ability of the “Hebrew youth who was a slave of the chief steward” (Gen. 41:12) and to offer for his dream and that of his companion solutions that proved to be correct. At the command of the king, Joseph was quickly freed from prison, not because of the injustice he had suffered, as he had hoped, rather because of the urgent necessity: “he was rushed from the dungeon and he had his hair cut (as was the custom in the Egyptian court), they changed his clothes (this is a clear sign to the expected change in his status!), and he appeared before Pharaoh.” (v.14). Pharaoh assumed that Joseph’s ability was no different from that of the magicians, rather he was brought up to them because of his ability to interpret what they were saying in his ears: “Now I have heard said of you that for you to hear a dream is tell its meaning.” (v.15). Joseph rejected the wisdom of the Egyptian dream interpretations, which depended upon the ability of the magic of the interpreter, and depended rather on the prophetic grasp of the dream, which God gave, through the medium of the interpreter, and responded to the issue of the Pharaoh’s wellbeing …” Not I, God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (v.16)
It is clear that the magicians were unable to unravel the enigmatic and doubled nature of the swallowing of the fat by the thin without any change in the thin ones; a motif common to both dreams of the Pharaoh. Whereas the power of persuasion of the interpretation that Joseph gave for both them was in the fact that he based it on the reality of the matter—seven continuous years of famine that would be so all consuming that there would be nothing left from the seven years of plenty that preceded them, to the point that those earlier years would be forgotten. And just like when he was in prison he linked the solution to the dream of the chief cupbearer in real terms, so, too, he now linked the solution to Pharaoh’s dreams with practical advice…. (Uriel Simon, “Parshat ‘Mekaytz’: Yoseph V’Echav—Sippur Shel Hishananutb (The portion of “Mekaytz”: Joseph and His Brothers—A Story of Transformations,” in Naftali Rothenberg, ed., Potchim Shavuah: Anshay Ruach V’Taurbut Yisraelim Koltvim Ahl Parshat HaShavuah [Opening Up the Week; Israeli Intellectuals and Cultural Figures Write about the Portion of the Week], p. 113. Professor Simon is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Bar Ilan University. He formerly taught at the Hebrew University. He is the author of several volumes on the Bible, some in Hebrew, some now in English, including the JPS Commentary on the book of Jonah, and the author of books on the topics of Biblical Prophecy and Psalms. Additionally, he is a founder of Oz v'Shalom, the Israeli religious peace movement.)