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I' HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 4, 2009 Miracles can happen on Chanukah and every day of the year By Dan Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California SAN FRANCISCO--Over the eight crazy nights of Cha- nukah, Jewish kids everywhere repeat the phrase preserved in the dreidel's four-sided acro- nym: A great miracle happened there. For me. the great Cha- nukah miracle happened here in California, one December afternoon in 1961. I was 6. a precocious motor- mouth of a boy. Sitting beside my father as he clacked away at his typewriter, I busied myself cutting out a Star of David for the holiday, working with a heavy pair. of scissors. At one point the scissors jamrned in the thick cardboard. The smart thing would have been to ask my dad for help. Instead, I did the dumb thing, trying to force them through with all my 6-year-old might. In an instant, the scissors busted through and up, ripping into my left eye. I remember a flowing sheen of red and my father leaping out of his chair. I remember running--or was I carried into the bathroom down the hall. My mother pounded her fists on her head. my Yiddishe grandma gripped her walker and screamed. Because I was in no pain, I downplayed the injury, trying to reassure my parents, freaked out seeing their baby covered in blood. As my father gunned our old Rambler station wagon to the doctor's office, I remember picking up a newspaper and reading it out loud. "I'm OK, Daddy, I said. "See? I can read." My memories of the subse- quent days and weeks are hazy. I had surgery, had both eyes sewn shut and heavily bandaged. Virtually blind. I stayed home from school for what seemed like ages, learning to get around the house by feeling my way along the walls. I got used to the dark. And then, in time, the bandages came off and my eyes and my vision--were fine. One hundred percent fine. My miracle? The scissors never touched the eyeball. Instead the blade went up the inside part of the lid. I missed my eye by an eyelash. Literally. Of course, I use the word "miracle" advisedly. I don't really believe in miracles, if by the term one means Godwith an outstretched arm intervenes in physical events on Earth. When Pope John Paul II was shot in Rome back in 1981. some claimed it a miracle that the bullet missed his heart, that God steered the bulletan inch to the left. saving the pontiffs life. One person responded by asking Why then didn't God simply move the bullet two feet to the left? It's a good question, and it made me laugh when I read it. But I don't want to indulge in cynicism. Better to adjust my sense of what constitutes the miraculous. Let's define it as a good result that beats overwhelming odds. Given the chaos of physics, the scissors should have poked my eye out. I don't want to go all Hall- mark card here, and I'm cer- tainly no paragon of gratitude, but once in a while I find myself appreciating the minor miracles of daily life. At 54, my body still works well. No replaced parts, no engine overhauls yet needed. Don't laugh, but sometimes I marvel that my toes can actually wiggle on mental command. Try it. It's amazing. Though my parents are deceased, virtually every other person I have ever cherished in my life is still alive andwell and reasonably happy. And that's just me. What about the billions of acts of hu- man kindness that take place- every day, even in the face of chronic cruelty and disinterest? How about the greatest PAGE 5A human miracle of all: We are beings, made of atoms forged in thefires of dying stars, aware that we are starstuff. I can't begin to calculate the odds against that. While we're at it, let's not forget the miracle of a tiny band of Jewish warriors who, vastly outnumbered, defeated one of the great armies of the day. Of course I mean the Maccabees in 160 BCE. Or perhaps the Israel Defense Forces in 1967. These are the kinds of things I try to remember to remember during Chanukah and every day, as I feel my way along the walls. Dan Pine is a staff writer at j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, from which this column is reprinted with permission. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com. Obama must beware of the Chanukah snub By Tevi Troy WASHINGTON (JTA) Of- ficials in the Obamaadministra- tion have decided that they will be cutting th~ guest list in half for this year's Chanukah party at the White House. The Jerusalem Post. which first reported this development, suggested that this will be po- litically harder for Obama the Democrat than it would have been for Bush the Republican. As one ofPresident Bush's ad- visers for many of his Chanukah parties, I can assure you that it would not have been easy in the previous White House, either. During the Bush years, Jew- ish staffers were inundated by people who wanted to be invited to Bush's Chanukah soirees~ Karl Rove once proclaimed at a West Wing meeting about the upcoming holiday parties that invites to the White House By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News I'm 10, and growing up in the suburbs. I go to temple, not synagogue, and definitely not shul. I wear a yarmulke (rarely), not a kipa. We don't "daven" we pray, orworship. My dad calls me a vahntz (lit., Yiddish for cockroach, but meaning "rascal" [I hope]). He teaches me a Yiddish phrase meaning "It helps like giving medicine to a corpse." After college. I become more observant. I start attending a havura, not for "services," but for Shaharit or Minha. I don't reach for a prayer book. but a siddur. Studying Humash tnever "the Bible") I learn the phrase "kol v'homer." mean- ing "all the more so," as in. "If watching "thirtysomething" is forbidden on Shabbat. kol v'homer it is forbidden on Yom Kippur." I'm married, with little kids. and living in Israel. Even when speaking English, we refer to something terrific as yofi and an unmanageable mess as a balagan. Davka fills a huge hole in our Vocabulary, mean- ing an action that precisely underlines.the irony. CI have to get a flu shot and davka the clinic goes on strike.") The kids call us Abba and Ima (rhymes with Lima). Chanukah party were officially the toughest ticket in town. Bush's first Chanukah party, in 2001. gained national atten- tion as the first one thrown in the White House residence. Each year, Bush continued the tradition, addingvarious refine- ment~ along the way. The first year, the children of a White House staffer lit the Chanukah menorah in a cer- emony kicking off the party. In subsequentyears, Bush selected as candle lighters children of Jewish men and women in uniform, the father ofslainWall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearland inajoint ceremony to acknowledge Israel's 60th birthday the grandsons of Harry Truman. the president who first recognized the new nation of Israel. and of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. Another refinement was the introduction ofkosher food. The party was not kosher at first, as kosherfoodis significantly more expensive than non-kosher food--33 percent more, ac- cording to an estimate in The Jerusalem Post. Initially the White House did have a table with kosher food for guests who kept the dietary laws, but this led to confusion over which offeringswere kosherandwhich were not. One year, due to a labeling mishap, some obser- vant Jews accidentally ate from the non-kosher tables, leading to high-decibel complaints directed at the prim and proper White House ushers. From then on, Mrs. Bush decreed that the parties wouldbe completely ko- sher, regardless of the expense. The scrutiny given to aWhite House Chanukah party, and particularly the guest list, will certainly be more intense in a Democratic administration Say what? I move to New Jersey, to a neighborhood popular with OrthodoxJews.A"drash" is not only the rabbi's sermon, but a word meaning any good expla- nation. ("You've heard Mark's drash on the health-care bill?") When someone tells you to talk tachlis, it means he wants details. My American-born neighbors speakwhat I've come to call the Jewish future pres- ent tense, as in "You're here for Pesach?" On the Little League team. the infielders are named Matan, Yoni, Ezra and Noam. And that is my Jewish biog- raphy in language. For years I've thought a good linguist or sociologist could tell every- thing there is to know about me by studying my Jewish vocabulary. It turns out. I'm almost right. Hebrew Union College has just released a survey of "American Jewish Language and Identity." Sarah Bunin Benor. an assistant professor of contemporary Jewish studies, and Steven M. Cohen. the go-to Jewish demographer, did an e-mail survey. Their 25,000-strong sample of Jews isn't random, but rather a revealing snapshot of the speech patterns of "Jews with strong Jewish engagement and social ties." The results are a little like a Malcolm Gladwell book somewhat obvious when you think about it but still re- ally interesting. Older Jews are more likely to sprinkle their language with Yiddish phrases like heimish, macher, and nu (homey, big shot, and, well, nu). Younger Jews, especially those with stronger Jewish ties. have brought more Hebrew into the Jewish-English vocabulary, with words like yofi, balagan, and davka. And when you dig down into the younger religious population, Yiddish stages a comeback. The study also suggests how Jewish and gay come together: Non-Jewish gay men and women are more likely to use Yiddish words like "kvetch" and "shpiel" than non-Jewish heterosexuals. Both Jewish and gay are seen as "'proud minority statuses." Steve Cohen told me. "The linguistic issue reflects and reinforces the social con- struction of identity." But just as a gay man uses a little Yiddish to reinforce his otherness, a traditional Jew may drop In a Yiddish phrase tomarkaboundary."Language use not only differentiates Jews from non-Jews; it also differen- tiates Jews from other Jews," the authors write. The survey results, then, can be seen as another sign of the continental drift within the Jewish community, and ,our separation into groups and than in the Bush years. One reason is the long-standing attachment of Jews to the Democratic Party, as voters and especially as donors. Fully 78 percent of Jewish voters supported the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008, and Jewish fund- raisers figured prominently in the campaign. Reducing the size of the guest list, as Obama officials want to do, will there- fore be an extremely difficult task. Just inviting the more than 40 Democratic members of Congress and their spouses will take asignificant portion of the allotted spots, let alone the expectedinvites to Jewishsenior staffers and large- dollar donors. Yet one wonders if there is more to this reduction than the reasons given by the adminis- tration, such as the high cost of kosher food and a desire to allow the list to grow over time. Over thepastyear, the Obama sub-groups. Diversity is good, I suppose. But I also hear in how we speak the ways in which we no longer speak that is. to each other. I'm in this weird place, personally and professionally, where I.slip in and out of dif- ferent Jewish identities. With old friends and family and non- Jews. my Jewish vocabulary is no richer than "klutz" and "chutzpa." In my synagogue, stocked with Jewish profes- sionals and frequent travelers to Israel. I can get away with a phrase of untranslated Hebrew. And I can decipher my town's Orthodox synagogue listserv without an English-Yeshivish glossary. The HUC study suggests that a core of engaged Jews. like me. is using more Hebrew and Yiddish words than a previous generation. But in that previous generation. I'm willing to bet, more Jews shared a common vocabulary and a common set of references. " I love my Jewish journey, and every new word I use is a souvenir of where I've been and gone. But I'm also a kvetch, and in someways I regretwhatwe've lost. davka, along the way. Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writ- ing at the JustASC blog. administration has given the Jewish community a number of reasons to fear that it takes its votes for granted. For instance, there is the administration's pressure on the Israeli govern- ment over settlements. And many Jews are concerned with the selection of Mary Robinson a leader of the Durban conference boycotted by both Israel and the United States for its anti-Israel bias-- to win a Medal of Freedom. In addition, the administration attempted but eventually backed away from--to put Israel critic Charles Freeman at the head of the National Intelligence Council. The administration's move, as Politico noted, "comes on the heels of Obama's cancel- lation of an appearance before the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations." (This was one instance where the president deserves the ben- efit of the doubt, having made the understandable decision to attend a memorial service for the victims at Fort Hood instead. Nonetheless, it has fueled the concerns of some who see it as part of a string of slights.) For these reasons, while the size of the party may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, even some of Obama's supporters may see it in the context of this longer train of politically tone-deaf decisions. Regardless of the party's size. Obama should be warned that Jewish visitors to the White House often live up to the old maxim that "Gentiles leave without saying goodbye, while Jews say goodbye and never leave." I have seen this phenom- enon myself. After one particu- larly late night social event at the White House, then-Chief of Staff Josh Bolten joked to Bush's senior staff that the White House military aides-- who staff official events in full ceremonial garb--almost had to unsheathe their swords in order to get Chanukah celebrants to exit the White House residence by the party's 8 p.m. close. A smaller group may make this particular problem easier to handle, but neither it, nor a nagging sense that there may be a studied callousness at work here, are going away. Tevi Troy is a visiting senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He held multiple senior jobs. in the Bush White House, and served as the White House Jew- ish liaison from 2003 to 2004. Dry Bones Z 009 DryBones.com