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December 12, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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December 12, 2014

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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 12, 2014 Linda Gradstein The Media Line It may have been 47 years ago but Yossef Carasso re- members every detail of the night that he was taken to an Egyptian police station from his home in the city of Tanta, near Cairo. It was the first night of the 1967 war. "We were the only Jewish family still left in Tanta and at 10 p.m. there was a knock on the door," Carasso told The Media Line. "The policeman told my father, 'We're looking for your son and son-in-law. They took us to a police station. and left us there all night.'" Carasso, who was not accused of any crime, was among 400 Jews who were imprisoned in Egypt at the start of the war when Egypt, along with Syria and Jor- dan attacked Israel. For six months, he says, his parents didn't know if he was still alive. Finally he was allowed to write to them. Two years later he was released, and the next day he and his family left Egypt, originally for France and then for Israel. According to Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), almost 120,O00 Jews left Egypt in the 1950s and 60s. There are only a few dozen Jews left in Egypt today. Last week, he attended a ceremony at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's residence, designating Nov. 30 as the na- tional day of commemoration of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. Ac- cording to the United Nations, about 850,000 Jews left their homes inArab countries, more than the 750,000 Palestinians who became refugees with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The largest number of Arab Jews came from Morocco, Algeria and Iraq. Today half of all Israelis have roots in Arab countries, and are known as Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews as op- posed to Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. The national day was estab- lished to raise awareness in both Israel and abroad about the culture of the Jews from Arab countries, as well as to begin a discussion of the issue of compensation for all of the property the Jews left behind. "We have a whole history that even my children don't know," Sylvain Abitboul, the co-president of JJAC told The Media Line. "Everybody is always talking about the Palestinian refugees, but we want the world to know there is another set of refugees." Abitboul, who was born in Morocco, immigrated to Canada at age 18, and became an active member of the Jew- ish community in Montreal, including a stint as the past president of the Montreal Jewish Federation. Many of the Jews from Arab countries left extensive property in their home coun- tries before they emigrated. Abitboul says the estimate is that the total is $300 billion in today's dollars. In 2000, then President Clinton suggested establishing a fund that would compensate both Palestinian and Jewish refugees. At the ceremony, President Rivlin, whose own roots in Israel date back to the early 1800s and who is an Ashke- nazi Jew, said Israel needed to do more to integrate Miz- rahi history and culture. For many years, the Ashkenazim were seen as the elite, and dominated educational and cultural institutions. "We have come together today to make amends for a historical injustice, against a million Jews, immigrants from Arab countries and Iran, who storieswere pushed to the margins of the Zionist nar- rative," Rivlin told the crowd at his residence. "Indeed this comes too late, on too small a scale and no longer has an im- pact on public consciousness. Yet, still it is important to seek the correction, which should not be underestimated." Kluger Zoltan - Israeli National Photo Archive In 1949, a Yemenite Jewish family walks through the desert to a refugee camp set up by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in the city of Aden. Many of the attendees said that when they first came to Israel, they were embarrassed bytheir Arabic accents. Their parents were shunted off to peripheral areas in the country and tow-paying jobs. But recently there has been a renewed interest in Mizrachi culture, including music and food. "It's quite astonishing to see the revival of the culture in Israel," Lyn Julius, the founder of Harif, the UK-based Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa told The Media Line. "The grandchildren of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries are becoming interested in their roots. It's now harder to find a bagel than it is to find kubbeh (a Moroccan dish of fried dough stuffedwith meat) in Israel." By Dianne Ashton CHERRY HILL, N.J. (JTA) - As Chanukah nears, let the grousing begin. Too much is made of a holiday that Judaism ranks as a minor.festival--one whose rite takes no more than five minutes to complete each night--some American Jews will say. Some will complain about the season's excessive commercialism or material- ism. Yet most Jews will also participate in at least one of the many customs developed by American Jews to augment the holiday's simple rite and express the enhanced place of Chanukah, which this year falls on Dec. 16, on the American Jewish liturgical calendar. In addition to exchang- ing gifts (or giving them to children), they will decorate their homes, eat fried foods, sing songs, listen to holiday music and attend one or more of the many holiday fes- tivities held at Jewish com- munity centers, synagogues, Jewish-themed museums and Jewish schools. At these and other ven- ues, they will join in more elaborate versions of the domestic customs. They will light holiday candles orwatch them be kindled, sing more songs than they do at home, snack on potato pancakes or jelly donuts, chat with their friends and neighbors, watch or participate in amateur theatrics/Is on the holiday's theme--generally have a good time. Beneath the lighthearted celebrating, however, more serious meanings are often conveyed through the holi- day's songs. The word Chanukah means dedication, and the holiday has always highlighted oc- casions when Jews overcame challenges to their contin- ued religious commitment. Chanukah commemorates the rededicating of the Je- rusalem Temple in 165 BCE after a band of Jews led by the Maccabees retook it from the Syrians, who had conquered Judea. Generations of Jews retold that story at Chanukah and thanked God for helping their ancestors to prevail. American Jews found additional reasons to reaffirm their dedication at Chanukah and often voiced those reasons in original songs. Since 1842, American Jews have been singing Chanukah songs that expressed the com- plicated experience of being Jewish in the United States. That year, a new hymnal for Congregation Beth Elohim in Charleston, S.C., included a special hymn for Chanukah that reassured congregants that the God to whom they prayed forgave their sins and continued to stand by them. The hymn countered the ener- getic effort by local Christian evangelicals to convince them to worship Jesus. Yet because it reassured Jews living anywhere in a largely Protestant America, the song appeared in hymnals used by both the Reform and Conservative movements as late as 1959. In the 1890s, twoAmerican Reform rabbis, in New York City and Philadelphia, wrote a new English version of"Maoz Tsur," a song that Jews have sung at Chanukah since the 13th century. Titled "Rock of Ages," the new song kept the melody of its predecessor, which thanked God for saving Jews in the past, but in its shortenedversion substituted a homey image of domesticity bright with lights and joy and promised a future that would see "tyrants disappearing." "Rock of Ages" offered Jews an emotional link to past traditions through its melody while reminding them of the tyranny currently besetting their coreligionists in Eastern Europe. As 2.3 million new Jewish immigrants from East- ern Europe came to America over the next 30 years, the song grew popular. It became a fixture at American Chanu- kah celebrations following the rise of Nazism in 1933, when the hope for a world free of tyranny seemed even more desperate. Rewrites of older prayers or songs often appeared in the first half of the 20th cen- tury. One Chanukah rewrite published during World War II offered a new version of an older prayer that described God's saving power. The re- write, offered in Hebrew as "Mi Yimalel?" and in English as "Who Can Retell?," has a lively melody that fits its lyric, which aims to rouse Jews to act politically, militarily and philanthropically. Although a "hero or sage" always came to the aid of needy Jews in the past, it says, the current problems facing Jewry require more. Now "all Israel must arise" and "redeem itself through deed and sacrifice." The cri- ses facing Jews during those years influenced the ideas and emotions that they expressed in this Chanukah song. The experience of unity and strength that is felt in group singing may have assuaged Jews' fears during those de- cades of disorientation and anguish. Chanukah provided an occasion for singing songs that voiced old and new hopes while building new communal alliances and bonds. And that, perhaps, helps explain the broad and con- tinuing appeal of Chanukah forAmerican Jews. Chanukah allows Jews to join in the national merrymaking oc- casioned by Christmas, but also to rededicate ourselves to Judaism. In homes, synagogues, mu- seums, community centers and schools, it provides us with an occasion for gather- ing, singing, eating, lighting candles in the evenings of the shortest days of the year, exchanging gifts, voicing religious commitments and values, and enjoying being Jews. Dianne Ashton is the author of "Chanukah in America: A History, "which was published last year by NYU Press, and a professor of religion s&d- ies at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. By Nina Badzin MINNEAPOLIS (Kveller. com)--We Jews have two choices in our approach to the Christmas season: resent it or embrace it. I for one vote for a big; sloppy embrace. In the name of love thy neighbor and tolerance, I say we hug it out with Christmas already and teach our kids to do the same. Why? We expect our non- Jewish co-workers, friends and neighbors to show heaps of interest and concern in all things Jewish. During the High Holidays we ask our kids' teachers not to assign big tests after those long days at shul. We offer unsolicited explana- tions about why Chanukah is not, despite unfortunate evidence to the contrary, the most important event on our calendar. For the week of Pass- overwe bore everyone we know with the reasons we're eating- matzah and other weird stuff. Tolerance is a two-way street. It would be chutzpa- dik and a bad example to our kids not to muster up some genuine interest in a holiday "~- " -~5 ~ h -- . Custom Pnnt Marketing lnv~ations g- Announcements Digital g- Offset Printing Brochures g- Bod-,lets Direct Mail Services Forms g- Letterheads 407-767-7110 : / i:i %: : : www. elege~qor{ntJr t~. net - /v~ydon Thb Ad and Receive 18% ~t - celebrated by a significant majority of our fellow citizens. So with that being said... 10 steps to lose the attitude at Christmas 1. Stop lecturing every- -one who says Merry Christ- mas. "Merry Christmas" doesn't mean "We want to convert you." It doesn't mean "The Cossacks are coming so pack up the chickens," More than anything it tends to replace "Have a nice day." Re- alistically italso conveys, "I've been working this shift for nine hours and I could not care less what holiday you celebrate or don't." 2. Eat peppermint bark. It's chocolaty. It's minty. It's joy. 3. Get yourself invited to a Christmas party. Growing up in a heavily Jewish-populated suburb of Chicago, I was un- aware of the Christmas happen- ings sprinkled throughout the month. Now that I'm raising my family in a neighborhoodwhere we are among the few Jews, I love that we get invited to Christmas teas, tree-decorating parties, open houses, cocktail parties and more. Show that you're open to experiencing someone else's traditions, It works both ways. I, for one, feel personally responsible for exposing many of my neighbors to Sukkot, or as they affectionately call it, ,the holiday when you put that big fort in your yard." 4. Appreciate Christmas break. They aren't canceling school and days of work for Chanukah and Kwanza, y'all. 5. Participate in the Jewi- est Christmas tradition of all - the Cookie Exchange. If you're not aware of the frenetic cookie baking and eating that happens during the month of December, then you're missing out. Get thee to a cookie exchange pronto. We're talking infinite varieties of cookies and an atmosphere subtly laced with the taste of competition, This is a tradi- tion that speaks our language. 6. Take advantage of the small and temporary changes in scenery, tastes and smells. When you're in the routine of family life with young kids, even the slightest changes can add some pizazz to your day. Enjoy the new cup designs and festive syrups at your favorite coffee joints. (Hello eggnog latte). Appreciate the brief appearance of gingerbread offerings everywhere you go. 7. Drive around and look at Christmas lights. It's dark at 5 o'clock. What's not to like about added light for the month of December? Sure, some of the neighbors' deco- rations are gauche. Make it a family custom to vote on the best and worst ones. 8. Find some Christmas music you can stand. The Alvin and Chipmunks Christ- mas song makes you Want to scream? Some of your favorite artists have probably come up with Christmas albums by now. Michael Buble has one. So does the cast of"Glee.' And you haven't lived until you've heard Barbra Streisand's ren- dition of"Silent Night." Don't judge; she does "Avinu Mal- keinu" on a different album. 9. Cozy up at home and watch classic Christmas mov- ies. Half of those Scripts and scores were written by Jews. Consider it an ironic exercise in Jewish pride. Also, any holiday that encourages the lords of cable television to replay "Love Actually," the greatest Christmas movie of all time, is fine by me. 10. Bargain shop. You know those great "holiday" deals you're still enjoyingon Dec. 20th even though Chanukah ended. Those are Christmas deals, my friends. Let's, as they say, not look a gift horse in the mouth. Nina Badzin is a columnist for The HerStories Project and for She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. She tweets at @NinaBadzin, blogs regularly at http:// and is on Facebook at http://www.face- book. com/NinaBadzinBlog.