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Adam Eilath

Happy Chanukkah Dear Wornick Community,

For this week’s blog, I thought I would do something a little different and share two Chanukkah customs that might be less familiar to members of our community and might add new dimensions to your celebrations this week.

Hag Habanot (The Holiday of Girls)

In many Jewish communities across the Middle East and North Africa, it was customary to hold a special holiday for girls on the 7th night of Chanukkah which coincides with the first day of the month of Tevet. This holiday was known as Hag Habanot (in Hebrew) or Eid El Banat (in Arabic), or la fête de filles (in French). Rosh Hodesh (the first day of the Hebrew month) was regularly a special time for women. It was customary to abstain from work on those days and to focus on gathering with other women, introspection and community building. In some communities however the Rosh Hodesh of Chanukkah was especially significant.

In Tunisia, where my family is from, this day was a collective Bat Mitzvah celebration for all young women who were in their twelfth year. Even before the modern day Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony existed, Hag Habanot was a way for Jews to celebrate a coming of age moment with their peers. In other countries women made peace with one another or celebrated recent engagements and often gathered to sing together and pray.

The custom is the result of a number of historical connections. In Megillat Esther, (the story of Purim), we are told that Esther entered the palace and became queen on the first day of Tevet. Esther’s story is known as a story of bravery and courage and in many ways her narrative embodies the same strength of the Maccabees. Additionally, many communities celebrated the Heroism of Judith whose story is not in the Bible but is still recognized and celebrated by Jews around the world. In a rather gruesome story, Judith seduced and then killed a Bablylonian military commander, Holofernes, who was occupying and tormenting the lives of Jews. She seduced him with cheese and dairy which is why in Tunisia it was a custom to eat only dairy and cheese during the celebration of Chag Habanot.

I love this holiday. Most books depict the heroism of the Maccabees with male soldiers but it’s so important to me to tell the story of the women who led change and helped fight for freedom historically.

“A light, a person, and their home”

Another interesting law of Chanukkah I wanted to share with all of you centers around the rules of who needs to light the Chanukkah candles. In Rabbinic literature there is a Hebrew phrase; “Ner Ish UBeito”, which translates to “a light, a person and their home.”

Different Rabbis have debated the meaning of this phrase for centuries and there are a range of opinions about who needs to light the candles, how many chanukkiyot need to be lit and what happens if someone misses the candle lighting with their family.

In the Sephardic tradition, there is a custom that when you light candles in your home you are also lighting for all the members of your family who are not present. In fact, Harav Ovadia Yosef, the former chief Rabbi of Israel wrote that unmarried university students or students studying in a religious boarding school should not light their own candles because their parents lighting counted for them as well.

These laws and the legal obsession that Rabbis have had with the “reach” of candle lighting in terms of who is counted in each lighting points to the last word of the Rabbinic phrase, the home. Chanukkah is one of the main holidays where the mitzvah has to happen in the home. The home is central to the commandment.

A few years ago I wrote an article about Sephardic Hanukkah Traditions where I quoted a legal question sent to a 20th century Rabbi about the Chanukkah miracle. Here is an excerpt from that article that reinforces this notion.

“In the early 20th century, Moroccan Rabbi Yosef Messas received a letter from a Jew who had become skeptical of the Hannukah oil miracle story because he couldn’t find a written source that attested to its authenticity. In his response, Messas strongly rejected the idea that a written source was the only way to prove something as authoritative and accurate. Messas argued that the home, and specifically the teachings of the parents, were of equal importance to the written Rabbinic laws. He wrote that the “love and care that parents build with their children” creates a source of authority. Parents, he wrote, “teach stories to their offspring that pass on from generation to generation,” and these stories are on equal standing with written traditions. In this response, Messas highlights the authority and importance of parents in passing on Hannukah traditions and locates the home as the center of authority in this holiday.

Rabbi Haim David Halevi a 20th century Sephardic rabbi who served as the chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv argued that it was more important for all family members to be present during the lighting of the Hannukiah than for the Hannukiah to be lit in a timely manner. He wrote that such a lighting in the home is the “miracle of our time.””

Wishing you all a Happy Chanukkah filled with light!

Adam

Adam Eilath

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln announced that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. He used the following words to describe the importance of expressing gratitude:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…

Lincoln’s poetic description of the importance of Thanksgiving contains a number of important themes: expressing gratitude for the forces in the world we can’t always see (God), appreciating the peace that the natural world brings, and allowing ourselves to feel overwhelmed with gratitude.

In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter another articulation of gratitude. We encounter Jacob who is fearfully about to reconnect with his brother Esau, years after taking away the birthright from him. Convinced that Esau is still angry with him, Jacob appears to be preparing for a confrontation with Esau. He splits his family in two as a defense mechanism and right before meeting Esau, he instinctively breaks into an authentic expression of gratitude to God: “I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and of all the truth that You have done with Your servant.”

These two expressions of gratitude happen at opposite ends of the spectrum. For Lincoln, it is the culmination of a year of abundance, blessings, and benevolence. For Jacob, gratitude is expressed near a fearful encounter; it is shared in an anticipatory, hopeful manner.

This past week, I took my five year old daughter for her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. I found the entire experience quite emotional. My daughter has been wearing a mask since she was three years old. I’m not sure that she remembers a past where masks were not a part of her life. Although she was afraid of the vaccine, she was excited and emotional herself about the possibilities that lay ahead, the ability to unmask with friends indoors, or the potential of going to classes outside of school that we had previously not allowed her to take part in.

I found myself almost instinctively reciting a blessing as she sat on my lap to get her shot. The words that came to me were the blessing that we say on a blossoming fruit tree in the month of Passover, which includes the words that God created a world that does not lack anything. I was drawn to the notion that both Lincoln and Jacob express -- that the events of the past, as chaotic and unfortunate as they have been for the past eighteen months, contained blessings that were sometimes difficult to see. At the same time, I felt the need to acknowledge gratitude towards the unknown ahead and pray that truth and blessings would continue to guide our lives.

One of my favorite dimensions of Jewish Day School education is the focus on gratitude. Gratitude for what was, and gratitude for what has not yet happened. Finding room for gratitude even in dark moments and recognizing the impact of others in our lives, even in moments when we believed we achieved something on our own.

We are nearing that wonderful season in American life when we can gather as a family to express gratitude. When we go around the Thanksgiving table, let us not just express gratitude for the food on the table, but let's push ourselves and our children to be grateful for the seemingly hidden gifts of the past and the unknown gifts of the future.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

A week ago, the 5th grade class invited teachers and administrators into their classroom to pitch their ideas for redesigning their classroom. With COVID-19 reshuffling some of our classroom spaces, it has worked out that 5th grade is now spending their second year in the same room. As a result, they have developed some insights into how their learning space, materials, and supplies impact their learning experience. For the past few weeks, Ms. Seligman and Ms. Dittemer have led the 5th grade class in a Project Based Learning Assessment with the objective of redesigning their rooms. The project involved thinking big about the objectives of a classroom, dreaming of their ideal learning environments, interviewing teachers about their learning goals, and researching possible solutions for their design problems. The end result was magnificent, with students eloquently and confidently describing a vision for refurbished classrooms and presenting the administration with an organized budget and proposal. The requests included a new projector, different seating arrangements, bean bag chairs for reading time, and even string lights because as one student put it, “they are ‘on trend.’” The students’ work reflected the best of our school, confident students taking ownership of their learning community and spaces.

In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter one of the most famous verses from the Humash. When Isaac is granting Jacob the birthright he gives him a number of blessings (thinking he is actually speaking to his brother Esau). One of them is recited every Saturday night during Havdallah to request prosperity and success for the week. “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.”

In Genesis Rabbah (a Rabbinic homiletic commentary on the book of Genesis), the Rabbis expound the meaning of this verse. One commentary explains that the true meaning of this verse is “May God give you blessings and the ability to conquer them.” Rabbi Menachem BenZion Sacks explains this idea by sharing that material possessions have the ability to consume a person. He writes about people who have wealth but have no control over their wealth due to their incessant pursuit of more. He warns that people should not let their possessions control them, rather they should control their possessions. Thus, our Rabbis understood that Jacob’s blessing was not only for prosperity and wealth, but for Jacob’s wealth to be a source of happiness and contentment rather than anxiety and concern.

Teaching our students how to value and appreciate their requests is crucial. We could have just asked students to come up with a list of requests for what they wished for in the classroom, but instead, they developed a deep appreciation for why each item was needed. Having spent over a year in the classroom, these students became experts on their space. If students simply developed a wish list for what they wanted, the hunger and urge for more possessions might never stop. However, their teachers cultivated in them a deep appreciation for the worth of each item.

Today it is so much easier for us to buy our children different things. A few clicks on the phone and almost anything can be at our doorstep in a few hours or days. A generation ago, things were different. Cultural attitudes towards consumption were different and the inconvenience and specialization of shopping meant that what we wanted was not always available to us. Convenience is wonderful, and the Jewish tradition values prosperity and growth. However, we have to ensure that we always have control over our possessions and that we understand the value of working hard for what we desire.

Have an amazing week,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

According to our Rabbis, a person who says “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” has the characteristics of someone from Sodom. (Pirkei Avot 5:13)

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, we learn about the destruction of the town of Sodom. Immediately before God tells Abraham he will destroy Sodom he informs him that “the outcry of Sodom and Gemorah is so great, their sins are so grave.”

Our Rabbis wrote countless commentaries on this story, seeking to explain why the people of this town were such evil sinners. Indeed, some stories describe awful and evil behaviors that went on in Sodom. However, some Rabbis also realized if descriptions of Sodom were so extremely evil, someone might say, “I am so far removed from the sort of behavior that went on in Sodom, I have nothing to worry about.”

Interspersed in the Rabbinic tradition we also have a different view of Sodom. The quote that I opened this blog with is perhaps the most famous. Our Rabbis asserted that the evil of Sodom was that they were self-interested and not interested in sharing or being generous towards one another. In the book of Ezekiel, we are told that the people of Sodom had everything they needed, but their sin was that they were not philanthropic towards one another.

At the core of our educational program at Wornick is an understanding that our students, teachers, families, and community members are interdependent. Walk into any classroom and you will see covenants between students and teachers posted on the wall. If you are lucky enough to join us on the first Friday of every month, it’s beautiful to see students from intergrade groupings, working together on a community building activity.

Most schools design their educational programs around the “ideal graduate,” a student who exemplifies certain characteristics and traits. Our school goes a step further, and our educators and leaders not only talk about the ideal graduate, but about the ideal learning community.

The philosopher Charles Taylor, who I had the privilege of learning from on a number of occasions, wrote about interdependent learning communities:

“We are not self-sufficient individuals, who develop our characteristically human capacities on our own; on the contrary, we develop those capacities—the capacities that we most value—only within communities or societies of certain kinds. Our obligation, therefore, is not merely to respect the rights of others, but to belong to communities that represent the values that we affirm, and furthermore to support those communities’ or societies’ continuation and flourishing—not only for the sake of others but for our own sakes as well.”

I want to encourage our entire community to avoid the “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours mentality.” I want to encourage us to live generously, not only in terms of our possessions but in our orientation to learning and belonging in community.

In partnership,
Adam Eilath

Adam Eilath

Just imagine what it felt like to be Noah. God speaks to you. Lets you know that He is going to destroy the world. Instructs you to build an ark and save yourself, your family, and two of each animal. If you are a PJ Library recipient like my family, you have likely received many books imagining what it was like on the ark. How the animals smelled, fought with each other, etc. What I think about most is how Noah must have felt knowing that the entire world around him was being destroyed. That his neighbors, friends, and entire community would cease to exist after the flood.

In this week’s Torah portion, which narrates the flood, we are told that Noah was a good person a number of times. However, one of the descriptions is qualified. We are told that Noah was “righteous in his generation.” Our Rabbis never miss a detail or description and numerous commentaries discuss what this meant.

We are told that Noah wasn’t actually that righteous. He just lived in a pretty sinful generation and compared to his peers he was a decent person, but he wouldn’t have held a candle to a leader like Abraham. Evidence of this is the way that Abraham acted when God told him that he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham argued, debated, and negotiated with God with the hope that God would change his mind and not destroy this town. However, when Noah was faced with the destruction of the entire world, he didn’t even push back, he just started building the ark.

Our Rabbis conclude that the fundamental weakness in Noah was being self-interested. Instead of using his righteousness to change the world around him, he focused on himself and his own safety and security.

My challenge for our school community this week is actually to be a little less like Noah. To not only focus on your own success, but to concern yourself with the success of others. This can mean checking in with a friend who is looking down. Helping a student in your class who needs to understand the instructions of an assignment. Being your teacher's helper if they are implementing a complicated program or activity in the room. Our students are primed to do that. Last Friday, as I walked around our Chavurot, I saw so many students caring for one another, inviting their peers to take part in activities, modeling good behavior for one another, and ensuring that no student felt left out. One of the most beautiful scenes was watching our Middle School students come find their younger buddies and guide them to their Chavurot.

We are blessed to live in the kind of community where if there was a flood or disaster, we wouldn’t only care for ourselves, we would take care of one another too.

Have a great week,
Adam Eilath

Mission Statement

Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School develops students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.

About Wornick

Enrollment: 200
Grades: TK-8
Average Class Size: 14
Accreditation: 
California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Membership: 
National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)