My White House Chanukah

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16 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Don’t worry R’ Avi – by the time your hagiography comes out you will have lit candles at home and have experienced kfitzat haderech (mystical beaming? 🙂 ) to get to the white house in time 🙂

    KT

  2. HILLEL says:

    Rabbi Shafran gives us an insight into the seductive nature power and those who get close to it.

    It is easy to see how one can lose his normally-sound judgment when he is wined and dined by kings and presidents.

    When in the company of royalty it’s always a challenge for representatives of the Jewish commnuity to maintain their equilibrium and adhere to their Torah principles.

  3. Micha Berger says:

    “I have always been struck by the inescapable contrast between, on the one hand, the public, potent pageantry and glitter with which the surrounding culture celebrates its winter holiday and the quiet, home-bound nature of Chanukah…”

    It only seems that way because we only see the holiday through its spectacles. The pagentry is what catches the eye of the outsider. We don’t have news reporters covering the Jones’ Family Christmas Dinner. It’s clear that the typical Christian also wants to spend his holiday with family — both nuclear and extended.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    ““This is an amazing symbol of the malchus shel chesed [government of kindness] that is this great country.” It was indeed hard to not be impressed.”

    – to my ear, “malchus shel chesed” should evoke being grateful, not impressed

  5. Jewish Observer says:

    “I have always been struck by the inescapable contrast between, on the one hand, the public, potent pageantry and glitter with which the surrounding culture celebrates its winter holiday and the quiet, home-bound nature of Chanukah”

    – have you seen the incredible 2 story silver store that opened up on Ave J where a grocery used to be? In it, Torah-true families can buy a 3 foot solid silver menorah with which to modestly celebrate Chanukah in their 2 million doallr homes on Bedford Avenue

  6. Avi Shafran says:

    Thanks to all for their comments.

    KT: I’m afraid I have too much baggage to qualify for one of those bios — even hagiographers have limits to what they can ignore! So I think the sad truth that I abandoned my family that night will just have to stand.

    Hillel: Your observation is true and appreciated. But I must say that, as great an honor (for Agudath Israel) it was, no religious Jew would feel terribly seduced in those surroundings (Jewish matrons whose mothers apparently never taught them how to dress, “holiday” trappings that weren’t exactly, uh, Chanukah-themed, etc.). It was very easy to feel that, to borrow Elie Wiesel’s phrase from a different context, it “this is not your place.”

    Micha Berger: You are certainly right. But there is still an inherent difference between the two celebrations, one characterized in its most baseline observance by largeness and bright lights, the other by small flames. Just walking down the street on a night of Chanukah in late December is enough to drive that point home.

    Jewish Observer: What was impressive WAS the chessed. That was my intent, and is the plain reading of the sentences. As to Jewish excesses, we all know they exist (in many things, sadly). But that is hardly related to the point of the essay. Let’s all strive, as we should, for an ayin tova, not a jaundiced one.

  7. Jewish Observer says:

    ” As to Jewish excesses, we all know they exist (in many things, sadly). But that is hardly related to the point of the essay. Let’s all strive, as we should, for an ayin tova, not a jaundiced one.”

    – your mussar shmuess notwithstanding, my poimt is that the “potent pageantry and glitter” of which you accuse Christainity IS very much found by us, so I suggest you pick another angle with which to establish our superiority.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    “What was impressive WAS the chessed. That was my intent, and is the plain reading of the sentences”

    Again you miss my point. What I wrote was the reaction to chesed should ne hakoras hatov, NOT “being impressed”. Also as an FYI, using a tone of stridency does not any way add to the validity of an argument, no matter how authoritative it makes the author appear.

  9. Avi Shafran says:

    Dear Jewish Observer,

    I’m not sure why you seem so bent on misreading me, but let me try to be more clear about the contrast I made.

    Christianity’s winter holiday is most popularly associated with glitter, tinsel, lights and trees (the bigger the better). Judaism’s is most popularly associated with small flames (and size doesn’t matter). The fact that some small subset of Jews may have been affected by the surrounding culture to the point of thinking that “gibborim” is better than “chalashim” and “rabbim” better than “me’atim” — that bigger is better — in no way changes the essential contrast between the two essential forms of celebration. And while I was only stressing the difference, not any “superiority”, I don’t make any apology for considering the Jewish faith my favored one.

    Let me try to be more clear as well about the hakaras hatov we owe our great country. It is immeasurable, and anyone who has ever heard me speak on the subject can attest to my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for what our country has done for my family and our people. That was precisely what I meant to convey by quoting the gentleman I met and noting that anyone there could only have been impressed — with the fact of an American President putting so much time, energy and money into a Jewish celebration. In other words, they could only feel hakaras hatov. I assumed that readers would understand that intention, and think that anyone who read the piece objectively and not intent on finding fault, understood precisely what I meant.

    I’m sorry if you found, or find, my tone strident. But it is hard for me not to be troubled by how you regard two innocuous phrases as somehow sinister.

    Best wishes,

    AS

  10. Jewish Observer says:

    “it is hard for me not to be troubled by how you regard two innocuous phrases as somehow sinister.”
    – this is very clever sophistry; calling yourself a name and ascribing the name calling to me

    “I’m not sure why you seem so bent on misreading me”
    – who is calling who sinister here?

    “while I was only stressing the difference, not any “superiority”, I don’t make any apology for considering the Jewish faith my favored one.”
    – not sure how to learn poshut pshat in this sentence

  11. Avi Shafran says:

    Dear JO (if I may),

    Maybe it will help if we review our exchange here. I wrote an essay that didn’t, I think, make any strong political or religious points; it was a personal musing on how family trumps power places. You responded by seizing (incredibly) on an in-passing comment about Chanukah candles to take a pot shot against excess in the frum community (an important topic, to be sure, just not the one here); and to seize on a word I used and misinterpret it in a negative way.

    You didn’t ask what I meant, which would have been the generous thing to do, and could have produced a shorter, better exchange. Instead you just assumed your “reading” to be true, and on that basis diagnosed of a lack of hakaras hatov in the essay.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t mind, and indeed look forward, to constructive criticism and the expression of different points of view in responses to things I write. Since I often write about controversial subjects, I expect and value those responses. But here was a piece that did not broach any such controversy and you chose to read into it things that simply weren’t there. I did not call that sinister; I used that word to describe how my words seem to have struck you.

    The pshat in the sentence that puzzled you is that I was contrasting a difference between the surrounding culture and our own religion, not making a case for superiority or inferiority. But, that said, I do indeed indeed consider Judaism the most true faith, and make no apologies for that conviction.

    I hope the above clarifies things for you. Rest assured that I am as ashamed of excess in our community as you are, and that I have sincere hakaras hatov to our country. So, at least in the points you raised, we have no disagreements.

    Best wishes,

    AS

  12. Jewish Observer says:

    Dear Rabbi Shafran (assuming that I may :-),

    Thanks for the response. We probably better stop this back and forth at this point. Apologies if I said anything chutzpadik.

    Jewish Observer

  13. Avi Shafran says:

    Dear JO,

    You’re a true mensch. And I apologize for having been choshed that you might not have been.

    Please, though, don’t hesitate to offer any criticism of anything I write in the future.

    kol tuv,

    AS

  14. Oysh says:

    JO makes a valid point about the underlying triumphalism of this piece vis a vis Christians. I daresay that millions of devout Christians are as appalled by the excesses of commercialism and pageantry when applied to Xmas as are devout Jews about, lehavdil, Chanuka.

    Tragically, there is little evidence to point to the even marginal superiority of the frum community over religious Christians when it comes to ruchnius, yashrus, tznius, kovod habrios, gmilas chesed, bitochon, emunoh pshutoh, etc.

    I, too, believe in ours as the one and only true faith…I just see little to praise in the way our community conducts itself, ego-gratifying polemics notwithtanding.

    Perhaps Chanuka should be a time to reflect on what it means to be misyaven in our time, how dire our spiritual decline has become, and what we need to do to overcome it, rather than a time for unjustified, self-absorbed smugness.

  15. Jewish Observer says:

    “rather than a time for unjustified, self-absorbed smugness”

    this is where Oysh and I part company. I happen to enjoy some good clean self-absorbed smugness, as long as it’s done tastefully

  16. Rivka W. says:

    “Tasteful smugness”? Is that only one foot tall, instead of three?

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