Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why I hate Chrismukah - and why Jews and Christians alike should hate it too.

Remember New Coke? It was a move by Coke to make Coke more like Pepsi. But at the end of the day, new Coke wasn't Coke, and it wasn't Pepsi either. Not surprisingly, I would highly doubt that my kids will ever know that there was a 'new' or 'old' Coke. Coca-Cola learned the hard way that when you try to combine two good things you don't always get something better. And this, quite frankly, is the way I feel about 'Chrismukah'.

Since attaining pop culture status on the TV show "The OC", and due to the juxtaposition of these two holidays on the calendar this year, the term 'Chrismukah' is all over the place. Curiously, I decided to Google it and came up with 22,000 results. Granted, this is far shy of the ~1.5m and 12.7M for Maccabi and Santa Claus, respectively, but nonetheless a significant sum for the short amount of time that it has been popular.

Regardless of your opinions about interfaith marriage - it is something very real in the United States, and as such, there are many Judeo-Christian families where the couples involved need to determine how, when, and where to celebrate either or both of the holidays. Chrismukah seems to be the happy-go-lucky answer ( "Hey, Why don't we make the blessings and we can light the Menorah and the Tree at the same time! Afterwards we can leave Santa milk, cookies, and latkes. ") While this might work from a functional, practical, and negotiating point of view - a unified holiday definitely does not do Justice to either Holiday and their respective religions.

I guess the same thing can be said about the whole 'Happy Holidays' controversy as well. Personally, being that Jews are a minority in this largely christian country, I have no objection to people wishing me a Merry Christmas as I walk around a mall, nor am I offended by the hours and hours and hours of Christmas music that I am subject too. (However, I wish mainstream radio stations had more Chanukah songs than the three versions of that Adam Sandler classic).We are all trying so hard to succeed in pleasing everyone and being diplomatic that sometimes we dilute our principals and rituals in the process. It's as if for the sake of being politically correct, we've defiled the very elements we held dear. The whole notion of taking two Holidays with deep roots and significance in their respective faiths and combining them into a hodgepodge with a kitschy contraction for a name, sells both those faiths and those holidays short. It's as if we've created a new Holiday for the sake of convenience. Seriously, if you are going to make a new holiday why not call it Festivus? (BTW - it is not lost on me that Jerry Stiller a.k.a Mr. Costaza, is a nice Jewish man married to a nice Catholic woman - Anne Meara).

Yes, interfaith couples made a choice when they got married - that the value of their love for one another was far more meaningful to them then their love of their religious rituals. I'm sure you will find an intermarried couple where the christian spouse has fond memories of the tree, presents, cookies for santa, carols, etc. and the Jewish spouse has memories of the menorah, draydel games, songs, and latkes. So, why not do justice to those memories? Isn't that what spouse do? Teach each other? Learn from one another? Share with one another? Why not just celebrate Christimas and Chanukah separately? This way each of you can focus on how to make your holiday memorable and not focus on how to integrate with the other's holiday.

I sincerely hope that Chrismukah dies a quick and painless death, and that families find other ways to share in each others faiths with independent observances.

And on that note, Dear Readers, may you have a Happy Chanukah and a Merry Xmas - whether you celebrate either or both - just please don't do it together.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

YYK's Yahrzeit

I was browsing over at and I noticed that today was the Yahrzeit (death anniversary) of Rabbi Yosef Y. Kazen a.k.a. YYK. YYK, as he was known on IRC, was one of those few individuals that I met who truly understood the power of the Internet and its ability provide a Jewish lifeline to those who wouldn't otherwise have one. The few times that I chatted with him on IRC, it was also evident that he was one of those few people who was truly a genuine mentsch in every aspect of his life and his interaction with others. I am sure he is missed, but his legacy -, lives on and still continues to serve judaism in page-size chunks to millions of others.

May his memory be a blessing.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How much Halachic knowledge is a good thing?

Halacha , or Jewish Law, is the lifeblood of the Jewish people. In the 2300 or so years since Moses received the Torah from G-d at Sinai, we have been studying, teaching it, debating it, and writing it down in countless books. We've even written down the debates and now debate them too! Every Jew who attends some form of religious school - be it full time or after their secular schooling, has learned Halacha in one form or another. But unfortunately some have forgotten it, and some have chosen to abandon it. As it says in the Mishnah: He who studies to learn will know it well enough to learn and teach, but he who studies to do (the commandments) will be able to learn and teach, keep and do.

I would like, to some degree to include myself in the latter group. I spent the ages of 4 to 19 in Jewish schools, learning all about our religion and the various aspects of Jewish life as well as the laws that govern them. I feel that I at least have enough Halachic knowledge to live my day-to-day life, with the occasional call to the Rabbi if I need some extra help or advice.

But the downside to this of course, is that friends and acquaintances of mine who are less versed in Halacha sometimes turn to me for questions when they are unable or uncomfortable talking to a Rabbi. While many times their questions have simple answers that I already know, I always worry that my answers to them will be wrong, and cause them to sin.

Friday, December 09, 2005

New Article at the

My friends at the Knish have deemed another article of mine Knishworthy. It is a send-up of the NCAA's rules regarding the use of Native American Indian terms for team names. This article is so good, funny, Jewish-themed and sports-related that it was picked up by Shalom Sports.

I also malign Jersey. I have to stop doing that.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I have played and competed in various sports throughout my life. In college I was a 3-time letterman in Varsity Judo, and I still practice and compete today. I've played Hockey on skates (ice and roller) and on foot, I played softball/baseball, soccer, tennis, and even tried my hand at golf (my clubs have been sitting in my closet for a few years now though). And with each of these sports I have gotten quite academic - thinking of strategies, working out plays, practicing skills, knowing terms. I even became an equipment geek - i.e. knowing the differences between, say, ABEC-7 and ABEC-5 skate bearings, or the right length baseball bat.

Basketball, however, is a different story. I played B-ball, but unlike other sports, I never really got into it in the same way. Despite my relative height (5'11" is decently tall as far as nice Jewish boys from Brooklyn go), I was always viewed of as more of a body, and never had much of a shot. Yet despite that, I still played. I was good for defense (especially in pickup gains where they don't count fouls) and I was always good for a handful of rebounds, assists and points per game (a triple-single maybe?), but I was never quite the standout. I never really tried to get better, I just showed up and played. When I was in my 20's and single, I had a standing pickup game as part of my general sunday sports trifecta (Skate 10mi, Basketball for 2 hours and then an evening softball game). When the months got cold, me and the boys would hunt for various gyms to play in (we started out as 5 guys, and after a few years, somehow a league was born, unfortunately, I was never able to participate). Unfortunately, with the exception of Judo, that was the last time I played 'organized' sports.

But now, somehow, my Mitch is into basketball. Of course, I now regret not having the knowledge that would come in handy to teach him. I wanted to get him a basketball to start teaching him how to dribble and pass (shooting will require a really small basket or a large growth spurt!). We visited my parents last week and my son convinced his Unlce to part with one of his many basketballs. I started to teach him, but then my wife decided that large heavy balls are where we should draw the line on ball playing in the house. For the few minutes we did play, I also noticed that he is definitely not ready for a full (or even junior-sized) basketball.

Today I went out and bought him a mini-basketball (unfortunately, this too is not allowed to be played in the house, but hopefully I will have an opportunity to take him to the park and start bouncing around his mini-Rock). It was a Nike basketball, with a LeBron logo on it. I guess not being into pro basketball I didn't realize how big the LeBron marketing machine was - he has even one-upped MJ in that he has his own soft drink.

I guess there is a lot I have to learn a lot about B-ball, hopefully I'll learn it before Mitch can throw high enough to hit the basket - or before he moves on to the next sport.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thank heavens for colds...

Okay, so maybe the topic sounds a little callous from a dad who truly loves his kids. So let me explain. Mike had a fever on Friday night, and Mitch followed suit after coming home from Shul on Shabbat morning. (In a scene that could easily have been scripted for a sitcom, he said 'Daddy my tummy hurts', and before I could ask if he needed to, he vommited all over the floor (not a pleasant site, to say the least).

We kept treating their fever with various anagelisics over the weekend, and thankfully our Doctor's visit this morning showed that they just had a little virus(es, since they don't have the same symptoms).

I know that we will have one or two more rough nights fighting to get them to sleep, and taking care of their fevers. And then I thought of all of those kids who are really sick, with all kinds of diseases. Fortunately, I don't know too many people personally that have those issues. But I still thank G-d every single day to let him know how grateful I am for those fleeting colds and viruses and general long-term health. A healthy child is something to never take for granted.

Friday, December 02, 2005


So our new site is finally here - I just switched blogging tools from MovableType to Blogger. There are several reasons for this, but the simplest of them is I am bowing to Google's rolling dominance of the web. Particularly, it is easier to edit offline and post pictures using Picasa.

Not all of my old posts are published yet, and for the few of you who did comment, I will unfortunately not be able to bring your comments over.

Please let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Learning from a 'Loser'

I really hate reality TV – there are at least 100 reasons, primarily, if I am going to take the time to watch TV, why should I spend it watching pompous losers humiliate themselves for a wad of cash. But one exception (a guilty pleasure if you will) is the Biggest Loser. This show essentially features a bunch of overweight contestants at a ‘Ranch’ (a euphemism for ‘Fat Camp’) where they have access to personal trainers and compete with one another to lose the most weight. While I don’t buy into the wholesale concept, there is one unique feature – they follow the contestants after they leave the show to see how they are doing. The vast majority of the contests kept up with the plan, and all lost somewhere between 25% and 47%(!) of their ‘before’ weights. Each had a story to tell, and each had a reason for changing their lifestyles.

The beauty of this is that it shows how average people, with the right diet and a regular regimen of exercise, can easily lead a healthy life and bring their weight to an acceptable level. These people are now role models who show us that average Joes and Janes can take charge of their lives and keep the weight off.

As someone who has lost about 25-30 lbs in the past 18 months, I am often asked how I did it. My usual answer is this – Americans in general have two cultural issues preventing them from being thin – they eat indiscriminately and they don’t exercise. Once you watch what you eat and get even a small amount of exercise each day, you will start to see the difference in your life.

While I can’t make too much of a dent in the American public, I hope that these ‘Losers’ can.