From the Maggie Semple blog

From the Maggie Semple blog

Here it comes, the holidays! The time that songs tell us is “the happiest time of the year.” Which raises the question, what makes us happy? American capitalist culture has a perpetual campaign to answer that question with THINGS! Things will make you happy! Cars, electronics, toys, whatever they are selling, THAT will make you happy. The trouble is, it doesn’t. Many people feel empty during or shortly after Christmas because it didn’t live up to the hype.

Did you know that there are universities around the country that now study happiness? UC Berkeley has a center, The Greater Good Science Center, that focuses on the things that make us happy – and it turns out much of what makes us happy is how we behave. People who express compassion, gratitude, and empathy are actually happier! People who have relationships – friends, a community – are happier. Being with others, doing things together, creates happiness. That means you are more likely to enjoy and remember serving food at a shelter or ice skating with your kids than what gifts you opened.

Here’s an interesting blog post, A Very Greedy Christmas on a fashion blog of all things, articulating the challenge of unwanted gifts and concluding that it’s those utterly unique gifts that are remembered. True, but we just can’t pull those off every year for everyone we know. So what can we pull off every year? It is possible to create and sustain rituals that make us happy. Like what, you ask. Like having a Games party with good friends or a latke making gathering with your favorite neighbors or cookie making day with your kids. There is something about winter that puts my family in the mood for games. Since they were little the approach of dark evenings signaled game nights galore!

Create a ritual, something you do every year; you’ll be surprised how meaningful it will become and how much those who share it with you will come to depend on it.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Chanukah, Children, Christmas, Relationships
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A friend of mine who is in an interfaith family recently told me, “I’m jealous of Christmas. My kids absolutely know they are Jewish but they LOVE Christmas and no Jewish holiday can touch it.”

It is true that there is nothing we can do about the massive marketing blitz that this country launches for the Christmas season. Garfield becomes Christmas Garfield, cars become Christmas cars, blenders become Christmas blenders. The entire world is transformed into a saleable object or moment. I’m not suggesting that you compete with this. Instead let’s think about what parts of it are good and which are bad.

Massive materialism isn’t good for anyone. Parents tell me that they want to raise their children with values other than greed and conspicuous consumption. So please, don’t go down the slippery slope of Christmas plus Hanukkah means more presents so our children are luckier; they get more! More? More what? More future landfill trinkets?

Studies show that it is human interaction that makes us happy, being with others whom we love or at least enjoy. Our strongest memories are those of experiences that have an emotional charge. So chances are you remember that surprise birthday party your friends gave you ten years ago but you don’t remember the presents they each gave you.

Now what about Christmas envy? Forget about competing in the world of presents, go for experience. There are Jewish holidays that are packed with fun but most Jews don’t know how to access them. In the words of Auntie Mame, “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Sukkot, which begins tonight, wasn’t just A holiday in ancient times, it was THE holiday.* It was a week of harvest festival, community barbeques, huge communal meals, and I feel confident, some singing, dancing and drinking! What about the kids? We are commanded to build a ‘hut’ a temporary structure in which to live during the week. We are to eat our meals there and to sleep there. How would your kids like to have you build a little wooden structure in the yard, equip it with some chairs, a small table and in the evening, a sleeping bag? You can have a little fire in your patio fire pit and roast marshmallows! Sounds like a blast!

A huge part of the Christmas, and any holiday, is the anticipation and build up. With Sukkot there is the gathering of the building materials, the actual building (more fun when done with friends), and then there’s the decorating! My daughter and I are absolute suckers for crafts and decorations. We also love to add those little strings of lights.

So what to do about Christmas envy? Try offering some awesome Jewish experiences. I’m not saying they will replace Christmas, but you’ll probably feel happier to see your kids’ enthusiasm and anticipating for a Jewish holiday.

As for Christmas, if you celebrate it, work on making it about family over presents.

Note: I found this image (pile of gifts) on the blog of a financial planner writing about the Holiday Madness. Interestingly enough he’s in an interfaith marriage. Read his article here.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Christmas, Jewish Culture, Jewish holidays at home
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Christmas is just about here and the last big build-up is upon us.

Here’s a good article about the Santa Claus issue — not from a religious standpoint, good for any parent raising kids in America.

A few words of advice
Whatever you do or don’t do for Christmas, make your peace with it now. Put on a happy face and don’t put a damper on your loved ones. If you are celebrating Christmas and it’s making you sad/mad/upset/annoyed or some other negative state of mind, remind yourself that you are doing this because someone you love wants this. Try to focus on the happiness you are providing them. Find good things to fill your thoughts – good food, good company, festive spirits. Remember how much you love these people and determine to make this a happy week for them.

Or maybe you are not having Christmas and that is making you blue. Again, you must be doing this because a person you love doesn’t want to have this event in your shared home. Focus on the love and comfort you are providing. Make a delicious dinner together; bake a winter treat. Light candles and sit in the candle light peacefully. Play some games you don’t usually get around to. Use December 25th to go for a walk in a wilderness area or out for dinner. Read aloud to each other.

Whatever you do, make sure that December 25 focuses on the love you share with your family and friends.

Then call me next week and we can discuss how to use this coming 12 months to retune next year’s December holidays.

I wish you happiness and love all around you. Remember that it is really the people you love that makes you rich. Go give them a long hug.

Shabbat Shalom,

p.s. It is not too late to make someone else’s holiday better. You can drop off food or a check at your local food bank.

Posted by admin under Christmas, Community Activities, Couples, Jewish Culture, Non-Jewish family
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christmas-lights on house

Perhaps you are raising your kids as Jews and you celebrate Christmas. Maybe you are still trying to find the right words to use to describe your decision to your kids, extended family or friends. I’m going to focus on the kids and what comes from this should work for adults. First, talk with your partner about why the two of you have decided to have Christmas. Be sure you have a shared understanding. It could be, Daddy/Mommy had Christmas when he/she was growing up and he/she wants to have it still. Just that simple.

Explain to your child(ren) that Parent Z (the Jewish parent) is Jewish and so are they. And Parent Q (the non-Jewish parent) isn’t Jewish and grew up doing what most Americans do, celebrate Christmas. If Parent Q is Christian you can say that Christmas is part of the religion they grew up with. Additionally, they loved – the tree, the lights, the music, fill in what is true. Now as a grownup Parent Q still wants to have Christmas very much so your family has Christmas together and it makes Parent Q happy.

If Parent Q had no religious elements to Christmas but simply celebrated it as an American Folkloric holiday you can describe the way that the holiday started out religious and took on lots of other parts – Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman. I would be frank about the fact that the American marketplace drives this exploding phenomenon. But I would hope you would add that for your family shopping and material things are not the focus. You love to be together, to do things for others (adopt a family through one of the social service offices), spend time playing games with Grandma or making cookies for the next door neighbor. Drive around and look at the lights on people’s houses and talk about how these are modern expressions of how people have always lit fires in the dark of winter. Tell stores that expand their understanding. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a story written to encourage people to be kind to those less fortunate than themselves. Ever culture and religion teaches this through stories. You can ask your librarian to help you find morality tales from other cultures – like Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters and Aesop’s Fables.

Let me know how you like to explain your chosen practice to your child.

Happy holidays!

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Answer: Eat & laugh!

Have you ever gone to Kung Pao Kosher? Give it a try.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
You are cordially invited to come celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy™ – Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant (where else?)! Answering the age-old question, “What are Jews supposed to do on Christmas?” Sat, Dec 22 thru Tues, Dec 25. Two shows each day: Dinner: $64; Cocktail: $44. Headliner: Judy Gold (Two-Time Emmy winner; The View, Comedy Central). Also, Adrianne Tolsch (opened for The Pointer Sisters & Billy Crystal; Florida condo circuit maven), Mike Capozzola (San Francisco comic & cartoonist), and Lisa Geduldig (Kung Pao creator, producer, hostess). Partial proceeds benefit: The Brown Twins/JFCS Emergency Assistance Fund AND Bay Area Women’s & Children’s Center Drop-in Services & Food Pantry. It’s a family affair. Ages: teens and up (precocious 8 year olds are welcome). Fortune cookies with Yiddish proverbs! New Asia Restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown.
For more info and tickets: or call the box office at (925) 855-1986.

A little story about Kung Pao Kosher: A dear friend of mine has a multiracial family, but living in a primarily white world, Jewishly speaking, she didn’t expect there to be many others like hers. She buckled down and spent 30 years raiseing her own kids and made things work for her nieces, her adult African American kids, in-laws and grandkids. Her focus was always on her own family. After attending the multiracial Jewish panels last year, she said to me, “Dawn, there are so many Jews of color! I thought my family was alone.” She added, “In the past when I went to Kung Pao Kosher I thought it was interesting that there were so many Asians there who liked Jewish comedy. This year I thought, there are so many Asian Jews!”

Go laugh kosher, love kosher. Food – not kosher but delicious!

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from the Beth Emek E-letter

Many interfaith families find the month of December to be easier to manage with Christmas and Chanukah do not overlap. That way they can devote time to each holiday with the side of the family that celebrates it. But when, like this year, they are on top of each other the sorting out can be hard. Remember this, the majority of American families deal with trying to do THE SAME HOLIDAY (Christmas) with two families, or even more. Some suggestions:

1. Since Chanukah covers eight days, chose time before or after December 25th to spend with the Jewish family members. Give December 25 (or in some families, Dec. 24) to the other side of the family. (I hesitate to say the Christian side of the family because many of you have told me that you do not identity as Christian but you love Christmas as a family holiday.)

2. Accept that Chanukah is neither a national holiday nor a significant Jewish holiday and let it be low key. Just light the candles as many evenings as you can manage and promise yourself to make a bigger deal of another Jewish holiday.

3. Experiencing angst, depression or conflict? Feel free to call me. You can also simply get through this year and we can discuss making next year better during the religiously neutral months of January or February.

4. Go away for the holidays. A significant number of families tell me that they avoid the issue by taking a skiing vacation or a tropical vacation. The vacation is their gift to each other – no cooking, no house cleaning, no office.

Share your solutions with me and I’ll send them out to everyone. If you have something that works, please, offer it to others.

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Welcome to 2011! I sure hope this year brings greater prosperity to the entire world.

This time of year a lot of folks make new year’s resolutions. Let me suggest a few resolutions –
1. If Christmas was hard, agree to discuss and work on it NOW while you have 11 months before you have to do anything about it.
2. If there are religious/cultural issues that you find are coming up over and over again, contact me. Consider participating in a couples discussion group.
3. Decide to learn something new! Do it together. Take a class, create a monthly date night, read to each other. You’ll be glad you took the time.

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Community Day: Free Admission for All
The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s Target Community Day on Christmas Day is a day of admission-free fun for all.
Explore exhibitions and enjoy family-friendly performances and activities. In celebration of Curious George, families can make their own story boats and create animal pencil cases throughout the day. Take a break to shop and eat. In keeping with Jewish cultural tradition, Dim Sum by Yank Sing will be available in the lobby. Also, Ritual Roasters will be serving coffee out of their vintage Airstream trailer on the plaza, and the Museum Store will be open all day.

Schedule of Performances:
11:30a,–12:15pm – Monkey Tales! Shadow Puppet Performance
12:30–1pm – Curious George PBS Episodes on the Big Screen
1–1:45pm – Monkey Tales! Shadow Puppet Performance
2-2:30pm – Curious George PBS Episodes on the Big Screen
2:30-3:15pm – Monkey Tales! Shadow Puppet Performance

Date: Dec. 25
Time: 11am to 4pm
Place: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St. (btwn 3rd and 4th Sts), San Francisco

Jewish Film Series – Bubbe Meises, Bubbe Stories
A joyous celebration of family, tradition and identity, Bubbe Meises, Bubbe Stories is the story of a granddaughter’s passionate journey through time and memory to recall her grandmothers’ anecdotes as a way to understand her own life.

Free. Refreshments will be served.
Date: Saturday, December 25
Time: 4pm
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills (Rooms 5 & 6)
Info: (650) 493-4661

Board Games and Music
Join Chabad of the East Bay, co-sponsored by the Yeashore Community, for “Havdalah, Board Games, and Bring a Musical Instrument Night” at Amba Falafel in Oakland!
Pizza, French Fries, Borekas & Beer for sale. Bring a board game or musical instrument!

Date: Saturday, December 25
Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Place: Amba Falafel 6464 Moraga Avenue, Oakland
For more information please call: 510-540-5824

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The San Francisco Sentinel picked up a story from the J Weekly on interfaith families. Building Jewish Bridges is in it. Take a look.

Posted by admin under Chanukah, Children, Christmas, In the News
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Yes, there are Jewish families that celebrate Christmas. What does that mean? To them, to other Jews, to their children, to their non-Jewish family members? Let’s look at the facts and the fictions around this sensitive subject.

This is one of the workshops offered at the Hanukah for Adults evening at the JCC of the East Bay on Thursday, Dec. 2.
7pm to 9pm.
After the discussions we’ll reconvene to chat, have some port and chocolate. You must be 21 years old to participate.

JCC, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley

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