Public confession: I love Christmas movies. Scandalous, I know, for a rabbi to admit, but I suspect more than a few of my colleagues feel the same way.
My favorite one by far is “Home Alone.” Of course, the slapstick physical humor is entertaining, but more than that, there is a very redeeming moral message to the film. In an age where corporate consumerism has all but obscured the spirit of the holiday, “Home Alone” teaches young Kevin McCallister that being with family is more valuable than material gifts.
Through the experience of being separated from his family and defending his home from bad guys, Kevin acquires what the rabbis call “middot,” positive character traits: courage, responsibility, giving back to others, doing the right thing and being a good neighbor.
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Hanukkah, due to its proximity to Christmas, is susceptible to many of the same woes. There is a risk that we will focus too much on the gifts, the parties and vacations and that we will lose focus on what matters: enjoying the time with our families.
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The story of Hanukkah, like “Home Alone,” is a story about courage and doing the right thing. The gifts, the parties, the food – those are fun, but they are not the essence of Hanukkah.
Chloe and I have moved twice in the past decade. Our daughter was born in Calgary, our son in Toronto. Both are lovely communities where we were able to create many relationships. Our families are mostly in Vancouver, so we’ve really been on our own. This has ultimately made us a stronger, more bonded family unit.
In every place we’ve lived, we practiced as a family and created meaningful memories. The last night of Hanukkah in Calgary in 2016 was the first night Eliana slept through the night. A true miracle! In Toronto, when COVID-19 happened, we found comfort in our Hanukkah rituals. We were isolated, but we were together. Just like Kevin, I hope to teach my children that the true gift of Hanukkah is the light of the human soul which God has planted within us, and to kindle and nourish that light by sharing joy and happiness with others.
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We are excited to celebrate our first Hanukkah in Louisville. In the short time since we’ve moved here, we have made friends and been so warmly and lovingly taken in by our Adath Jeshurun family.
We will create new memories and new friendships. Our children are still reeling from the culture shock of moving from a large Canadian city to a smaller city in the American South/Midwest. Celebrating Hanukkah with the Louisville community will give them the comfort of familiarity; they’ll hear everyone singing the same Hanukkah songs they know.
We will make latkes with the same recipe we’ve used in every other city. The doughnuts here will be better than Toronto; I guarantee it. It will be strange to celebrate Hanukkah without 3 feet of snow outside, but I suppose our ancestors in Jerusalem didn’t have that, either.
Joshua A. Corber is senior rabbi at congregation Adath Jeshurun. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rabbi Joshua Corber studied religion literature and the arts at the University of British Columbia, spending one year abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.