One of the first English words to appear in the Yiddish newspapers in the early years of the 20th century was “present,” Dianne Ashton explains in “Hanukkah: A History” (NYU Press). A gift at Chanukah seemed like a very American gesture. Editors urged gift giving, and advertisers soon linked holiday emotions and shopping.
Generations of American Jews, as Ashton explains, “reshaped and reinterpreted the holiday to express their own understanding of the needs and possibilities of American Jewish life.” She writes of the embrace of the story of the Maccabees in some circles, celebrations in public spaces, distinctive traditions in various places, like menorah decorations made of hominy grits in New Orleans, and the backlash against the magnification and commercialization of the holiday. Ashton, professor of religion studies at Rowan University, provides a cultural history of the holiday, rich in details, that’s also a history of Judaism in America.
Verse from Hannah Senesh
In 1933 Budapest, Hannah Senesh wrote a poem about Chanukah, linking the holiday to the struggles of European Jewry. The poem, “Hanukkah,” was written before Senesh, a poet, diarist, ardent Zionist and one of Israel’s great heroes, made her first trip to Palestine. Another of her poems became known as the hymn “Eli, Eli.” Her poem “Hanukkah,” which ends, “As we are reassured by the candlelight;/Do not quail Israel, there is still hope!” is set in striking type in a note card designed by Trevor Messersmith of 80east Design.
Pickman Museum Shop, Museum of Jewish Heritage
36 Battery Pl., Manhattan
Rearrange This Menorah
This menorah is meant to be touched and moved. Each of the smooth stones holds a brass candleholder. The stones can be rearranged every night, according to the design of Galia Tammuz and Danna Kazir for their brand All Good. The two industrial designers are graduates of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Israel.
The Jewish Museum Shop
Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
Fair Trade (and Natural) Candles
In shades of red, green, blue and purple, these handmade candles will light up your home and spread the light. They are made by Mayan Q’eqchi women in rural Guatemala, using seeds of the native Arrayan tree. The waxy seeds provide a natural alternative to synthetic wax. Proceeds support “Proyecto Eco Quetzal,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental and social issues in Guatemala.
Fair Trade Judaica
$25 (package of 45 candles)
It’s Oil Good
The 2012 olive harvest was remarkable, with exceptional quality olives and flawless maturity in most orchards around the Mediterranean, according to the proprietors of Oliviers & Co. They import all-natural boutique olive oil, and now offer varieties that are certified kosher. Their basil-flavored olive oil and lemon-flavored olive oil are specially produced in the south of Italy and are meant to be used in dressings and with foods. Their Everyday Olive Oil from small growers in Spain is for cooking use. It has a very high burning point. Think latkes.
Oliviers & Co.
Basil & Lemon duo (Two 8.4 fl.oz bottles), $43
Everyday oil (25.3 fl.oz.), $24
The Shops at Grand Central Terminal, 249 Bleecker St. (at Leroy Street)
The Art of the Walking Tour
Take an artwalk that winds through this great city.
Saddle Shoe Tours offers tours of street art — sculpture, murals, graphic art, in unexpected places. Lia Buffa, right, a street photographer and licensed NYC tour guide, fills in the stories behind the art and artists. She says that winter is ideal for these walks, as there are fewer people in the streets. The company’s name comes from her signature walking shoes. Two tours are offered: “Lower East Side to Soho” travels along some of the city’s most historic streets, with a mix of commissioned and illegal artwork to view. “Meatpacking to Chelsea” explores these transformed neighborhoods and the art outside of the galleries.
The tours are $100 for up to four people and then $20 per additional person after that. Gift certificates are available.
Or, seek out contemporary art in galleries, with an artist-guide who is mindful of Jewish ideas and issues.
Private tours can be arranged, for $275 for the group. Individuals can join a regularly scheduled tour for $50.
These are circles of hope. In Hell’s Kitchen, Domus is a treasure box of a store specializing in handcrafted products created in equitable and sustainable environments. The colorful bracelets are made of discarded flip-flops. The carved bracelets are handmade by artisans in Namibia, upcycled out of old water pipes. The designs are inspired by the landscape and tribal symbols, and the color comes from the soil and sun. Woven dream bracelets wrap around the wrist and are made by rural women in Guatemala. These creations were inspired by conversations in which the women were asked to draw pictures of what they want their lives to be like.
Domus: Unaffected Living
Flip-flop bracelets (set of 10), $8; Upcycled carved bracelets, $22 to 32; Wakami dream bracelet, $32.
413 W. 44th St., Manhattan
Cards for Thanksgivikuh
Send greetings of this once-in-a-lifetime season. Kim Demarco’s holiday card features a turkey in the oven, football on television and a menorah lighting up the window. The Chanukah-on-Thanksgiving greeting inside is, simply, Happy Holidays. Demarco’s illustrations appear in The New York Times and The New Yorker.
The Jewish Museum Shop
$18 (box of 8 cards)
Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
Testing Their Metal
In the northern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, Mary Ann and Malcolm Owen, a husband-and-wife design team, shape metals into beautiful objects, using traditional methods. Their travel menorah is made of brass, copper and silver, with five characters made of sterling silver at the base.
Penrose Galleries Judaica
When a young girl named Sadie who loves singing Hebrew songs accidently drops the menorah she just made, it smashes into a zillion pieces, and she sheds that many tears. But the shammash doesn’t break. Her family then uses that Super Shammash to light all of their menorahs, in a new family ritual. The book includes the traditonal blessings, and in a new tradition in this picture book, not only the boys wear kippot. Rabbi Jamie Korngold, author of “Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah,” illustrated by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben) serves as the spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program and lives in Boulder, Colo.
$17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback, $6.95 ebook
Jewish Tales for the Whole Family
Another book that’s great to read aloud, “The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales” by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Barefoot Books), features sensitive retellings of eight classic Jewish stories of special appeal to families. Hall’s lovely illustrations in folkloric style enhance the text; included is a CD narrated by actress Debra Messing. Rabbi Gelfand directs JHub in London.
Thousand Turkey Challenge
Think turkey this Chanukah and join the Thousand Turkey Challenge. The West Side Campaign Against Hunger hopes to collect more than 1,000 turkeys and distribute them to low-income families. You can buy a frozen turkey and bring it to WSCAH on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 25-26, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Wednesday, Nov. 27, 9 a.m.-noon, or sign up to work a shift receiving the turkeys, or make a contribution, $18 buys one turkey. Make a donation online or send a check to West Side Campaign Against Hunger (“Turkeys” in the memo line), 263 W. 86th St., NY 10024. The Thousand Turkey Challenge Coalition includes Upper West Side synagogues, churches and religious schools.
(For more information, firstname.lastname@example.org)