This article is part of our morning briefing. Click here to get it delivered to your inbox each weekday.
There will be no Hanukkah in 3031. But there will be two in 3032: “A year without Hanukkah may sound like the plot to a less-than-stellar Hallmark Channel movie but it’s also a mathematical certainty that’s just 1,000 years away,” writes our Adam Kovac. It has to do with the Hebrew calendar shifting a little each year. And Hanukkah is not the only holiday on the move. In around 15,000 years, a math professor told Adam, “You’ll have to have your Fourth of July hot dog on matzo.” Read the story ➤
Why do Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas? Some traditions are so ingrained, most people hardly question them. That’s where we come in. The story of why Jews dig into dim sum on Dec. 25 dates back to the turn of the 20th century, and it’s a story of (partial) assimilation, cross-cultural exchange and good will toward men. “Chinese people didn’t look down on Jews as being less American in terms of Westernness,” author Jennifer 8. Lee explained. Another factor: “It tastes good!” Read the story ➤
An 1881 pogrom in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Wikimedia)
Are Jews afraid of Christmas? Beyond cold sesame noodles and movie theaters, there are older, more superstition-driven habits that come from a place of fear. Through the centuries, Jews have covered their pots, forbade Torah study and even baked garlic bread to avoid supposed dangers connected with yuletide. “Older Jewish religious texts instructed all Jews to stay home on Christmas Eve because Christians might attack, or even kill them,” writes Itzik Gottesman. And then there’s the fear of a flying Jesus. Read the story ➤
First-person | I’m a grown-up. I still love playing dreidel: The game has a lot to teach us: history, tradition and low-stakes gambling. Our Beth Harpaz is thrilled by the motion of the top and the larger Jewish story it represents. In the words of her friend’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, “life has these bumps” — just like a game of dreidel. Read her essay ➤
Christmas caravan participants, from left, Laura Frisch and Rabbi Tamar Manasseh, with Dreezy Claus, Chicago’s official Black Santa. (Courtesy)
Why a Christmas Day gift-giving caravan is ‘the most Jewish thing’ Chicago-area residents can do: Rabbi Tamar Manasseh leads dozens of volunteers around town in cars filled with toys, passing out presents in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. “Outside of dollar stores, grocery stores, in housing projects, and on corners where people congregate,” Manasseh said. “It’s so beautiful how many Jews — over 100 — come out from all over Chicagoland to do a mitzvah.” Read the story ➤
Opinion | Ukraine’s survival is a modern-day Hanukkah miracle: President Joe Biden said at a news conference Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Hanukkah is “the story of survival and resilience that reminds us on the coldest day of the year, that light will always prevail over darkness.” Our columnist Rob Eshman says “Rabbi Joe got it right,” noting that “the Maccabees were supposed to lose against a much more powerful foe, and so were the Ukrainians.” Like the oil that lasted eight days instead of one, Rob points out, a country that many expected to be crushed by Russian forces in a week has battled them back for 10 months. Read his essay ➤
And our parting gift: Elie Wiesel wrote a short story about lighting Hanukkah candles in Auschwitz that appeared in the Forward in 1969. We translated it from Yiddish to English.
Spread the word! Invite someone
to sign up for this newsletter.👇
Born to a Baptist family of sharecroppers in North Carolina, Gardner was also a star at home with the Jews. (Getty)
How Ava Gardner found her home in a Jewish milieu: Our Benjamin Ivry writes that Gardner, who would’ve turned 100 on Saturday, had a fling with Philip Roth, an admirer in Bugsy Siegel and married a Jewish bandleader. She portrayed the biblical Sarah in a 1966 film, “redolent with Yiddishkeit” as she played the archetypal Jewish mother, and generally “felt notably haimish among the Jews.” Read his essay ➤
He may have been an antisemite, but he knew great Jewish art when he saw it: Modigliani Up Close, now on view at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, makes use of new technology to reveal the Jewish painter’s unconventional techniques and processes. But, as Diana Cole writes in her review, the onetime owner of the collection, while appreciating the work, was no fan of the Jews he encountered while acquiring it. Read the story ➤
And one more: What would you do if someone wrote a mean song about you? Our Bintel Brief advice column responds with a little help from Maimonides and Jake Gyllenhaal, who kept his cool after Taylor Swift called him out in her lyrics.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
Itamar Ben-Gvir protested against a meeting with bereaved Palestinian families in March 2022. (Flash90)
🇮🇱 In a signal of a burgeoning crisis in relations between Israel and American Jews, hundreds of U.S. rabbis pledged in a letter to block extremists in Israel’s new right-wing government from speaking in their communities. Its signatories come from the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. (JTA)
🚶 Students at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, staged a walkout to protest antisemitism on Thursday, days after “Jews not welcome” graffiti was found on campus. (ABC 7)
👏 A Minneapolis City Councilman apologized this week for antisemitic and anti-gay marriage social media posts a decade ago that included asking “Where’s Hitler when you need him?” and calling former President Barack Obama a “slave of the Jewish lobby.” (Star Tribune)
💡 The man credited with popularizing Christmas lights in the early 20th century, Albert Sadacca, had never celebrated Christmas. In fact, he was a Jew who grew up in the Muslim world. The story of how he pioneered the twinkly lights is a dark one – shaped by nativism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and labor exploitation. (Washington Post)
🎶 A Washington, D.C. men’s choir is paying tribute to the Jewish songwriters behind many holiday favorites with a series of concerts called “I’m Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas.” The group’s director acknowledged that its message is more relevant in a time of rising antisemitism. “The more you know,” he said, “the less you hate.” (Jewish Insider)
🎄 Christmas is a busy time for Jews who sing in churches. David Gordon, who is also an actor, said that performing Christian worship songs is similar to when he “checks his ethics at the door when playing a misogynist in an opera,” adding that he sees himself as “a mercenary for Jesus.” (NY Jewish Week)
Mazel tov ➤ Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the founding spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, announced that she will step down, after more than three decades, in the summer of 2024.
Long weekend reads ➤ Why do so many ultra-Orthodox Israelis seek psychotherapy now? … Morocco’s Jewish golden era comes back to life … Tracing the tangled, Jewish origins of three iconic comic book characters.
In this weekend’s edition of our print magazine: Does Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have an antisemitic message or a Jewish humanist one? Like most questions, it depends who you ask. “It’s about community,” one person noted. Another was less gracious. “The miserly, Jewish banker opens his heart to the Spirit of Christ — and then, and only then, is he transformed into a loving human being. Scrooge done got himself saved.” Bah, humbug. Plus: Stories about Hanukkah in Ukraine and the science behind menorah lighting. Download your copy now ➤
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Bill Clinton, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan at a Mideast peace summit in October 2000. (Getty)
On this day in history (2000): Amid the outbreak of the Second Intifada, President Bill Clinton presented his framework of a Mideast peace plan. Known as the Clinton Parameters, the framework for two states was accepted by Palestinian and Israeli negotiators “with reservations,” but failed to gain any real traction before the Israeli elections in February 2001.
50 years ago today: Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back, made a miraculous game-winning catch. Coming two days before Christmas, it was dubbed “the immaculate reception.” The pun is often credited to an on-air Jewish sportscaster whose catchphrases included some drawn from Yiddish, like “feh!” and “yoi!” Harris died this week at 72. Read more about the Jewish angles to the immaculate reception ➤
It’s Festivus, the non-holiday holiday popularized by Frank Costanza in Seinfeld.
Our senior political correspondent, Jacob Kornbluh, is usually the one breaking the news – but today we’re turning the tables. Kornbluh, a resident of New York’s 10th congressional district, was spotted holding his first grandson at an exclusive bris Thursday, according to a well-placed source in the room. The child, the scion of a political dynasty who has already launched a 2045 mayoral bid, was named Shlomo Chaim. Kornbluh did not respond to a request for comment.
Thanks to Zach Golden, PJ Grisar, Beth Harpaz, Matthew Litman and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at [email protected].