Category Archives: religion

Your Channukah Questions: Answered!

Ah, Channukah.

That age-old celebration of–wait–of what exactly? What even is Channukah? How many days is it again? What do you do? For god’s sake, how do you even play dreidel? I’m sorry, what? What the heck is sufganiyot?

Allow me to shed some light on the subject! This year, I’ve gotten a ton of questions about Channukah, which is understandable if you’re not Jewish, but I feel like I’ve even been getting some questions about things that I thought everyone knew. So here, for your enjoyment and educational purposes, are some FAQs and some not so FAQs. Consider your Channukah questions answered!

Q: What is Channukah?
A: Channukah, loosely translated, means “festival of light”. It is a Jewish holiday celebrating the miracle of the Jewish people surviving because of a little lamp of oil. But more on that later.

Q: Why do we celebrate Channukah?
A: If you want the full story, check out this link: Here’s the long story short: 2000 years ago, Israel was in control of the Syrians. Throughout many years and many rulers, they ended up very oppressed. They were not allowed to practice Judaism or study the Torah. A group called the Maccabees was formed to fight for the Jews. Antiochus, the king at the time, sent a much larger army to destroy the Maccabees, and in an epic battle, yada yada yada, the Maccabees won! They returned to Jerusalem to liberate it and clear the temple of idols placed there by the Syrians. They made a crude menorah out of metal but only found a small lamp of oil to light it with. Here comes the part you probably know–it was only enough to last one night, but it burned for eight! It was a miracle! Supposedly, God had protected the Jewish people, so a holiday was born.

Q: How many days/nights is Channukah?
A: Eight! Remember that whole oil thing? Told you it would be important.

Q: What do you do on Channukah?
A: We light candles on the menorah (adding one for each night), exchange presents, play dreidel, eat latkes and other yummy foods, and be generally merry.

Q: What is dreidel and how do you play it?
A: Dreidels are little spinning tops. We play dreidel on Channukah because when the Jews were oppressed, they would study the Torah in secret. Whenever officials would walk by, they took out the little spinning tops to make it look like they were playing with those instead of practicing Judaism. A dreidel has four sides, each with a Hebrew  letter on it. The letter are nun, gimel, hay, and shin, which is actually an acronym for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” meaning “A Great Miracle Happened  There”. This is in reference to the whole miracle of Channukah thing. Each letter also corresponds to an action in the game. When playing dreidel, place a large pile of candies (traditionally gelt) in the middle and give a few to each player. Take turns spinning the dreidel. If it lands on:
Nun: do nothing
Gimel: winner, winner, chicken dinner–take all the gelt!
Hay: take half the pile of gelt.
Shin: put one of your pieces of gelt back into the pile.
When playing dreidel, remember that it can finish rather quickly. Feel free to play as many times as you wish before feasting on gelt.

Q: What are the Channukah foods?
A: Excellent question!
Latkes: potato pancakes eaten because they are fried in oil (remember the story?). Think hashbrowns meets dinner food. They’re delicious and traditionally eaten with sour cream or applesauce.
Gelt: those chocolate coins you use for dreidel. You’ve seen them at the store–they come in little yellow nets?
Sufganiyot: fancy Hebrew name for jelly doughnuts eaten because, once again, they are fried in oil.

Q: What is a menorah?
A: A menorah, or chanukiah, is a candelabra-type thing lit on Channukah. It has nine branches/candle-holders, as opposed to early menorahs in the temple as symbols which had seven branches. A menorah has places for eight candles for the eight days as well as an additional spot for the shamash or “helper” candle. You use the shamash to light the other candle. The shamas’ spot is in the center or on the side and is usually a bit higher than the other candles. After lighting the menorah, you do not blow out the candles, but let them burn all the way down until the flame goes out.

I hope this has been sufficiently helpful for any of you curious ones! f you have any more questions, comment or email me at!

Submitted with undying love for,
Channukah, latkes, gelt, being Jew-ish, and informing people,
I remain Madilyn Jayne Turken

The Truth About Israel

Every now and then on my blog, I tackle a very real and very controversial issue, not to spark anger in anyone reading, but simply because I believe that certain things need to be talked about. Furthermore, you don’t have to agree with my opinions, but my gosh, it is important to not only be educated, but to be able to hear those opinions which oppose yours. Today, I’ll be talking about the Israel vs. Palestine/Hamas issue (and yes, I know that Hamas and Palestine are two very different things). I will probably receive hate/skepticism/frustration, but I think it’s something that needs to be discussed in general.

First of all, I always have and always will stand with Israel.

This is not just because of my Jewish heritage and strong sense of Jewish identity, though those play a major role. It is also because Israel is an amazing country and why shouldn’t it have the right to exist?

Recently, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, took place. This is one of only a few days a year when my family attends services at temple. The rabbi always gives a sermon on something going on the world or any other lesson they want to talk about. On Rosh Hashanah, my rabbi gave a really great sermon on this very issue, which sparked my need to write about it. Everything he said really rang true with me, and I will outline a lot of his ideas here.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that everything Israel has done–every rocket launched, every death caused, every horrific event come to pass–has been committed out of self-defense. Israel hates doing what they are doing, but what choice does one have? Palestine has continually attacked Israel, who then has no choice but to fight back–after several attempts at peace, I might add. Israel is and has been at the ready to negotiate peace; it is Hamas who continues to break such agreements. And each time Israel fights back, in an attempt to protect their civilians, Hamas and Palestine paint a picture of terrible wrongs done to them–putting their own civilians at risk in order to appear “the good guy”. I think this YouTube video, entitled “Israel vs. Hamas Explained–Cartoon” really depicts the conflict well. Here is the link, should you choose to watch it:

Israel is also, as I said, an amazing country that treats it citizens well and welcomes people of all races and religions. Israel is the only country in its middle eastern region–yes, the only one–who provides basic civil rights to its people. Many of the same rights that we enjoy in the US–to expression, to privacy, to many freedoms–are not given to many other countries, but are given to Israelis. That seems like a very together country that should be allowed to exist, doesn’t it? Furthermore, Israel “won” its land fair and square. After much conflict in the 1930s and 1940s, The UN proposed a plan (Resolution 181) to divide what was Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish populace agreed to what was suggested, while most of the Arabs disagreed. Violence ensued, and even after Israel declared independence, Palestine continued to try to take back their old land.

I could sit here and try to tell you about who is right and who is wrong and whatnot, but that is not the point. The point is that both sides have done and are doing terrible things, but for different reasons. And in the end, here comes the most important idea that I want to take from reading this.

Some people claim not to be anti-Semitic, but to be anti-Zionist. Semitic people technically includes a variety of ancient cultures, Jews among them. Anti-Semitism is defined as “discrimination against or prejudice or hostility towards Jews”. Zionism is the movement, mostly of Jews, for a Jewish state. Zionism is defined as “political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel”. But the idea that was really the over arching theme of my rabbi’s sermon, is that there is no real difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

If you have nothing against Jewish people, than why would you have a problem with Jews–a people who have faced discrimination and oppression for hundreds of thousands of years–creating a safe haven, a homeland, for themselves? Martin Luther King Jr. was once asked about his position on anti-Zionism. He responded, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!” King was a man who recognized hatred and prejudice when he saw it, as my rabbi so aptly pointed out. Zionism is the push for Jews to have a place to call their own. If you are prejudiced towards/against that  idea, you are practicing anti-Semitism, for that is just another way to be anti-Jew.

If you still don’t buy what I am selling, take a look at the Hamas charter. In its preamble, available to anyone who simply googles “Hamas charter”, it states that “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors”. Furthermore, the hadith, or a report of the “teachings, deeds, and sayings of the prophet Muhammed”, mentions even worse. Such Islamic teachings state that Muhammed said: “Judgement Day will come only when the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jew hides behind the tree and the stone, and the tree and the stone say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him'”. These are words believed to have been said by the Islamic prophet Muhammed, and therefore, learned men of Islam believe that such events will and should come to pass. I am in no way trying to denounce or bad-mouth Islam, I just want people to know the truth about the hatred towards Jews, and that such hatred from an anti-Semitic and an anti-Zionist point of view are very connected.

Sorry that was a long post, but I hope you read the entire thing, as it is extremely important to talk about. Of course, I only covered a fraction of the information on this complex issue, but it was a fraction of information that I think is not discussed enough. There are a lot of lies floating around about this issue, and I refuse to sit back and let that happen without putting my voice in the mix. Maybe this post did nothing to influence you either way, maybe it did, but I truly want to be objective here. Yes, I have an opinion and a side in the issue, but overall, both sides are doing things wrong things. I just believe that one side has good reasons and one does not. Until next time!

Submitted with undying love for,
standing with Israel,
I remain Madilyn Jayne Turken