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How Jewish studies scholars navigated Jewish law and fire-code rules to save Hanukkah at their conference



(JTA) — The email landed like a batch of soggy latkes last week: Hanukkah candle-lighting would not be permitted at the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies.

“We recognize the sacrifice many of you will make to attend the conference during the holiday of Chanukah. We apologize that the conference hotel will not allow us to light candles in a separate room, as we have done in the past,” the professional group for Jewish studies scholars said in a message to its members, of whom approximately 1,200 are expected at this week’s convening in Boston.

Thus began a MacGyver-like scramble by some of the country’s leading Jewish studies scholars to hack a Hanukkah solution that would comply with both halacha, Jewish law, and the Sheraton Boston’s interpretation of Massachusetts fire code.

At first, the scholarly group directed conference-goers to details about a Hanukkah celebration at a nearby synagogue where menorahs could be lit, at least on the first night of the holiday Sunday. But that was little consolation for those whose personal practice of Judaism is rooted in traditional Jew law — which says the Hanukkah menorah must be lit in the place one eats and sleeps.

Some conference attendees said they would rely on Jewish law’s provision for travelers, which says someone on the road can be considered as having fulfilled the commandment to ignite a Hanukkah light if his family at home does so. But not everyone at the conference has a family, and even some who do were unsatisfied with that option.

Electric menorahs offered another possibility. After all, such devices are frequently found in hotels and other public spaces, and they’re what Chabad, the Orthodox denomination, uses in its famous public Hanukkah celebrations, this year scheduled for more than 15,000 locations around the world. But not everyone owns one, and at any rate, the use of oil wicks or, in the last few centuries, wax candles that offer a similar experience is considered preferable, according to some interpreters of Jewish law.

On Facebook and over email, anger was expressed. Impractical suggestions for the conference to relocate were made. And fear mounted that some conference-goers would smuggle in contraband menorahs and light them in their hotel rooms.

“You can’t stop people from breaking the rules, and it’s certainly much less safe to have that than something being watched,” Joshua Shanes, a historian at the College of Charleston who was part of the behind-the-scenes scramble, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Finally, on Friday morning, with some scholars already Boston-bound, Laura Arnold Leibman, a professor at Reed College and a member of the AJS board, announced a solution.

“We were able to negotiate with the hotel what I am referring to as the ‘Kaplan-Shanes compr[om]ise’ this morning that should allow for a halachic solution to the candle lighting situation (see details below), and I was able to get a beautiful hanukkiah this morning from the Israel Bookstore in Brookline that will meet the fire code,” she wrote on Facebook, to plaudits from association members.

Under the plan, a single Hanukkah lamp can be lit, under supervision, at the hotel. But each candle must be contained within a glass enclosure with at least 2 inches of space above the flame — so Leibman bought glass votives used to hold yahrzeit memorial candles, as well as a massive menorah to which they could be affixed.

“This was the only Hanukkiah I could find in Brookline large enough to handle them [and] will clean them up before Sunday and glue them down for safety to the inserts,” Leibman wrote alongside pictures of the brass menorah on her hotel windowsill.

That solved the problem of the flames themselves. But what of the obligation to light, which under traditional Jewish law each household must fulfill individually?

Enter the “Kaplan” of the compromise: Lawrence Kaplan, a professor of Judaic and rabbinic philosophy at McGill University who is perhaps best known for compiling and editing the teachings of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of the philosophy of Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish philosopher.

Kaplan wrote on Facebook that he had consulted Rabbi Daniel Fridman, the rabbi of the Teaneck Jewish Center and the top rabbi at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, for a way to have a single conference-goer fulfill the mitzvah of lighting a Hanukkah lamp on behalf of others. He learned that a contribution of a penny (or more) could enable someone to buy into the mitzvah — so a bowl for coins will sit aside the jerry-rigged menorah.

“I really l appreciate the effort and expense to which you went,” Kaplan wrote on Liebman’s Facebook post. “It was easy for me to suggest the idea but it was you who transformed it into a reality.”

Now, the discussion has shifted to whether contributions in excess of a penny can be turned into donations to the Association for Jewish Studies — and what can be done to prevent such a snafu in the future. Next year’s conference in San Francisco starts after the holiday ends, and the 2024 conference will be online-only. But in 2025, the first day of the conference again corresponds with the first night of Hanukkah.

Shanes and Liebman both indicated that they expected the right to light candles to be written into the contract with any future conference host, marking a return to the old custom of having conference-goers light candles on their own schedule.

“At least for this year,” Shanes said, “we’re all coming together. It’s a silver lining I suppose.”

The post How Jewish studies scholars navigated Jewish law and fire-code rules to save Hanukkah at their conference appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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