Feeling Jewish, Feeling Comfortable, On the Night of the 24th

Feeling Jewish, Feeling Comfortable, On the Night of the 24th

by Rebecca Rosenthal - Cincinnati, Ohio

December 24, 2007

For Jewish people, standing out on December 24th doesn’t mean standing alone.

Chabad centers across the country fling open their doors, bringing Jewish people together for a night of unity, games – and Chinese food. It's the response to a Jewish custom that makes December 24th at night, known as nittel, the only time of the year when Jews refrain from Torah study--until midnight.

This exception to the Torah's commandment to always be engaged in the study of Torah, explained Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, sixth Rebbe of Chabad, is "to avoid adding vitality" on this particular night.

At least 150 people are expected at Chabad Jewish Center of Cincinnati, OH. “It’s always positive when Jewish people get together. What better day to it than when the rest of the world is out doing their own thing,” said Chabad representative Chana Alta Mangel.

Several of Ohio’s Chabad centers have hosted get-togethers on the night of December 24 for several years, and the crowd keeps growing. Rabbi Berel Cohen, program director at CJC, is looking forward to playing Alex Trebek tonight when he hosts a “Jew-pardy” game. 

“People tell me they come because tonight the whole world shuts down. There’s nothing on TV or radio that is comfortable for a Jewish family to watch or listen to,” said Rabbi Cohen. “It feels much better to have a place to go and spend time as a community.”

Jew-pardy winners and the rest of the crowd in Cincinnati will be munching beef lo mein, stir fried chicken and other dishes from the kosher Chinese place in Dayton. Chinese food has become comfort food for American Jews at this time of year when most other restaurants close. It will also be on the menu tonight when Chabad of Hamden, CT, hosts a game night.

Rabbi Menachem and Miryam Piekarski of the Hamden Chabad have more practical reasons for choosing the menu: it’s the only kosher restaurant in their area. Their choice of activities, a family game night, is tied also tied to the Jewish tradition that chooses games over Torah study on this night. With an agenda of Scrabble, Boggle and Monopoly, “We found that people are willing to come to this event, who wouldn’t come to anything else we had, because it is all social and they don’t feel threatened,” said Miryam Piekarski. 

“I think Chabad should have more social events like the one on December 24,” said Chaya Blitzer, M. Ed., who returned to her Jewish roots because of Chabad. Blitzer, a columnist for the Hamden Chronicle, feels Chabad’s game night is a gateway to more involvement.

“Once people see that the rabbi and rebbetzin are very personable and approachable, they are more liable to come back for courses and try some of the religious activities,” said Blitzer.

While the world knocks back eggnog, the opportunity to eat a kosher egg roll at Chabad has another benefit, she said.

“Instead of feeling obligated to join in holiday activities just to feel part of the hype, you know that you have something constructive to do, somewhere where you belong.”

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