A Message from Rabbi Tom: Havalah at MCJC

January – February 2019 – Kislev/Tevet/Sh’vat
Volume 5780

Rabbi Tom Samuels

On November 17, the MCJC community gathered on a Saturday evening for a Havdalah program. We sang, prayed the mystical Havdalah service, ate and schmoozed (of course), and kids of all ages made Hanukkah menorahs out of pizza dough. We all experienced tremendous amounts of fun and joy.

Building on this great experience, we are planning a monthly Havdalah program throughout the year. Please watch our weekly e-nouncements for upcoming dates, logistics, and themes. 

With this in mind, I want to share some thoughts on Havdalah, and specifically on how we can find holiness in our everyday lives in a Jewish way.

Elie Wiesel, may his soul rest in peace, tells of the poet who was asked what thing he would save from his burning home – but only one thing. What would it be? The poet answered that he would save the fire itself, for without the fire, life would not be worth living. 

Fire plays an integral role throughout the Torah. The first act of Creation, creating light, leads to the creation of all sources of energy including fire. Soon afterward came the crowning event of Creation, Shabbat. And when the first Shabbat was over, Adam watched as the sun went down. An ever-deepening gloom unfolded, and Adam’s heart was filled with terror, lost in the absolute darkness. God gave Adam the intuition to rub two stones together to discover fire, upon which Adam exclaimed, “Blessed be the Creator of the lights of fire.” Thus the light of the first Shabbat was like the primordial light of the first day of Creation, in which it was possible to see from one end of the universe to the other, for on both days the light lasted and the darkness was held back. (From Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism)

This story is in stark contrast to the Creation myths of other cultures. In the Greek myth of Prometheus, Prometheus steals fire from the jealous gods and secretly shares it with the humans. For this he is chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.

In the Jewish tradition, the fire is neither stolen nor denied to humanity. It is a gift from God as part of a symbiotic relationship, whereby both God, the eternal, and man–the infinite and the finite — co-create and collaborate on the ongoing quest to make and improve the world. 

The Creation story is re-enacted every week on Shabbat. For six days there is an invigorating and intense creation process in the physical realm. We usher in Shabbat with light, the candles. On this seventh day, we cease activity in order to make room for the life of the soul. We welcome in our Neshama Yeteira, our additional soul. And then at the end of the Shabbat, we welcome back into our lives the Chol, the ever-potentially-holy everyday, with fire. (From Rabbi Pinchas Peli’s Torah Today)

The word Havdalah means to differentiate, or to distinguish. The entire ceremony is to distinguish between the Shabbat that we have just experienced, and the week that we are about to enter. 

We say three blessings: first over the wine, a symbol of joy. We take pleasure in what we have accomplished, and hope that it will continue to grow into the week. Then we say a blessing over the spices, whose fragrance we inhale to comfort our soul at the loss of Shabbat. Finally is the prayer over the flame, which symbolizes light and darkness and the ability to see the difference in a very deep way. 

The greatest tool we have for appreciating anything is the ability to distinguish and differentiate. When we see things as rare and unique, they stand out as special and somehow have their own place in the world. Yet all too often we have a hard time utilizing this tool and seeing things for their own uniqueness. Masses of people just become ordinary beings. Beautiful sunsets all start to look the same. Our challenge is to discern and see the minute differences that exist in the world, in order to appreciate their rare and unique qualities and thus take pleasure in their existence. (From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Covenant & Conversations: Exodus)

In the Havdalah ceremony, we set a braided candle aflame, and hold up our fingers to see the light and shadows dancing upon them. Shabbat is over. We mark its end with Havdalah and recognize the beginning of the week. For the week is not Shabbat. If we have used the Shabbat properly, however, we may be able to infuse some of it into our new week.

Rabbi Tom, MCJC

New at MCJC: Monthly Community Havdalah Program

This past month, we began a new program at MCJC to extend our time together on Shabbat: a monthly MCJC Community Havdalah program.

We will meet at 3:30 pm on Shabbat afternoons for light fare, Zemirot and Talmud Torah. The program has an adult focus.

Upcoming dates for this MCJC Community Havdalahprogram are:

Saturday, December 15, 3:30 pm
Saturday, January 12, 2019, 3:30 pm

We hope you will join us on Shabbat for community sharing, prayer and study.

Multiplying Blessings: End the Year on a Charitable Note

In the coming days, MCJC members will receive this letter. We invite all friends of MCJC to consider this end-of-year appeal.

Dear MCJC Congregants and Supporters . . .

As the calendar year comes to an end, we hope you will consider our end-of-year appeal and respond with your support.

MCJC continues to need your financial commitment as we face budgetary shortfalls. While we have taken steps to minimize costs without sacrificing our services and programs, we continue to face financial challenges. We are stepping up our fundraising efforts along with new member recruitment during the next year, but we hope you will consider this opportunity for end-of-year gift giving.

Please take your time with the attached form, and fill in as many lines as you can. When you reach the last line, pause to think about all the blessings in your life.

Then return the form and your donation check as soon as possible but no later than December 31, 2018. Please write “Blessings” on your check.

You may also donate simply and securely online by using the Express Blessings Donation button halfway down the right column of every page of our website, www.mcjconline.org .

Thank you in advance for your generosity,


MCJC Book Club Makes Its Picks

Following a Jewish thread yet mixing up the genres, MCJC’s Book Club will tackle an Israeli novella series, a split-screen work of historical fiction, and an autobiographical account of what it means to be Jewish in modern day New York.

The group will meet at MCJC on Thursday, Jan. 10 at 7 pm to discuss Three Floors Up by Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo. This compilation of three novellas explores the interconnected lives of the residents of an upper middle-class Tel Aviv apartment building, people whose turmoils, secrets, confessions, and decisions reveal the ills of a society with an identity crisis.  

Next, on Thursday, March 14, the group will gather to discuss The Cloister by James Carroll. A priest and a Holocaust survivor find their perspectives and senses of identity reshaped by their shared investigation into the classic romance between discredited religious scholar Peter Abelard and his intellectual paramour, Heloise.

Finally, on Thursday, May 30, the group will discuss My Jewish Year by Abigail Pogrebin. Although she grew up following some holiday rituals, Pogrebin realized how little she knew about their foundational purpose and contemporary relevance. She wanted to understand what had kept these holidays alive and vibrant and chronicles her journey into the spiritual heart of Judaism in this captivating, educational, and inspiring memoir.  

All are welcome to participate in the Book Club at any time. Rachel Kamin, director of the cultural and learning center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth-El, facilitates all discussions.

We encourage participants to make a donation of $36 to MCJC to help cover the cost of the facilitator. For more information, contact Rita Janowitz at books@mcjconline.org.  

Important Winter Program Date Changes

Following a decision of the Ritual Committee, please note the following winter program changes:


  • Friday, December 7, 2018
  • Friday, December 14, 2018
  • Friday, December 21, 2018
  • Friday, December 28, 2018
  • Friday, January 4, 2019
  • Friday, January 11, 2019


We will meet at 3:30 pm Shabbat afternoon for light fare, Zemirot and Talmud Torah. The program has an adult focus.
Saturday, December 15, 3:30 pm
Saturday, January 12, 2019, 3:30 pm


Friday, January 18, 2019 at 6:30 pm

Please note these date changes in your calendar and watch for additional information in your weekly e-nouncements.

Upcoming at MCJC Week of December 4, 2018

For more information about any of these listings, please visit our website, either the provided links or the MCJC Calendar at mcjconline.org/events.

Wednesday, December 5
1:00 pm: Lunch and Learn
4:30 pm: Religious School
6:30 pm: Ritual Committee Meeting

Friday, December 7
6:30 pm: NO Community Shabbat & Potluck Dinner

Saturday, December 8
9:30 am: Shabbat Morning Services & Torah Discussion

Sunday, December 9
9:30 am: Religious School
11:00 am: Adult Education

Wednesday, December 12
NO Lunch and Learn with Rabbi Tom
4:30 pm: Religious School

Friday, December 14 
NO Community Shabbat Potluck Dinner (See Community Havdalah below.)

Saturday, December 15
9:30 am: Shabbat Morning Services & Torah Discussion
3:30 pm: Community Havdalah. MCJC kids will cook and service dinner under the guidance of professional chef and MCJC member, Leyla Wheelhouse. Potluck Dessert.

Sunday, December 16
8:00 am: Board Meeting
9:30 am: Religious School
11:00 am: Adult Education

Tuesday, December 18
6:00 pm: Communications Committee Meeting at Panera, Crystal Lake

Sunday, December 19
9: 15 a.m.:  Religious School Special Outdoor Session – Wear warm winter clothes!

Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Chag Yafeh Kol Kach…

12/04/2018 Update: Our Annual MCJC Hanukkah Party was great fun! Here are a few pictures . . . more to come in our Slideshow in the right column:

Our very own MCJC “Maintenance Men” make the best latkes anywhere!

The Religious School hosted our Annual MCJC Hanukkah Party this past Sunday, December 2 from 9:30 am – 12 noon.

Some more of our “Maintenance Men . . . “

During this fun and festive morning, we enjoyed a scavenger hunt, candle-making, cookie-decorating, giant-sized dreidel games and a Hanukkah music game. Oh, and we can’t forget Latkes, made our our fabulous MCJC Maintenance Men and served up late morning.

These kinds of events make MCJC the warm, fun and happy family place we all love so much. We’re so glad you were there to share the fun and deliciousness. Happy Hanukkah!

The festivities begin . . . What better thing to do in a kitchen than make menorahs from dough? More to come. Religious School Hanukkah Event Sunday, December 2. 

From BimBam: The Chanukah Shaboom

Can the Plony family get the house ready in time for their Chanukah party? Looks like they are in need of a Chanukah miracle.

Watch this special Chanukah episode to see how Gabi and Rafi fix the world, one Chanukah party at a time.

ABOUT US Shaboom! is a kids cartoon by BimBam. Gabi and Rafi explain kids about Jewish values, holidays and traditions. BimBam’s digital storytelling sparks connections to Judaism for learners of all ages. Watch something Jewish at https://www.bimbam.com.

Our next MCJC-sponsored PADS dinner is December 26

Our November 28 MCJC-sponsored PADS dinner was very successful. The food was delicious, and the servers had a good time serving the meal and washing the dishes.

Yes, doing the dishes! It seems that will be the case going forward. In prior years, a man and wife team came in to do that work, but  unfortunately are no longer available, and no replacement volunteers have been found.

The PADS servers this year have been allowed to use paper products to serve the meal instead of china to reduce the amount of dish washing, but those of us that washed remarked, “There still seem to be a lot of items to wash!”

We fed twenty-seven PADS guests and five overnight PADS volunteers. We are serving many fewer PADS guests this year than last year, so we will recommend appropriately smaller quantities to those who bring food.

Our next PADS dinner is December 26. Thanks to all who worked on this past month’s dinner!  Please get in touch with Bruce Weiss, Social Action Chairperson (socialaction@mcjconline.org) if you would like to get involved with our next dinner.

The Jewish Heart of McHenry County

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