Archive for November, 2013


That revolt, whose successful consummation is celebrated by Jews today as the festival of Hannukah, was as much a civil war between Jews who adhered strictly to the law and those who were prepared to adopt some, if not all, of the Hellenistic practices prevailing at the time. In that regard, it foreshadowed tensions between future generations of Jews who absolutely refused to assimilate to the surrounding culture, and those who, to a greater or lesser extent, were prepared to do so if only the opportunity presented itself.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 15.

The introduction of football made the holiday more appealing to many men. By adding listening to an athletic contest to a feast, families recognized that popular entertainment on the radio enhanced the celebration. Listening to the game was not simply a new custom added to the family feast; it became a central attraction of the holiday for men. While the domestic occasion of the early nineteenth century represented the feminization of the middle-class home, radio broadcast of the game at Thanksgiving helped masculinize the domestic festival.

Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 784.

In the 1920s, football finally moved into the home, rather than being merely a form of outdoor amusement which threatened to overwhelm the domestic celebration. The family might dine and then listen to a football game on the radio as a form of after-dinner entertainment. By 1956, football games were televised. Popular entertainment has enhanced home celebration in the twentieth century, whether it was the Christmas program on radio or television or the broadcast of a football game. There is always the question of whether listening to the football game in the living room represented a distinct stage of reinvention of the holiday, or simply a new custom attached to the nineteenth-century notion of feast and homecoming. Men, listening avidly to the game at home, probably thought it was a significant reinvention. They quickly came to regard listening to the game as traditional, part of what made the ritual authentic and meaningful.

Families scheduled their dinner so that they would be finished eating by the time the football game began.

Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 782.

What was lost on these devotees of the game was the irony in a family event, punctuated by (mostly) men listening to a game noted for its aggressive body contact, warlike language, male bonding, and the ability of contestants to withstand pain. There had always been gender segregation at the Thanksgiving meal, with men talking to other men, and women conversing with women before and after the meal. As women in the kitchen washed the dishes, and men listened to the game, one could recognize that women (willingly) gave up their leisure, and that men and children benefitted from female sacrifice. Men and women also occupied separate spaces in the home on Thanksgiving, although it was easier for a woman to enter the living room where men were listening to the game than for a man to don an apron and help in the kitchen.

Encamping in the living room, men seemed to find solace in an all-male group, after having participated in an event so female in ambience. One function of football, even enjoyed vicariously, was to reaffirm men’s bonds with other men and their masculinity, to inject some manliness into the sentimentality. Sons, listening to the game with their fathers, were learning the rules of male sociability – and being weaned away from their mothers. Listening to football was an additional masculine element that followed the ritual of carving the turkey, man the gladiator side by side with man the hunter. As such, the football game on Thanksgiving Day provided an added symbolic statement about the difference between the genders.

Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 782-783.

…several changes have occurred in American Thanksgiving Day celebrations in their more than 350-year history. Few households now serve mince pie, a onetime tradition. The focus on hunting and wild game is reduced (Ramsey 1979); the emphasis on the bounty of agriculture has increased. Churchgoing is now rare. Prayer persists for some but is combined or replaced with a more secular meal-opening toast for many. The home-centered, active family games that were once prevalent (Applebaum 1984) are often replaced by the passive spectacle of professional sports and nationally broadcast parades hosted by department stores and filled with commercial floats. Hosting by the grandparent’s household is giving way to hosting by the middle generation. And, most directly important for an understanding of contemporary consumer culture, a profusion of branded products rather than foods produced by the household are consumed. Through taken-for granted acceptance of changes, participants perceive universalism in their celebrations when, in fact, the praxis of their feasting is particular to contemporary times and household groups.

Melanie Wallendorf & Eric J. Arnold, “‘We Gather Together’: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day”, The Journal of Consumer Research 18, No. 1 (June 1991), 24.

Lower-class men had been making merry and poking fun at their betters for centuries, on Thanksgiving and other holidays. In the late 1880s, the upper class developed its own form of misrule in their exuberance after Thanksgiving Day football games. An organization run by college students, the Intercollegiate Football Association, scheduled its first championship game on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. Two decades later the Chicago Tribune estimated that about 10,000 high school and college teams, and those of athletic clubs were playing football on Thanksgiving Day.

The Thanksgiving Day game was controversial from the beginning. Walter Camp, the “father” of modern football, argued that the fact that fans willingly gave up – or in some cases, postponed – their Thanksgiving dinner to cheer for their team showed the popularity of the game. To ministers and Ethelbret Warfield, president of Lafayette College, football on Thanksgiving desecrated “a great national feast-day.” Warfield regarded Thanksgiving as a day to give thanks to God for the blessings of “the Christian home” and “citizenship.” He believed that whooping college boys, storming theaters, starting fights at “saloons, dancehalls, and worse” were taking the first steps in a life of “temptation and vice.” The collegians were also getting themselves arrested, disrupting Broadway performances, and throwing beer mugs and glasses at high-stepping showgirls. In 1894, Ivy League college presidents, embarrassed by all this, shifted the day of the season-ending game to the Saturday before Thanksgiving, moved the location from Manhattan to college grounds, and insisted that students return to campus after the game had finished.

Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 777.

Macy’s parade, even in the 1920s, existed not in the shadow of the family feast or the church service, but in competition with the afternoon football game. Football was clearly the more significant of the two forms of out-of-home entertainment, as changes in the timing of Macy’s parade in the 1920s indicate. Initially Macy’s parade offended patriotic groups, who decried a spectacle on “a national and essentially religious holiday.” Macy’s hired a public relations man, who decided that the critics could be placated if the parade in the morning was postponed until at least after church services had ended. The parade, pushed back to the afternoon, began at the same time as the kickoff for most football games. Customers and football fans complained. By the late 1920s, Macy’s had returned to an early morning parade, presumably so as not to compete with afternoon football games.

Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States”, Journal of Social History 32, No. 4 (Summer 1999), 782.

In our first book, The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan, Charles Bronfman and I noted that one of the largest problems in philanthropy is the lack of intentionality of many, if not most, donors as they give money away. Here are some of the most intentional people on earth, using laser-like focus to accumulate substantial wealth, and yet when faced with philanthropy’s overwhelming conundrum: having to constantly decide between right and right, they shy away and avoid the discipline that is, in the words of Peter Drucker, not an attribute of business, but an attribute of greatness.

Thoughtful, intentional philanthropists seek to be strategic.

Jeffrey R. Solomon, “Intentional Philanthropy: Geographic Considerations“, eJewish Philanthropy (4 November 2013).

We like to tell ourselves that Judaism is just another consumer product, but really it isn’t. And the fact that most Jews today view Judaism as a choice makes it that much more important that we remind ourselves, our leaders and our families why it matters to be an active and committed member of the Jewish people and why it is worth the time and effort.
It will take courage and effort for our rabbis and community leaders to step up and actually make this happen – to go against the conventional wisdom and the majority culture. As Jews, we are counter-cultural, and we should embrace and celebrate it.
We can keep lamenting the trends and the causes for another forty years, or we can come together as leaders, focus our resources, and build a generation of literate, committed and active Jews who live comfortably and meaningfully in both worlds: our larger secular world and our rich Jewish world.

Steve Freedman, “No Excuses – Time for Action“, eJewish Philanthropy (25 October 2013)

My qualitative research indicates that when people who are intermarried become parents, they also become more conscious of Jewish identity and of Judaism. Women who participated in my study described intensified Jewish identities, increased religious practices,or both. Although they may have become “more Jewish” once they became mothers, a typical American Jewish pattern, whether they had intermarried or not, the extent of their change over time suggests that being Jewish while married to a non-Jew usually heightened women’s consciousness about being Jewish.

Keren McGinity, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: How the Gender of the Jewish Parent Influences Intermarriage”, AJS Perspectives (Spring 2013), 42.