Looking back on 2008 with my Top 10 list of Jewish holidays

From mid-December through last week, almost everywhere I turned there was another Top 10 list for 2008. Top 10 movies, top 10 news stories, top 10 campaign gaffes, top 10 business deals. I even spotted a list of the best Top 10s, although I guess there were so many good ones they had to expand it to a Top 20.

Unfortunately, j. was lacking in Top 10 lists this year, but I am here to remedy that with my Top 10 Jewish Holidays of 2008.

1) Chanukah. By all rights, Chanukah shouldn’t be very exciting for a child-free couple such as my wife and me, but four years ago, we came up with a plan that has become our new tradition. A few weeks in advance, we each pick four different themes — a total of eight, one for each night — then buy gifts for one another in each category. Each should cost $10 or less, or maybe we set a $100 limit for all eight.

This year, some of our categories were “something to do with letters,” “something phony,” “where in the world” and “a treat for the taste buds.” It’s best to keep the categories somewhat vague and open-ended. For example, in the “phony” category, I gave Stacey the latest “National Enquirer” and a pack of veggie bologna, and she gave me a little carrying pouch for my cell phone.

A few other couples (sans kids) we’ve told about our little amusement loved the idea and launched their own version. This year, an out-of-state couple was staying with us for the last four nights, so they participated — helping to make Chanukah my No. 1 choice for 2008.

2) Yom Kippur. Although my focus on the prayerbook is more acute than at any other time during the year — I’m usually having little debates in my head whether this stuff actually means anything to me, which is more than I ponder liturgy during any other services — what I really love is the break-fast. Lead me to the full platters of bagels and lox, the tubs of cream cheese, the sweet table!

3) Passover. Again with the food.

4) Rosh Hashanah. After leaving a job at a daily newspaper in March, I think the joy of working at a Jewish organization really hit me at Rosh Hashanah. First, we had a little get-together the day before in our break room, replete with apples and honey and challah. It took only five minutes or so, but felt abundantly warmer than any office holiday party.

Also, we got the day off. Both High Holy Days. What goes without saying at a Jewish organization was often an awkward situation for me when I worked at a daily paper, one which made me feel guilty or frantically overworked in the days before or obligated to trade shifts just to get the day off.

5) Simchat Torah. Unfurling the Torah and smelling the parchment is only half the fun at my synagogue, where the kids parade up and down the aisles with Halloween-style sacks into which the adults drop candy. A few years ago, a 7-year-old actually referred to the holiday as “Candy Pass-Out.” My wife and I have rarely called it anything else since then.

6) Sukkot. I usually build a sukkah in our backyard, but was too pressed for time in 2008. This year will be different.

7) Purim. Soon, I will unveil my plan to turn Purim, which already involves taking a swig whenever Haman’s name is mentioned, into the next St. Patrick’s Day. If it could happen for Cinco de Mayo and now Bastille Day, get ready for Mordechai Mojitos.

8) Tu B’Shevat. This year, it’s eight days after the Super Bowl. Last year, it was 12 days before the Super Bowl. Olive tapenade works great for both.

9) Fourth of July. Our synagogue always has a float in the Alameda 4th of July Parade, and all the work that goes into it, and the day itself, makes it one of the most fulfilling events of the year.

10) Second Passover. Until this year, I never knew Pesach Sheni (a make-up day in case you missed Passover the first time around) even existed. More matzah!

Andy Altman-Ohr lives in Oakland. Reach him at [email protected].

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.