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….  Now that it’s on the Deadly Ink website, I can officially announce that I will be the 2015 Fan Guest of Honor, Aug. 7-9, at the Hyatt in New Brunswick, NJ. I’m planning to speak about how I’m a fan because I’m a writer. And became a writer because I’m a fan. I’m in august company (in August): Brad Parks is Guest of Honor and E. F. Watkins the Toastmaster. http://www.deadlyink2014.org/Authors.html

The Introduction to the soon-to-be-released (I hope) book WHY NINE CANDLES FOR CHANUKAH? ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO ASK:

            Imagine: a foreign superpower invades an independent, sovereign nation, assumes its governance, bans the practice of its religion, desecrates its religious buildings, and subjugates its native population. A small band of guerilla fighters begins a war of attrition, terrorism, and rebellion against the much larger, more powerful, well financed, and better armed forces of the invaders. Against all odds, the rebels win, institute a new government, with the leaders of the rebellion as the rulers, and reestablish the religious rituals. As time passes, the formerly gallant saviors evolve into a dynastic, despotic monarchy, which is subsequently overthrown by a new superpower.

            What does this story describe? The plot line for the latest installment of Star Wars? Events ripped from the latest (or not so latest) headlines? A parable of how power corrupts? A morality tale warning heroes that they are not exempt from the corrosive power of ego?

            Perhaps, but what we also have are the elements contained in the holiday of Chanukah and the years following the successful revolt of the Maccabees against the Hellenistic Syrian Seleucid Kingdom and its ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes IV .

            How did we get from the refusal of Mattathias and his five sons to bow down before idols and the humans who worshiped them to a holiday replete with Chanukah bushes, eight days of presents, houses trimmed with blue and white blinking lights, electric candles, potato pancakes, donuts, and chocolate coins?

            Read on and find out!


Every time I open my Word program on my laptop, I am confronted with a directory named “Nine Candles.” In it are two files for a long-time work-in-progress, a requested outline and partial manuscript for a question-and-answer book called Why Nine Candles for Chanukah? It was requested and then unrequested by a publisher who had released a similar Q&A about Christmas. The editorial board later decided there wasn’t enough of an audience for such a book, I suspect because the Christmas one didn’t sell well.

So what to do with a WIP that was already nearing completion? At least I had asked all the questions, and knew the answers even if I hadn’t yet written them down (thus the outline part of the manuscript). Let it languish? Keep promising myself I’d finish it? Delete it? Or finally sit down, complete it, and then self-publish it as an e-book and, if there are enough requests, as a paperback?

After several years of ignored resolutions, I finally stopped procrastinating and  am in the process of finishing the manuscript. Or will, once I post this blog.

The book consists of 90 questions. Not 100. Not 101. I like the idea of 90 questions, as it’s a multiple of 18. [For those of you who don’t know, 18 is the numerical value of the letters that spell the word Hebrew word for “life,” chai (the “ch” is pronounced as a guttural, as in the German “ich” – or the Hebrew Chanukah).]

Truth in advertising time: the number 90 is just coincidental. I can’t think of any other questions. If I had come up with 91 questions, or 102, or 73, I’m sure I could have also devised a meaningful reason to make the number seem a deliberate decision.

               Here’s my request: Below are the questions. Are there any others you would like answered? Please let me know in the comments below, or, if you prefer, in an email to me at rabbi.author@yahoo.com.

               And I promise the answers will be accurate. Or as accurate as 65 years of celebrating Chanukah, 2 years living in Israel, 5 years of rabbinical training, and Mr. Google can make them.

Here are the questions:


Why are there so many different spellings of Chanukah?

Why does the English date of Chanukah change every year?

Why does Chanukah last eight days?

Did the oil really last eight days?

How did the story of the oil originate?

Are there other explanations for why the holiday lasts eight days?


What does menorah mean?

What is a chanukiah?

Why is there a ninth candle on the menorah?

What does shamash mean?

Why are there menorahs with eight candles?

What are the different customs for lighting the menorah?

Who were Hillel and Shammai?

When is the menorah lit?

When is the menorah lit on Friday night?

What are the prayers for lighting the menorah?

What is the difference between Ma’oz Tzur and “Rock of Ages”?

What does the word Chanukah mean?


Is there any other meaning of the word?

What is the origin of the holiday?

What is the meaning of Maccabee?

Who were the Hellenists?

Who were the Hasmoneans?

How did the Maccabean revolt begin?

Were the Maccabees fighting for religious or political freedom?


What are the different parts of the Hebrew Bible?

Is there an easy way to remember the contents?

What is the Talmud?

What is the Mishnah?

What is the Gemara?

Why is the Book of Maccabees not in the Hebrew Bible?

So then where is the Book of Maccabees?

What is the Apocrypha?

Who were Judith and Holofernes?

Who was Hannah?

What is the Scroll of the Hasmoneans?


Is there outside corroboration for the story?

Who was Josephus?

What did Josephus write about Chanukah?

Is Chanukah mentioned in the Christian Bible?

Does Modi’in still exist?


What is the difference between a Holy Day and a holiday?

What other minor holidays are celebrated in Judaism?

Why is Purim in the Hebrew Bible and Chanukah is not?

If Chanukah is a minor holiday, why is it so widely celebrated?

Are there special synagogue services during Chanukah?

Do observant Jews work on Chanukah?


How was Chanukah celebrated in the Middle Ages?

Who are Ashkenazi Jews?

Who are Sephardi Jews?

But don’t they observe the same Judaism?

How is Chanukah celebrated by Ashkenazi Jews?

How is Chanukah celebrated by Sephardi Jews?

How is Chanukah celebrated in modern Israel?

How is Chanukah celebrated in the U.S.?

How is Chanukah celebrated today in other countries?


What is a dreidel?

How is the dreidel game played?

What is gelt?

Is the game played differently in different cultures?


What is a latke?

Why do Jews eat latkes on Chanukah?

Can latkes be made from anything besides potatoes?

Recipes for potato latkes

Recipes for non-potato latkes (zucchini, etc.)

Sour cream or applesauce?

Why the differences in preferences?

Why is cheese another traditional food for Chanukah?

What do donuts have to do with Chanukah?

How did chocolate coins become traditional?


Is there a connection between Chanukah and Christmas?

Why is the 25th of the winter month important?

Why are lights important to both holidays?

Why are gifts given on Chanukah?

Are there ways to avoid the gift-giving frenzy?

Are there any other gift giving holidays in Judaism?

What kinds of Chanukah decorations are there?

What is a Chanukah bush?


Chanukah as a symbol and metaphor

Chanukah in pop culture

Traditional songs

Children’s songs

Modern songs

Yiddish fiction

Hebrew fiction

English fiction for adults

English fiction for children

Live-action movies

Animated films


Whew! Any additions?

Back to work. As they say (do they?): So many questions, so little time.


Join me and other NJ authors (and publishers!) at the first Belmar BookCon, Pyanoe Plaza (the brick pathway at Main Street and 9th Ave), Belmar, NJ. Sunday, Oct. 12, 10am-4pm. I’ll be selling, signing, and shmoozing. And if you sometimes need to write something by hand, I have pens (imprinted with my website/blog address, of course).



I’m very excited to have been asked to be on a panel at Bouchercon in Long Beach, CA, on Sat., Nov. 15, 4:30-5:30. I feel as though I’ve been asked to present an Academy Award.

The panel is called “You Say Traditional, I Say Cozy: Exploring the Boundaries of the Classic Mystery Novel,” and is moderated by Sarah Chen. I share the table with John Billheimer, Paul Bishop, Linda Joffe Hull, and Eric James Miller. It’s one of the first times I’ve been on a panel about cozies that has more men than women panelists.

Want to know how I fit in at the Public Safety Writers Association conference(s)? Find out in their Sept. newsletter; scroll down to the article A ‘60s ACTIVIST IN PSWA’S COURT


Glad you asked. Last Monday, I posted the following on FB. Things since then haven’t changed much.
Let’s see. I just spent the last 8 hours in Starbucks going through all the financial records & trying to find an updated membership list for the Burlington County Natural Sciences Club; then formatted & scheduled for a Wednesday midnight posting a guest blogger’s submission for my blog site; then updated the email list & posted info. about 2 upcoming programs sponsored by the Friends of the Evesham Township Library; then started to read (& coincidentally proofread) a soon-to-be-published mystery so I can write a back cover blurb and a review. In between, I checked & answered email, scrolled through FB, & checked my Amazon rankings (ugh). New book? What new book? (It’s a good thing I retired.)


Carolyn NiethammerI am pleased this week to host fellow Oak Tree Press author Carolyn Niethammer.

Carolyn grew up in the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, and now lives in Tucson. She is the author of nine nonfiction books on Southwestern subjects: popular ethno-botanies of western plants, biographies, a book about Native American women, and a travel book on Southeastern Arizona. The Piano Player is her first novel.

piano cover3-001

She has brought the same level of exacting research to this novel as she has to her earlier nonfiction works. One early review says, “The main character in The Piano Player is the Wild West itself; especially the Gold Rush Wild West, stretching from scorching Tombstone to the frigid Klondike.” Find the book at https://tinyurl.com/madl42a.  And check out her website at www.cniethammer.com.

Here’s some of Carolyn’s research about women – real life as well as fictional –  in the Yukon:

Recently Ilene wrote about Josephine Marcus Earp when she lived in Tombstone during the silver heyday.

Women Travelers to Dawson

Women Travelers to Dawson

The late 19th century was an exciting time in America’s history and the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898 was one of the greatest North American adventures. A few intrepid women joined in. The first half of my new historical novel The Piano Player is set in Tombstone and overlaps somewhat with the time Mrs. Earp was there. The second half follows Nellie Cashman, a well-known historical character, and Frisco Rosie, her fictional friend, after they left Arizona and they hiked the treacherous Chilkoot Pass in yet another a quest to find a claim that would make them rich.

In 1897, the country was ready for something exciting to happen. The United States was in the deepest depression the country had ever seen. Then in the fall of 1897, a ship steamed into Seattle carrying miners who brought with them more than two tons of gold they had found in streams and creeks along the Klondike River. Every newspaper in the country carried the story.

Within the next year, more than a hundred thousand hopefuls left farms, banks, and shops behind as they headed for the Klondike, intending to cash in on creeks full of nuggets just lying there for the taking. Among these seekers were Nellie and Rosie. They were both getting older. If they were going to make their fortunes while they were still vigorous enough to take on the challenge, it had to be now. 

Nellie Cashman in Yukon Territory

Nellie Cashman in Yukon Territory

In my story, the two women join up with a couple of men to prepare to make the climb over the icy pass and down the Yukon to Dawson City. They left in the spring, hoping to get in before the frozen Yukon broke up. (They didn’t make it, but that’s part of the tale.)

There was an easier way to get in, and that was the all-water route, entering the Yukon at St. Michael and transferring to a barge for the trip to Dawson City. But you had to wait for the spring thaw to get in. The payoff  for enduring the risk of going in “over the ice” was to beat everyone else and have a chance at the best mining claims.

However if you were going in purely for adventure, you could wait until the Yukon thawed and go in more comfortably by boat. That was the case with two women,  Mary E. Hitchcock and her friend Edith Van Buren, who traveled by boat with a Great Dane, a parrot, pigeons, a canary and a parakeet. (The parakeet died.) Their mountains of luggage included an ice cream freezer and a tent the size of a large room.

At this point, you might think I have delved into fiction, but no. All true.

Mrs. Hitchcock wrote of their adventures, commenting on the swarms of mosquitos so thick that the travelers needed to wear nets over their heads. When the boat stopped to take on wood, they took a photo of a three- year- old native child smoking a pipe.

In The Piano Player, although things didn’t turn out as Nellie and Rosie had hoped, they hitched up their skirts and fought all the odds to make lives for themselves. For one, it was the culmination of a long delayed romance. In the case of the real life Mrs. Hitchcock and her friend, they found a spot to pitch their enormous tent, made friends, joined Dawson high society, and then commissioned a small house to be built. They waited too late to go out for the winter on a boat and the river froze up. The easy exit they anticipated ended up with their having to hike out over the White Pass, an alternate route to the Chilkoot. That return trip must have whittled the glamor off  the Klondike for them because there is no indication that they ever returned to Dawson City and their little house.


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