Interview with Jodi Pfleghar

Jodi, we have known each other for a few years now and have had the pleasure of working on a few project together. You are an accomplished and talented Improv actor, workshop leader and the artistic director of the Improv group Bake This. In our radio play, you had exactly one line as the mother of a little girl who was waiting in line to ask Santa for roller skates. Aside from being able to watch your daughter Silvia amaze all of us, what stood out for you as you watched the rehearsals and recording?

I absolutely loved the positive energy in the room. Jim, the director, was just so excited and practically jumping up and down with joy the entire day! That made me smile. A lot of my theater, workshop and Improv life has been unpaid, or underpaid. After years of working for exposure, I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can really pick and choose what I charge and what projects I take part in without expectation of payment.

I have always wanted to be more involved with Entity, and the only things which have been holding me back are my responsibilities as a parent, the distance from where I live to the rehearsal spaces and main theater, and my slight fear of learning lines. Therefore, when I saw that Entity was holding auditions for a radio play, I immediately thought, “no memorizing lines … my daughter Silvia could audition too … I don’t have to travel too far on a daily basis…I really miss the theater experiences I had as a child …. let’s do this!!”

Jodi Pfleghar plays the role of “Girl’s Mother” who asks Santa Clause where she can buy roller skates for her daughter. She is also the real mother of Silvia Pfleghar who played the role of “Susan” in the play (more on that next week!)

It is really fun, people are so incredibly supportive, and there is nothing like the feeling you get having been a part of such a production! It is like being one of many puzzle pieces that helps create a beautiful picture in the end.

It’s quite interesting that the Christian tradition of Santa Claus and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah both began in a deeply religious context. In a previous post, we briefly discussed the role of St. Nicholas in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. What was the historical origin of the “Holiday of Lights”?

Hanukkah, or Chanukah (both spellings are acceptable) is indeed a holiday of lights. More than 2000 years ago, the Greeks had banned all Jewish rituals. King Antiochus tried to make Jewish people bow down in front of a statue of him that had been put in the Jewish temple, and pray to Greek Gods, but they refused.

I have read that studying the Torah in this time was often punished by death.  Children, determined to study the Torah, would hide in caves. If they were discovered, it would mean that they would be killed. The children would therefore take a dreidel with them.  If they were caught by the Syrian-Greek soldiers, they would pretend to be playing a game with it *.

After a successful 3-year revolt against the Greeks in the Maccabean War, the Jewish people attempted to rebuild their temple, which had been destroyed. Thanks to a miracle, oil that normally would have only lasted a day, burned bright for 8 full days, giving them enough light and time to clean and rebuild.  This is why the Hanukkah festival lasts for eight days and why light is really important in the celebration.

The giving of gifts became a way to both honor St. Nicholas’ generosity and to celebrate Christmas as the time of the “greatest gift.” What are the Jewish traditions concerning gifts, especially to children, during Hanukkah?

Dreidel is Yiddish for a spinning top. A dreidel is a pointed, four-sided top which can be made to spin on its pointed base.

I really don’t think it is possible to speak of “Jewish traditions.” There are many different religious movements within Judaism, and each with their own traditions. I can only answer from my perspective which is that of a cultural, non-religious Jew, meaning that I did not go to Hebrew school, nor was I Bat-Mitzvaed. I did, however, live in a part of Pittsburgh that was 75% Jewish. We had school days off for Jewish holidays and streets and stores were decorated for Hanukkah just as they are for Christmas.

The gifting traditions vary greatly between countries and even within families. Many North American Jews give their children small gifts on each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah. My family has a very special tradition. We put out all the wrapped gifts shortly before the first night of Hanukkah. Each gift has a little clue to help the children guess what might be inside. It might also warn them to save the gift for a weekend, as school nights don’t allow for much playtime. 

What role do gifts play during the Hanukkah celebration? Are they used to encourage good behavior and diligence in the weeks leading up to Hanukkah as in the Christian tradition?

No…I have never heard of Hanukkah gifts being used to encourage good behavior the way that Santa or Niklaus do. In some traditions, children receive a small amount of money (Hanukkah gelt) and are encouraged to give part of it to others who are more needy.

In our family, we play the dreidel game, which is a gambling game, and we play it with chocolate coins. In the end, no matter who wins or loses, we split the chocolate up evenly, so everyone can enjoy!

Chocolate coins for gambling

Candy canes, chocolates, and pastries are favorite indulgences at Christmas time. Are there special treats that your family can look forward to during Hanukkah?

Fried foods are a HUGE part of Hanukkah. Being that the original story is about oil, and the miracle of it lasting for 8 days, oil plays a central role. We fry potato pancakes called Latkes and eat them with applesauce or sour cream. Many make fried donuts called Sufganiyah as well.

Latkes
Sufganiyah

Santa Claus is portrayed today to young children as a jolly old man with a white beard. It is usually only when the children get a bit older that the deeper meaning of the “spirit of Christmas” becomes understandable. Is there a comparable “simple” version of Hanukkah that young children first experience?

Hanukkah means ‘rededication’. I’ve always looked at it as a chance to rededicate my love and attention to my family. Every night at sundown, we light a new candle to celebrate the 8 magical nights. Each evening, we say or sing a short prayer in unison, in Hebrew. After the prayer, in my family, it is tradition to hug each of the people celebrating and wish them individually, “Happy Hanukkah!” This has not changed for us over the years, but of course the messages that come along with it, “The importance of family, miracles do happen, enjoy every moment, fight for your rights”, become clearer and more meaningful with age.

The celebration of Advent and the significance of each candle, together with the way that it is lit, is an important part of the ritual in Christian households. What are the comparable meanings and rituals in lighting the Hanukkah candles?

A Hanukkiah, is a menorah or candelabra with 9 branches. The candle in the middle is known as the Shamash, the helper candle, and is always used to light the other candles. We like to think of it is the good luck candle. Each night, you first light the Shamash and then continue from right to left (as Hebrew is read), one candle for each day, until the final evening, when all 9 candles on the menorah will be glowing beautifully.

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A Hanukkiah

* “The dreidel, known in Hebrew as a sevivon, dates back to the time of the Syrian-Greek rule over the Holy Land—which set off the Maccabean revolt that culminated in the Chanukah miracle. There is a Hebrew letter embossed or printed on each of the dreidel’s four sides. These four letters form the acronym of the phrase Nes gadol hayah sham, ‘A great miracle happened there’—a reference to the Chanukah miracle that transpired in the Land of Israel. Learning Torah was outlawed by the enemy, a “crime” punishable by death. The Jewish children resorted to hiding in caves in order to study. If a Greek patrol would approach, the children would pull out their tops and pretend to be playing a game. By playing dreidel during Chanukah we are reminded of the courage of those brave children.” – Chanukah FAQs