There are many boys and girls in our Jewish community whose most favorite Jewish holidays is Chanukah.  That probably isn’t much of a surprise to many of you.  The festival has emerged over the past several decades in America to be the ultimate gift-giving holiday. 

Many suspect that the focal point of gift giving emerged in the twentieth century as Jewish parents wanted to compensate for the overwhelming presence of a Christmas-centered culture in our country.  Wanting to have our children feel good about Chanukah, traditionally a minor holiday without the major ritual moments of Passover or Sukkot, we began to give our children gifts each and every night.

As the Jewish community in America grew stronger and stronger, the gift-giving aspect did as well.  But in earlier times in Europe, Jewish children received something sweet (a little raisins and nuts) and gelt (“money” in Yiddish).  The practice of giving a little gelt is thought to have emerged when Jews would provide gifts of support the students studying in a yeshivah (seminary). Others think that it was to commemorate the coins minted by the first Hasmonean (the dynasty of Judah Maccabee) ruler in the Land of Israel. 

But today, it is the gift giving that overshadows the Festival itself. 

Chanukah is often translated as an act of “dedication.” When the Syrian Greeks ruled the Land of Israel and occupied The Holy Temple, a small band of Jewish fighters sought to liberate it.  After their victory, they re-consecrated the Temple and said this was a day of Chanukah.  The root in Chanukah is chet-nun-kaf.  The verb l’chanech is to educate.  In the Torah, its original meaning is “to initiate” or “to begin.”  There is an interesting spectrum of meaning of this word, chanukah – bringing together the messages of dedication, education and beginning.

For this Chanukah, may we…

  • begin our observance of Chanukahin a new way, with new priorities and new traditions.
  • dedicate ourselves to bringing light into our lives and into our world;
  • educate our children, grandchildren, students and young friends about the real importance of this festival: the significance of freedom and courage, resilience and securing our Jewish identity.

Some of the moms of our synagogue community have already been wrestling with these ideas: what do they want to teach about Chanukah, how do we show our children that it is not all about presents, and how do create authentic Jewish memories.  These mothers have come up with a program being launched by our Youth Committee called “Chanukah Lights and Mitzvah Nights.”

Instead of marking Chanukah with a new present each and every night, consider doing different things, together as a family.

I believe that children want our presence more than any single present.  And with our desire to raise a mensch, let’s think of new ways to observe, remember, teach and dedicate.  Here are just a few ideas…

Watch for more information from our Youth Committee about Chanukah Lights, Mitzvah Nights.  We hope that you come and celebrate with us on Saturday afternoon, December 15 at 4:00-5:30pm. We will conclude Shabbat together, have some fun activities for our families to bring light into other people’s lives and celebrate the Festival of Lights! Cost of admission: new or very gently used books to replace the East Rockaway elementary school’s library that was destroyed by Super Storm Sandy.

May your Chanukah be filled with light, and may you bring much light to our world.

hannukah nights