Friday, December 19, 2014

A Reflection on Chanukah

(remarks I am making at services tonight):

It is tempting to think that Chanukah means something different for kids than it does for grownups. After all, we are older, wiser, more learned, and can read. My daughter is convinced that chocolate coins are a Chanukah ritual on par with lighting the candles.

Yes, as grown ups, we know that there are two stories—a story of miraculous military victory and a story of miraculously burning oil. We know that there are complicated notions of assimilation, oppression, and what it means to have religious freedom. We know that we are supposed to publicize the miracle, making this about lights (not about presents).

So, as we prepare for this Chanukah service, I would offer that even if our understanding of Chanukah is a little more evolved than the younger generation’s, both of us have something to learn from one another:

As we welcome this Shabbat of Chanukah, may we remember that as we have much to teach to our children, we also have much to learn from them.

When we light the candles, knowing that the story of the oil lasting for 8 nights came much later than the story of the military victory…may we remember that it doesn’t always matter which came first, which one is right, or whether it is true…sometimes the story is  a good story, and that’s enough.

When we bless miracles that happened then and now, may we remember with a child’s sense of wonder that miracles are present in our world if we look and define in the right way.

When we celebrate Chanukah amidst a predominantly Christmas-focused society, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that we outgrow the challenge of being a minority.

When we eat the latkes, the sufganiyot, the chocolate coins…let’s not talk about our diets just for a minute and instead pretend we have a child’s metabolism. And then take a walk.

When we give and receive gifts, let’s remember that while Chanukah is not really about presents, they’re fun and that’s okay at any age.

When we look at the Chanukah candles, glowing with increasing light each night, we pray that we increase in holiness, from childhood to adulthood, from year to year, from day to day. And let us remember that we can bring light to the world at any age and in so many ways. Let us never dismiss the smallest lights among us.

Let us remember that Chanukah is a time for pride, for freedom, for believing in miracles in those days and in ours. It isn’t that complicated, it isn’t that hard, and we have 8 days to try to get it right each year.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chocolate vs. Candles

This morning I found myself in a debate with my 3 1/2 year old daughter. When I said that Chanukah starts tomorrow evening and we'll have fun lighting candles and exchanging gifts, she said, "And eating chocolate coins." I said, "Well, we can do that too, but we're going to have so much fun playing dreidel and eating latkes," and she said, "And eating chocolate coins." In a last-ditch effort to emphasize the true meaning of Chanukah, I said, "The only thing we have to do is light the candles--the rest is just fun." And she replied, "But we have to eat chocolate coins."

At her Jewish preschool, and then at a Chanukah event at a Jewish day school, my daughter tasted chocolate coins. Now, it is abundantly clear that more than candles, latkes, and gifts, the true spirit of Chanukah can be expressed through chocolate.

This entire day I have been wrestling with that all-important parenting question: Why do I care? It is not the measure of my worth as a Jewish mother or rabbi whether my preschooler cares more about chocolate coins than lighting the candles. I have to trust that she will enjoy the aspects of the holiday as they unfold--candles, foods, gifts, programs with our Temple, dinners with friends. Chocolate coins will be just one part of a constellation of treats and joys during these eight days.

My answer, as best I can figure, is that I forget she is only 3. She speaks so clearly, seems to understand (or at least hear) so much, so I find myself surprised when she says something that is so clearly her age.

I could make this about me, or I could make this about her. This is probably the first Chanukah she will really remember--so I'm going to make it fun, special, and truly on her level. I imagine that if I make this a fun Chanukah for her, it will be my best Chanukah yet!

Now, you can be sure I am off to the store to buy some chocolate coins :-)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

32 Ideas for Making Chanukah Meaningful and Fun

Last night, we had a program hosted by our interfaith committee entitled, "How-To Chanukah: Filling Eight Nights with Meaning and Fun." The reality is that all of us, whether we identify as interfaith or not, sometimes struggle to make eight nights interesting and to make the holiday more than candles, gifts, and fried food.

I find it helpful to remember that Chanukah does not need to be hours of celebration every night. For many of us, Chanukah is a 20-30 minute experience (if that). Keep in mind the idea of quality over quantity and remember that the minimum to fulfill the mitzvah is to light the Chanukiah each night.

Further, as much as possible, let's not get into the "Chanukah is just as good as Christmas" competition. Chanukah is not Jewish Christmas and if it were at a different time of year it probably would not be such a big deal in our communities. Instead, let's celebrate Chanukah for what it is. It is a holiday centered around the themes of miracles, light, dedication, Jewish pride, freedom...and oil. It is a holiday that allows us to participate in the broader society through gift-giving, donating, celebrating, and lights. It is one of the only holidays we can celebrate by ourselves in our homes if we so choose. Personally, I appreciate the flexibility of Chanukah. Each night, each year, I can make it what my family needs it to be. Some nights it is a "big deal," and some nights, it is just lighting candles and returning to the weekday joys of dinner, bath, and bedtime.

So, as we all start to think about what we want to do for eight nights of Chanukah this year, I offer you a list of 32 ideas (which could get you through the next four years) compiled at our program last night:

1.       Connect with friends or family (skype or facetime the candlelighting or make time for an extended conversation)
2.       Homemade gifts night
3.       Craft night (do a project, make decorations for your home, go paint pottery)
4.       Game night
5.       Volunteer
6.       Donate (go shopping for gifts for a child in need or spend time researching charitable organizations to make a donation)
7.       See some lights (your neighbors’ lights or more official displays)
8.       Go to a public Chanukiah lighting
9.       Have friends over for dinner
10.   Tell the Chanukah story or watch it on a movie
11.   Make a Chanukah music playlist (Adam Sandler, anyone?)
12.   See how many things you can fry (yes, that's a fried Oreo)

13.   Focus on Israel (give gifts made in Israel, eat Israeli food, etc)
14.   Do an act of social justice (find a rally or meeting around a cause important to you, write a letter to a legislator)
15.   Light some sparklers
16.   Movie Night
17.   Tasting Night (pick an item such as chocolate or wine and taste as many varieties as the night of Chanukah)
18.   Go for Chinese food
19.   Try making a Jewish food you’ve never tried or from a different part of the world
20.   Give Jewish gifts (items of Judaica, books, etc)
21.   Star Wars Night (because lightsabres fit with “festival of lights”)
22.   Pet night (give your pets a gift, and maybe a bath, too)
23.   Focus on your health (take a walk before lighting candles, do some kind of exercise)
24.   Build a Lego Chanukiah (but don’t light it)
25.   Do a “White Elephant” gift exchange with friends
26.   Attend a Chanukah dinner at your Temple
27.   Try making latkes, especially unique varieties

28.   Bring in takeout—you need a break from cooking!
29.   Have your kids “invite” a stuffed animal or doll for the candlelighting (but keep them away from the flames)
30.   Go through toys or clothes and donate items that aren’t being used in your home now
31.   Write a letter or a card to a friend or family member (because nothing replaces “real mail”)
32.   Arrange to spend a night of Chanukah with someone who doesn’t have family around or offer to drive someone to services during Chanukah who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend

I hope that you and your loved ones have a very happy Chanukah!