Perking Up Hanukkah For Our Children

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In the Shema we say that we love God and that the things that He taught/commanded us we are to teach to our children. That seems doable to at least a certain extent, but then it goes further and we say that we are to speak of them (these teachings and commandments) while we sit in our homes, while we walk on our way, while we are resting and while we get up.
In other words, we are to infuse God and His teachings into every moment of our day and night. And of course we are not to keep this to ourselves. We are to teach our children so that they can also feel close to God and learn all that He has imparted to us. And hopefully they will want and feel capable to pass all this on to their children who will do the same to their children and so on. It is no wonder that we are traditionally to say this twice a day: We have to keep these words close to us to remind ourselves of this directive so that it will truly direct us and all that we do. Simply put, it is a tall order!
How are we to accomplish this? It is especially hard in today’s world, where religion often gets a bum rap. There is discussion about whether Hanukkah menorahs and Christmas trees can be put up in town squares. Violence is all around us and often performed in the name of religion. Not surprisingly there are those who want to remove the phrase “In God We Trust” from money in the United States. At least with debate, God is mentioned. But many people want no representation of religion allowed. Many want a totally secular world, or at least want to keep religion bound by the walls of religious institutions.
So, now more than ever we have to include and involve our children in our holiday preparations so that they can identify and feel a strong connection to their heritage. Family Preparations for the Jewish Holidays was designed to help the ordinary person try to come a little bit closer to fulfilling the obligation which we state in the Shema. These books are meant to help families bring the holidays nearer and dearer to their hearts. So far books are written for the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim, Passover and Shavuot. (All books are available as ebooks, but so far only the Passover book is available in paperback.) Each book gives a bit of information about the holiday, but perhaps more importantly, gives ideas for engaging children before and during the holiday to make it more meaningful.
We know that children learn by example. If a parent dreads going into a Jewish holiday, or just doesn’t put any effort into the holiday, a child will pick up on this. However, if a parent – or even better yet, both parents – go into a holiday enthusiastically and bring the child into the preparations and the rituals, the child will feel the uniqueness and spirit of the holiday and there is a better chance of the child making it part of his/her identity.
For instance in the Hanukkah book, details are given to make a Hanukkah bingo game. Suggestions are given for a Hanukkah debate or discussion and various ideas are given for kitchen activities. By doing a variety of activities our children can more easily think about and do things which will help them internalize the holiday and its messages. It also means that we are doing more to fulfill our obligation of teaching and speaking of God’s teachings while we sit in our homes, while we walk on our way, while we are resting and while we get up.
Teaching our children is not just about sending them to afternoon or day school. It is about how to live Jewishly, which includes thinking and doing, especially in our homes. But in order to pass religion on to our children, to the next generation, we have to get them excited first. Let’s make this Hanukkah and all subsequent Jewish holidays a little bit more exciting and a little bit more meaningful for both ourselves and our children.
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Why is it okay to give gifts on Chanukah when we take the practice from a Christmas tradition? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
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