By Farrah Alexander
AS I’VE EXPLAINED to my two small children, different households celebrate different holidays during winter. Many households welcome Christmas and our home welcomes Hanukkah. I grew up in a house that celebrated Christmas, but as I became an adult I found myself on the path to Judaism.
Because I don’t come from a Jewish family with generations of deeply held holiday traditions, it’s up to me as a parent to make my own.
This has been really fun.
Every night of Hanukkah, (which is eight nights, just like the Adam Sandler song), I light the candles on the menorah along with my children, and they put the little felt candles on the menorah we display on a wall in our living room. Then, the moment they really get excited about – presents!
Each night, the kids get a small gift after we light the menorah and it officially becomes the next night of Hanukkah. It may be a book, a set of new pajamas or maybe even a toy they have been asking for every single time we go to Target.
One night of Hanukkah always falls on Shabbat, which is the Sabbath or Jewish day of rest on Friday night. This is a particularly special day during Hanukkah. Although Hanukkah is a holiday that comes around once a year, Shabbat is a holiday we celebrate every week.
So, on this night I bring out a gift, show it to my son and explain that it’s not for him.
My children, like so many of ours, are very fortunate and blessed. They live in a safe, climate-controlled home with a loving family. They have access to food whenever they’re hungry. They have clothes and puffy coats to keep them warm when the weather gets chilly. They’re so blessed that they even get gifts that they want for Hanukkah!
On Shabbat during the days of Hanukkah, I remind them of this. I teach them the uncomfortable truth that there are many people, including children like them, that are less fortunate and have significant needs.
This is my way of incorporating the fundamental concept of tzedakah in our holiday traditions. Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that basically means charity in English but is actually derived from a Hebrew root meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. So it’s not simply an act of the more fortunate generously giving to the less fortunate. It’s a duty.
I do this on Shabbat because tzedakah is a fundamental part of Shabbat and this is the perfect time to reinforce this value that shapes our religious and world view. After all, Hanukkah, like Christmas, is a religious holiday. So it’s perfectly appropriate to take this opportunity to teach some of our most basic religious values.
Everyone in my family – my husband and two little ones – receive gifts on each night of Hanukkah excluding Shabbat. In the past, I’ve chosen charities and causes that seem appropriate for each member. For example, when my daughter was just a baby, I donated to a local shelter for women and families. My husband is a veteran who is very committed to issues affecting veterans so I chose to give to a charity benefitting veterans in his name. My son, like most kids, loves toys so I donated a toy a child his age in need would enjoy.
Each year is a little different. I don’t always donate to the same charities. As the kids get older and they become more accustomed to the tradition of tzedakah, I expect and hope they’ll be more involved. Maybe they can choose their own charity or cause to support. Maybe we can donate our time to support those in need together as a family. I hope it’s a tradition they’ll welcome and embrace even if it means they don’t get a special treat that night.
While you’re making your lists of things to get for the holiday season and shopping for your family this year, I encourage you to find some way to give back. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or nothing at all, the season is perfect for expressing gratitude for your blessings and helping those not as fortunate.
If you’re looking to support a national or international non-profit, Charity Navigator is a fantastic resource for finding highly-rated charities that use their donations wisely and operate efficiently. If you or someone you love is passionate about civil rights, humanitarian relief, animal welfare or a multitude of other causes, I’m confident there’s a great organization you can find and support. You can browse non-profits and check ratings of those you’re interested in on charitynavigator.org
There are many reputable local charities you can easily support online such as My Dog Eats First, Jill’s Wish Foundation, Family Scholar House, St. Vincent de Paul, Blessings in a Backpack and Kentucky Refugee Ministries.
Many charities cater specifically to local families in need and provide them with a memorable holiday, such as the Center for Women and Families, the Salvation Army Angel Tree and Marine Toys for Tots.
But monetary donations are not the only way to give back. You can donate your time or much needed items to an organization like Exit 0, which benefits the homeless community in Jeffersonville and surrounding area.
Before the holidays is the perfect time to prepare for the influx of new toys and clothes your kids may receive. You can purge the well-loved but still usable items and donate them to a local thrift store or charity for someone else to love.
There are countless opportunities to give back and support our community in need this season. Imagine what an impact we all have the opportunity to make by supporting the wonderful organizations helping our community as well as the values we can instill in our children as we’re spoiling them rotten. I hope you all find a fun way to give back this season and I hope whatever holiday you celebrate is a happy one.