Chanukah is a highlight of the year for the Jewish family! Delicious latkes, beautiful songs and unforgettable family experiences.
But for most of us, these aren’t the only memories we have. Many of us have seen our kids show more interest in their presents than in the family celebration. Siblings fight over gifts and donuts and before we know it our beautiful holiday devolves into an exercise in self-indulgence.
How do we ensure that Judaism’s beautiful values are not lost amidst our Chanukah celebrations?
1. Appreciate the Givers
Help your kids to appreciate the people who bought them gifts. Encourage them to text or email a photo of them using the present they received, together with a personalised thank you message.
Jewish teaching and psychological research both emphasise how what we do influences who we are. If Chanukah is a festival of taking, our kids become materialistic and feel entitled. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Have your kids put money in a tzedakah box each evening before opening presents. If they receive Chanukah gelt, teach them to give 10% of it to charity.
There are other ways of giving over Chanukah. If you are in the northern hemisphere then Chanukah falls in the Winter. This is a time when clothing is particularly needed by those who are homeless. Socks are the most needed (and often least donated) item of clothing. Go with your children to a shop and pick out one or more pairs to donate.
3. Spread the Joy of Chanukah
Chanukah can be a very sad time for those living on their own or away from their families. Make some Chanukah cards and then go on a family visit to a Jewish residential home to celebrate with the residents. You can check out this excellent page which gives ideas for doing it in the most meaningful way.
Or take latkes or donuts to a sick or lonely neighbour.
4. Set Limits
Whether it’s the number of latkes or the amount of time playing on the iPod during school vacation, teach your child boundaries. While it’s not good to be overly strict, it’s important that sometimes the answer they hear is ‘no’. Teach them to realise that they won’t get their way through screaming and rude behaviour. This also applies to your toddler – don’t wait until they are five before you teach them how to behave!
5. Setting the Example
The most important rule – what you do matters more than what you say! Set the example by talking openly about the things you appreciate this Chanukah.
by Rabbi Anthony Knopf
Rabbi Anthony Knopf is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Ora in Montreal. He previously served as Associate Rabbi at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London and as Rabbi of Camps Bay Shul in Cape Town. He has received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, and also has a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge. He is married to Carly and is the proud father of Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami.