Beyond the Gelt Glitz, and Gifts

Created by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and PJ Library


Holidays are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Jewish values and to have meaningful conversations with our children.

The story of Chanukah retells how a small supply of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. It’s a story of light, perseverance, freedom of religion, and miracles.

The word “light’ can be a metaphor describing joy, knowledge, or general well-being. The most treasured source of Jewish wisdom, the Torah, calls on Jews to be “a light to the nation.” On Chanukah, this concept comes alive! For eight nights, Jews gather with family and friends to light the Chanukah menorah. 

The special prayer inserted during Chanukah, Al Hanissim (for the miracles), highlights the “miraculous” deliverance” we were granted by God and by courageous individuals: “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.” This is placed next to the daily thanksgiving prayer which says, “We thank You for Your miracles which daily attend us, and for Your wondrous kindness.” The Hebrew word “ness” also refers to a banner; in this context, a banner is something which we salute, which refers to our values and faith.

We learn to see miracles all around us and grow our appreciation for the wonderful things we see, even in our daily lives. Talk with your children about what they appreciate in their lives and how they can share the light with others. Ask ‘What would you consider daily miracles?’ or ‘what is a miracle the world could really use?

Here are some things you can do together as a family, beyond, of course, lighting menorahs and enjoying holiday treats, to experience the meaning of the holiday.

  1. Write a thank you letter to someone serving the Armed Forces—or put together a care package for them.
  2. Start a journal and have your family share a “calendar in review” of the miracles they want to remember, either in your lives or something you saw on the news or happening in the world. Keep the journal with your menorahs to pull it out and add to it each year.
  3. Collect outgrown and gently used warm winter items to donate to a homeless shelter.
  4. Counteract the darkness and the cold by gathering with neighbors
  5. Call or write to a relative you haven’t talked to in a while, or connect with an old friend.
  6. 6. Say the “Shehecheyanu” prayer (said on the first night of Chanukah, too) to stop and appreciate the moment of trying something for the first time or for the first time this year. This blessing gives thanks to God for enabling us to experience a new or special occasion. “Bah-rukh ah-tah Ahdo-nai El-o-hay-nu meh-lekh ha’o-lam sheh-hekh-yeanu, v’key-ye-mah-nu, v’hig-ee-yah-nu lahz-man hah-zeh,” which means “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.”
  7. Read a book together—it could be a PJ Library book or any family favorite!
  8. Be with the community to celebrate Chanukah. You can join a community Chanukah candle lighting at the JCC, for instance, or participate in any of the PJ Library events. 
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