By Laura Seymour
Dear Parents and Children,
The season is definitely upon us and it may be better or worse that Hanukkah is early! There have been programs at JCCs and synagogues for years called “The December Dilemma.” The goal of this program was to help us as parents learn how to handle our children’s questions and desires (while remembering our own). Here are a variety of thoughts and ideas — all taken from others wiser than I am!
Visit Christmas: Enjoy visiting your non-Jewish friends and celebrating holidays with them (but be sure to include them in your holiday events). Help your children understand by explaining, “When we go to play at Bobby’s house, we enjoy his toys but when we leave, we do not take the toys home. Those are Bobby’s toys. When we help decorate Bobby’s Christmas tree, we have a good time, but we don’t bring it home. We do not celebrate Christmas. Let’s invite Bobby and his family for Shabbat (or Passover or Hanukkah).”
Don’t compete — create meaning: We do not need to set up Hanukkah as a competition or compensation for Christmas. Create meaningful traditions for all of your holidays. There’s more to Christmas and Hanukkah than just the gifts. Judaism celebrates weekly — make a big deal out of Shabbat!
Talk with friends: The discussion is more important than the solutions! There are no right or wrong answers on how to deal with Santa Claus, lights, songs, etc.
From “40 Ways to Save the Jewish People”: Educator and author Joel Lurie Grishaver tells the story of a college daughter’s talk to her mother, “Mom, I actually figured out that Hanukkah was one of the major reasons I never got involved with drugs or excessive drinking or promiscuous sex. From having to celebrate Hanukkah when everyone else was doing Christmas, I learned that I could be different — and that was okay!”
There was a children’s Hanukkah book by Kar-Ben Publishing titled “Hanukkah Moon” by Deborah Da Costa. It is a story that comes from the custom celebrated by Sephardic Jews (those whose ancestors came from Spain — many of whom settled in Latin America). Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday that spans two Jewish months — Kislev and Tevet. Therefore, we not only get to enjoy Hanukkah but also Rosh Chodesh. One tradition of Rosh Chodesh comes from the time when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and he found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. According to the Midrash, the women refused to give their gold to help build the idol and so their reward was a special holiday once a month — Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. The tradition on Hanukkah for women is that no work is to be done while the candles burn; therefore, Hanukkah Rosh Chodesh is a very special night!
As you celebrate this year, perhaps each night could be a time to learn about a different country and the way that Hanukkah is celebrated by those who live there. Are there different foods, different customs, different songs?
An even more important question is, “What is the same?” What connects us to Jews throughout the world? Celebrating Hanukkah means remembering the story of the Maccabees and how Jew fought against Jew to keep the traditions and the beliefs alive. Today it continues to be a challenge to keep the essence of our Jewishness alive — we are the link in the tradition! So let us teach our children how to appreciate their differences — first, by teaching and modeling Jewish life and all the beauty of it; and second, by learning about others and then going home to what we know and love.
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.