BY SHERYL HAFT / DECEMBER 9, 2019
For Jewish children, the excitement of Hanukkah is often connected to the promise of receiving gifts — usually one for each of the eight nights. For parents, however, the gift-buying and gift-giving can start to feel like a long-running episode of the Home Shopping Network, leading some of us to wonder: What messages are we imparting to our children during this time of year?
While our daughters were growing up, my husband and I paused to consider the values we wished to encourage during Hanukkah. Agreeing on “quality family time” as a main goal, we tried a new approach and categorized each of the eight nights — one night was game night, in which a board or card game would be gifted and then played together. Another was book night, then puzzle night, and so on. This provided added meaning and welcomed structure for us gift-buyers and helped set our kids’ expectations.
My kids are grown now, but I’ve recently had Hanukkah on the brain again, and not just because it’s merely a few weeks away. As I was writing my newest picture book, Goodnight Bubbala, I visited with Pamela B. Schwartz, the director of the Penn Family Early Childhood Center at Park Avenue Synagogue. While discussing the themes of my book and Jewish American culture today, Pamela shared the list of eight Jewish values central to the school’s Jewish Life Curriculum, such as hesed (showing kindness and helping others) and hachnasat orhim (welcoming guests).
These struck me as exceptional guiding principles for children — and adults! — of any age. But outside of the school setting, I wondered: How could these eight core values be reinforced? Once again, I thought: Hanukkah! Eight core Jewish values on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah could be taught through games and activities while enjoying quality time together. With families, grandparents and friends gathering for the Festival of Lights, it seems like a wonderful time to impart these everlasting gifts.
Framing your Festival of Lights around these values can bring special, long-lasting meaning to your Hanukkah traditions. At the same time, they can inspire your child to be a kind and thoughtful person — in other words, a mensch. What better gift is there than that?
Read on to learn more about these values, and how you can incorporate them into each night of Hanukkah.