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Making Hanukkah More Meaningful

Making Hanukkah More Meaningful

I was talking recent with my friend Dawn of Building Jewish Bridges about ways to make Hanukkah more meaningful. How might we use the framework of eight days and make it a real re-dedication to Jewish values?

We decided we’d set up a list of eight Jewish values, assign them each one day of Hanukkah, and plan appropriate activities for ourselves and/or our households. We brainstormed activities that might be suitable for different households (depending on ages and abilities). The idea of activities is not simply doing for doing’s sake, but doing for the sake of learning. Be sure to reflect and talk afterward!

Now we invite you to look ahead at your calendar to see what Jewish value might fit each day. If our activity suggestions are too modest for you, do something you think would be a better fit.

1. Nidivut, Generosity

  • Go shopping for a needy family.
  • ​Make breakfast in bed for the family cook.
  • Visit an animal shelter and give them your old towels and sheets for bedding.
  • Give gifts to one another.
  • Shop for a local Toys for Tots drive or for the local food bank.

2. Tzedek, Justice

  • Write a letter to an elected official about some issue of justice. Visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for ideas.
  • Teach each other about a justice issue dear to us.
  • Make and decorate a family tzedakah box.
  • Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper about a justice issue.
  • Give tzedakah to an organization that works for justice.

3. Hoda’ah, Gratitude

  • Write a thank-you card to someone who isn’t expecting it.
  • Write a thank-you card to another member of the household. Be specific.
  • Make a list of things for which you are grateful. Then make a "bouquet" of those things by making paper flowers and writing the gratitudes on them. Use it to decorate the table next Shabbat.
  • ​Play the ABC Gratitude game as a family: Name something for which you are grateful for each letter of the alphabet. (I’m grateful for apricots, I’m grateful for blankets, etc.)​
  • See how many times you can say “thank you” to people during the day.

4. Kibud Av v’Em, Honoring Parents

  • Give gifts to parents and grandparents.
  • Adopt an elder who doesn’t have children for the evening or more.
  • Tell stories about family, maybe craft projects honoring family who have died.
  • ​Make a coupon book of things you will do for a parent or grandparent in the coming year.​
  • Visit the graves of parents or grandparents who have died. Leave a stone.

5. Talmud Torah, Studying Torah

  • Play “Torah Jeopardy": Ask questions to which  names and places from the Torah are the answer.
  • Make a play of the Torah portion of the week (During Hanukkah, it's usually part of the Joseph story, which is very dramatic!)
  • Make Torah scrolls with citations or pictures of our favorite verses of Torah in them, gift to one another.
  • ​Draw a picture of how you imagine your favorite biblical hero or heroine looked. Tell his or her story to your family.
  • Download and play “Middot-opoly.” It’s a game for learning Jewish values!

6. Hachnasat Orchim, Hospitality

  • Have a Hanukkah party. Invite people over to celebrate!
  • Have people over for Shabbat dinner & menorah-lighting.
  • ​Invite someone who is single to dinner, services, or out to coffee.​
  • ​Volunteer to be an usher at your synagogue.
  • Provide part or all of the oneg for the Shabbat service that falls during Hanukkah.

7. Ahavat Yisrael, Love of Israel (the country or the people)

  • Give tzedakah (charity) to an Israeli organization.
  • Give tzedakah to a local Jewish organization.
  • Watch an Israeli or Jewish-themed film together & discuss over popcorn.
  • Put on Israeli music or Klezmer and dance!

8. Rachmanut, Compassion

  • Volunteer at the local food bank or a similar nonprofit.
  • Give out clean, new socks to people on the street asking for help.
  • Visit someone who is homebound and, if possible, light the menorah with them.
  • ​During the week of Hanukkah, give one dollar to every person you see begging. At the end of the week, talk about how it felt.

There are many more Jewish values to choose from​, and many more activities that you might try to express and learn about these and other values. Explore the possibilities, and let me know how it goes!

Rabbi Ruth Adar is passionate about making the wisdom of Judaism accessible to beginners from all backgrounds through teaching and home hospitality. She holds a B.A. in economics from the University of Tennessee, an M.A. in religious studies from the University of Chicago, and an M.A. in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. She is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Adar blogs at Coffee Shop Rabbi.

Rabbi Ruth Adar
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