"Buy. Buy. Buy." Not!

December 14, 2012Rabbi Julie Wolkoff, D.Min.

For the past several weeks my mailboxes, both virtual and real, have been overflowing with messages urging me to “buy, buy, buy.” As a result, I have been spending a lot of time hitting “delete, delete, delete” and tossing torn envelopes and catalogs into the recycle bag to take to the town dump. I will admit to succumbing to some of the messages. There were some things I had wanted that were now on sale or came with free shipping. But mostly I’ve deleted and tossed. As I take my bags to the dump, I wonder if the rising numbers on the “recycle thermometer” reflect the seasonal increase in mail or are just the town catching up on numbers as the end of the year nears.

The mail that doesn’t ask me to buy asks me to “give.” Some of these are also easy to delete. There are the organizations I gave to in order to honor a bar or bat mitzvah, the ones that got my name from someone else, and organizations that I just don’t support. There is a smaller pile of organizations I support or are on my “want to donate to” list.

All this mail means just one thing – the holiday season is upon us. If the mail didn’t tell me, the blogs I follow would. I read the concerns of parents – Jewish and Christian – who struggle to teach their children the meaning of their holidays. They write and talk and share strategies to move beyond “buy” and “gimme” and “I want” to the deeper teachings of their faith. They talk about creating memories and family traditions. They talk about giving to others – reflecting on the needs of so many who don’t have the resources to buy and buy.

It’s not always easy to balance the urge to give our family members and friends something special, something they want, something they will always remember against our desire to make our holidays meaningful in their own right. But as I look at my friends blogs and Facebook postings, I don’t see mention of “stuff.” I see pictures of candles, dreidels and latkes. I see families gathering together to make and share memories. I see smiling faces and love shared from generation to generation.

And as always at this season, I think of my favorite Hanukkah memory. Every year my grandfather Jonas, of blessed memory, would go to the bank before Hanukkah and get crisp new dollar bills. He would get 24 small cards, eight each for my brother, for my sister and for me. He would put one dollar in most of the envelopes, but some envelopes would have two or three bills. Each night of Hanukkah, we got to choose one of our envelopes to open.

We gave a lot of time to choosing the envelope to open. We would flip through them with serious thought. We knew that most envelopes had just one crisp new dollar. We knew that all three of us would end the holiday with the same amount of money. If one of us had already gotten two or three dollars we knew that we would find an envelope with two or three dollars before the holiday was over. But the choice of the night’s envelope was a serious one. As an adult, I can appreciate the time and effort Jonas went to each year to make a not-very-large amount of money into a momentous gift.

If you were to ask me, I would tell you that I can’t remember any presents I got on Hanukkah. But I remember the joy each night of gathering with my family to light the Hanukkah menorah and the excitement of opening an envelope and finding a dollar.

At this season when so much of what we read urges us to “buy, buy, buy,” may we all find ways to move beyond the commercial messages and find ways to create lasting memories – memories of family, of love, and of special traditions.

Happy Hanukkah!

Rabbi Julie Wolkoff, D.Min. is a chaplain at Care Alternatives Hospice.

Originally posted at kol isha, the blog of the Women’s Rabbinic Network

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