Like most Jewish kids, Hanukkah was my favorite holiday—for the obvious reasons—presents and fun celebrations without long synagogue services to attend! Now, as an adult and a parent, it is for the exact same reasons that I have come to dread Hanukkah to some extent.
How do I teach my children to understand the meaning behind Hanukkah and not just love it for the gifts? In addition, Hanukkah occurs during a time of year when most people in the world are celebrating another, rather significant holiday. So, how do I keep my family’s focus on our relatively minor holiday and not get wrapped up in the desire to give our holiday as much attention and importance?
The Hanukkah story is rich with meaningful themes: it has heroes and miracles, fosters pride in Jewish identity and underscores the importance of religious and national freedom. As a preschool teacher at The Weinstein School and a staff member of the Marcus Jewish Community Center (JCC) during Hanukkah, these themes still resonate today and are very much a part of my everyday life.
As our preschool students learn about the holiday, aspire to be “brave like a Maccabee,” (the warrior heroes of the Hanukkah story), and sing traditional Hanukah songs–the smell of latkes lingering in the air—I am reminded that there are everyday heroes right here at the JCC, teaching our children about their history and giving them a sense of pride in being Jewish. JCC staff are also heroes, as they work long hours to ensure the Jewish community has meaningful ways to celebrate the holiday—from spinning dreidels on Main Street and putting on Hanukkah plays to lighting the Hanukkah menorah, called a Hanukkiah, and so much more! Most importantly, our parents are the ultimate heroes of the Jewish community, as they bring their children to Hanukkah festivities, teach them how to spin a dreidel, and let them taste traditional and unique Hanukkah foods like sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes, they are helping raise children who will proudly embrace their Jewish identity. These children will hopefully pass down the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of Hanukkah to their children.
Jewish tradition teaches that we should place our Hanukkiah in a window or doorway for all to see, so that passersby are reminded of the miracle of the oil, which is the heart of the Hanukkah story. So, as we light the JCC Hanukkiah outside for all to see, we are reminded of our heroes, our pride, our freedom, and our solidarity with Jews all over the world.