This Chanukah, the Jewish people need to focus even more on being the light in the darkness. We have just endured so much suffering and heartache. How can we illuminate the night?
I think it’s pretty clear, we can continue doing whatever it is we have been doing since October 7. The giving, the chesed, the courage, the resilience and the unity have been unparalleled. I have never been more proud to be a Jew.
This Chanukah is golden opportunity to teach our children, to look around them and take it all in and see what it means to be a Jew.
1. Being a Giver:
Being a Jew is all about being a giver.
Around this time of year, we turn to our children and say: “What would you like for Chanukah?”
But this year let’s turn the question around a bit and ask our kids:
Who can we give to this year as a family?
Which organizations in Israel can we give to?
What presents do Israeli children need or want this year?
Many families forgo the gifts and just give Hanukkah gelt. This is the perfect opportunity to teach about tithing, giving 10% of our earning/gifts to the poor. Get your children involved by asking them:
Who can we give our tzedakah money to this year?
2. Tell Stories of Heroism:
Being a Jew is all about resilience. On Chanukah we talk about the Macabees and their bravery in defeating the Greeks. The small against the mighty. This year we have plenty of stories of modern day Macabbees. Our brave Israeli soldiers, the thousands of them that came running back to Israel and soon as they were needed. The thousands on the frontlines, going weeks without seeing their family and living under adverse conditions. The danger, the fear and the hazards they face daily.
This generation of children and young adults have been decried as the snowflake generation, the ones that crumble when they meet with adversity. I don’t think we can say that about them anymore. They have stepped up to the plate in the most incredible ways. As one college student said, The Jews are anti-fragile, the more pressure we face the stronger we get.
Tell your children these real-life stories in real time.
3. Be Happy:
Being a Jew means being joyful. Our faces are considered public property. It’s a Jew’s social responsibility to be cheerful. I know, every Jew is walking around with a heavy heart. Our default emotion at this time is grief and sadness. But we cannot let this consume us. That means that our enemy has won.
Children are looking to us to see how we deal with crisis. We need to show them that we can be optimistic. We will prevail over our enemy, we always do.
We still need to laugh and smile, especially with our children. Laughter promotes confidence and hope in ourselves and in others. Smiling and laughter creates feel good hormones, those endorphins that relieves pain and stress. It also reduces overall blood pressure.
R’ Avrohom Grodzinski, even during the darkest days of the Holocaust, practiced greeting others in a pleasant manner.
Our children still need us to play with them and be silly. The benefits of play are manifold. It helps parents and children bond and connect. Play reduces tension, bringing laughter instead of frustration. And when we act playful, we are teaching our children an invaluable life skill: how to inject humor into our everyday lives. Life can be tough, but a sense of humor can always help. It’s imperative that we maintain a sense of happiness at this time.
4. Talk About What You Are Grateful For:
Being a Jew means being grateful. This is the perfect time to focus on gratefulness.
We want to avoid giving a lecture to our children: “You should appreciate what you have, there are children in Israel who had to leave their homes, they don’t have their clothes or their toys!”
This tactic just makes kids feel guilty, defensive, and angry, not more grateful.
It’s more effective if we talk about ourselves and what we appreciate.
“I am so grateful that I am part of the Jewish people!”
“I am so grateful! My friend was collecting gear for the soldiers and I was able to help her!”
“When I think of the soldiers sleeping in tents out in the open, I am grateful for my bed. I daven that all the soldiers should get to go home soon.”
The indirect lessons taught through our own actions and words pack a bigger punch then a moral lecture.
This is also the perfect time to start a gratefulness journal. This practice reduces anxiety, depression, helps people sleep better, lowers stress and improves interpersonal relationships. It has also been shown to reduce materialism and increase generosity in adolescence.
This can be done even with very young children. In our school, a kindergarten teacher has children writing in a “Thank You Hashem” journal.
It’s the first thing that they do when they come in to their classroom.
Each child draws a picture of what they are thankful for and they then explain their picture to their teacher, who writes down what they say. Some examples are:
My legs, because I can run to do mitzvos.
Rainbows because they are so pretty.
My mother because she cooks for me.
As the year progresses the teacher teaches them to take it one step further. If they are grateful for their eyes, she asks them what they see with their eyes. She also tells them to make a picture of it in their own head so that they can have it with them always.
5. Learn Torah:
Being a Jew means learning Torah. That is our secret sauce. Review the portion of the week with your children, let them see you opening up the parsha yourself. Even better, many organizations are pairing people up to learn Torah together in the merit of our soldiers.
6. Engage in Prayer:
Being a Jew means being engaged in prayer. We have a direct line to G-d and that line is always open. The Jewish people are in danger all over the world. They need our prayers and we need it too.
Ruchie Koval says it best in her book, Conversations with G-d:
When the heart is full of gratitude, there is prayer. When the soul is full of pain, there is prayer. When it seems, there is no one to talk to or nothing to say, there is prayer.
Let’s use this Chanukah to help ourselves and our children understand what it really means to be a Jew. Let’s be givers, tell stories of heroism, be joyful, practice gratefulness, and engage in Torah study and prayer.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.