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Hanukkah Lessons

Last night we lit the eighth candle of Hanukkah, and for such a little holiday, it sure kept us busy! It also left me with some Hanukkah life lessons, one for each night:

1: Work Smarter Not Harder

The next time I say, “I have a great idea!”,  I hope someone stops me. This year my ” great idea” was to have the kids at Brandeis (I was invited to go to two classes and present on Hanukkah) tell the story of Hanukkah themselves with shadow puppets. “How hard could that be?” I thought. Answer: Harder than I could have imagined. What I wasn’t considering before I got in too deep to back out is that the only way to differentiate between a Seleucid and a Maccabee in profile is through choice of weapon and hair style. Which left me with cuttings so intricate that it required an exacto knife. Or that cutting out a temple menorah (7 candles) and a Hanukkiah (9 candles) would also require intricate cutting. Or that since my templates were line drawings, I was going to have to cut out each image twice—the original on white card-stock and then a traced duplicate in black construction paper—to make the thing work. Eee gads! On the plus side, the profile of Zeus with his thunderbolt was so awesome that all the kids started making lightening sounds before I could even tell them what they were looking at.

2: Use the Buddy System

In my case, that would be friend and cantor Sharon. Her daughter is in first grade at Brandeis, and we were each invited to go to our respective kid’s class. Sharon is currently nine months pregnant and understandably tired. She wasn’t up for corralling the kids and putting on a play. BUT, she has a beautiful, effortless voice, and everyone loves music. So we teamed up. I did the presenting and demonstrating, she did the singing, and we made an awesome team if I do say so myself.

3: Double-Dipping is Good

One of the songs Sharon chose to sing was “Ocho Candelikas,” a song written in Ladino that I had never head of. (Ladino is a Spanish-Hebrew hybrid spoken by Jews in Spain before they were kicked out.) It was reasonably easy to learn, and I had been wracking my brain for what to do in Spanish class at KIP during the week of Hanukkah. A mostly Spanish song about the holiday fit the bill nicely. I got to practice with a pro at Brandeis, and then go solo at KIP.

4: The World Is More Interconnected Than You Can Imagine

While looking for other Spanish-related activities for Hanukkah at the preschool, I ran across a Mexican game called toma todo, which looks a lot like and has very similar game-play to dreidel. It took a while to track down the most likely history of the game, but it looks like dreidel is based on an ancient European game that was then taken to Mexico by waves of European settlers, including Jews fleeing the inquisition. Who knew?

5: Hanukkah Let-Down Is Very Real

It’s hard for any holiday to live up to the hype, even a small one like Hanukkah. It isn’t helped when several of the presents arrive damaged. On the first night of Hanukkah, Simon got a folding foosball table from me and Matt that looked great until the paint started chipping off and never played well due to multiple design flaws. Then my mom picked out a cute fuzzy hoodie for Simon, just like one of mine he loves. Only his came with a hole in it. Then there was the small toy a few nights later that worked well for about five minutes. We ended up throwing it out. Returns, exchanges, and disposals are not the stuff that Hanukkah dreams are made of.

6: Six-Year-Olds Don’t Consider Books Real Presents

Then there were the presents Simon didn’t like in the first place. It’s hard to shop for the kid who doesn’t much like toys: Simon loves sports and games, but he’s not a big toy fan. We don’t have a video game system in the house, he never really took to his Leapster, he’s not into action figures, puzzles, or building toys. That means (a) winters suck for him; and (b) shopping for holidays can be rough. So after using up my few decent ideas, I got and told others to get books. Simon got books and toys at the family Hanukkah party and was OK with that. At a friends’ party the next night, he got an  atlas from us and looked less than delighted. On the third candle of Hanukkah, he took one look at the solid, thin, rectangular package and said, “Tell me that’s not another book!” It was totally another book. He was not at all pleased.

7: It’s Never Too Early to Teach Gratitude

While I understood Simon’s disappointment, I didn’t let him get away with poor behavior. The night he opened the unwanted book, I made him thank me for it anyway. And the night he opened the kid’s itty bitty book-light, didn’t understand what it was, tossed it aside, and said, “I’m not happy about that” we had a long chat about presents and the spirit of giving and receiving. He’s only six, but I didn’t drop the subject until I was satisfied he understood what I was telling him and offered an apology for sounding like an ungrateful brat. One day, he’ll be grateful to have learned this lesson.

8: Hanukkah Miracles Do Happen

After a series of disappointments, all ended up surprisingly well by the eighth night. His replacement foosball table arrived during the holiday and was assembled on the last night of Hanukkah. The magnetic dart-board I got him for the last night was a hit. His new fuzzy hoodie was perfect for a cold and rainy day. And someone at school brought in Webkinz stuffed animals for the class store, where kids who stay on green get to shop every Friday. One of those Webkinz was a tiger cub, Simon’s favorite animal and one that adorns his school travel folder and a bookmark he previously bought at the class store. Mr. Sowder let Simon pick first last Friday, and the tiger cub was in the pile. I have to believe this was a set-up, and Simon loves his new Tigee so much that he’s brought it bed with him both nights he’s had it.

9: Bonus (Shamash?) Lesson

Sometimes more isn’t better. When I grew up, it was not our family’s custom to get a present every night. Nor have I ever tried this with Simon before. Somehow, being asked about this by non-Jewish parents this year and knowing that most of my friends give a present each night got to me. But Simon is hard to shop for! I had two books I never intended to give as presents that ended up being wrapped as such. I picked up a few cheap toys. And I found two really great toys, the foosball table and dart-board, that were sure to please. And where did that get me? With two presents he really liked, books he would have been delighted to get had they not been presented as Hanukkah gifts, and cheap stuff that broke right away. Next year, we’re not doing a present each night. Not even close. Fewer things, fewer disappointments and less greed.

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