Chanukah: we may break a few things while helping to repair the world (tikkun olam)

from Jan

Each year, Chanukah (as I’ve learned to spell it through Joshua’s school) evolves in our family. Until Joshua’s arrival, Jeremy and I did not do much to celebrate the holiday.  Well, we did enjoy the food, but that is true with every holiday in any religion!  When Joshua became part of the crew, we decided to give Chanukah a try. At his first Chanukah, Joshua was 7 months old. The perfect time to use the eight gifts as an excuse to get him the stuff he really needed as a baby, not all the excess of stuff we purchased before his birth when we had no idea what we would really need!  I don’t remember everything we gave as presents, but there were books, stacking cups, and a few other toysThe following year, Joshua was 1.5 years old. Still not too interested or aware of presents, but we enjoyed getting him a drum, shakers, craft materials, and other things like that.   

Then, at 2.5 we had a full-blown person on our hands!  I feel like that year we really stumbled through the holiday, the infamous Thanksgiving-Chanukah!  I think Joshua’s favorite thing that year was a silly turkey hat I got for $3 at Target (a hat we still have and wear at Thanksgiving)After stumbling through the holiday, Jeremy and I came up with an idea that we’ve done our best to implement over the last two yearsWe plan on four nights of presents and four mitzvah’s (good deeds).  We didn’t want to rule out the presents all together. We love picking them out and Joshua loves getting them. To us, presents are a way of expressing appreciation and celebrating the person. Totally appropriate for how we feel about Joshua.   

But, as Joshua has gotten older, he has become more aware of the world. He gets why his school collects coins for tzedakah (donations) every Friday. He begins to understand why there is a person standing at the corner with a sign asking for help. He realizes that he has things that other people don’t (from two parents, to food, to “stuff.”)  Much of this is at a surface level for him; but, it is a worthwhile start. Jeremy and I want to cultivate that understanding and desire to help so that we all learn ways live with the Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world). 

Our first year trying this (2014), I spent a lot of time searching for organized activities that we could all do together. Not finding much for a 3 year old, I had to simplify things. That actually turned out to be a very good thing. I didn’t want Joshua to learn that help meant a big, grand gesture, but rather simple things we can do every day that change the world in some small wayI wanted him to know that simple activities such as giving old toys away or picking out food for the food bank were important. 

The idea sounds great, right! When it came time for implementation, though, things were rather clunky!  For Chanukah 2014, we did get the four mitzvahs accomplished, but instead of the every other day schedule I planned with very specific activities, we ended up doing it when we could. We committed good efforts with a few falling outside of the eight nights. As a family, we spent too little time talking about what we were doing, and why. We could not keep up with our schedule, and we came up with new ideas on the fly. Honestly, we did not know how to talk about mitzvah's with a 3-year-old, and all great plans are simply ideas when confronted with reality. 

This year, I am hoping to have more discussion around what we are doing. To talk about mitzvah's in straightforward terms would offer Joshua an understanding of why people need help, why it is our responsibility to help them, and what we can do to ameliorate the source of these problems. For instance, we do not want to address just the symptoms we see everyday by handing money to someone on the side of the road, but rather focus on organizations that help find people jobs, clothes, food, and homes. Although my initial attempt last week at a discussion garnered the response "I don’t want to do mitzvahs,” we will keep talking (to be fair, he was focused on his dinner at the time).  I really believe just the habit of doing mitzvahs and celebrating Chanukah this way starts a longer tradition and lays the foundation for understanding the reason for doing it. 

Joshua has an understanding of how fun it is to get things (thanks to some early Chanukah gifts from his grandma and uncle).  He has gotten satisfaction from purchasing himself some things with money he earned from doing some special projects around the house.  So, he is READY to unwrap!  But, as fun as it is to get, I hope that our clunky and still developing tradition shows him how fun, how good, and honestly, how Jewish, it is to give.   

To see a list of mitzvah ideas, sign up for our Life is Comfy email list.   If you are already a subscriber, check out our handouts folder.  The link was included in our monthly Comfy letter.