Tzedakah and Hanukkah
When we had our first child, my husband and I knew that we wanted to raise him in a home where he had exposure to his Jewish heritage and family traditions. We invested in kid friendly versions of Haggadah- complete with coloring pages and picture book retellings of the Passover story. He learned about the meaning of “Shana Tova” and enjoyed munching on apple slices with honey. One year, his grandma sent him a stuffed menorah with little felt candles for Hanukkah. Hanukkah became a favorite in our house. Our son loved gelt and latkes, and watching the menorah’s glow.
More recently, a new favorite has emerged as the primary focus of his excitement around Hanukkah: eight nights of presents! Much to our dismay, our son has bought into the notion that Hanukkah means getting gifts.
We decided that incorporating Tzedakah with our Hanukkah celebration would lend itself well to teaching both him and his younger sister that the holiday should be more about what we give than what we get. Teaching this ethic at a time when many struggle is an opportunity to educate children and foster a personal call to charity that is not out of obligation, but a desire to experience the joy of helping others.
After discussing the idea with family and friends, and with a little help from the internet, I was able to come up with a list of ideas to help teach my young children about Tzedakah. Each of these ideas are adaptable to suit children ranging in age and are equally appropriate for adults who do not have children. Charity, faith, and kindness have no age limit.
Participate in The Fifth Night (fifthnight.org)
When our son brought up how much he loved getting eight presents, and that he was the only in his class to be so lucky, I became curious about what other families were doing to curb present overload.
The Fifth Night teaches children about Tzedakah through gifting one night of their own Hanukkah gifts to a child Tzedakah and Hanukkah: Ideas on Teaching Children About Giving Participate in The Fifth Night (fifthnight.org) in need on the fifth night of Hanukkah. Fifth Night’s mission is, “to help the little ones better understand and appreciate the importance of their donations by learning about the charity and the families who will be benefiting from their gifts”. Events are held in a group setting where children can interact and have fun with the process while seeing other families participate in a charitable cause.
Adopt an Elder
My children are blessed to have four adoring grandparents and a great-grandfather, but there are some elderly who, for various reasons, find themselves alone. Reaching out to an assisted living home and asking to adopt an elderly person in need is an opportunity to connect younger generations to the past while also seeing the direct impact Tzedakah has on those who are more vulnerable. Young children and teens alike can participate in making care packages and gifts to donate. Items may include blankets, socks, games, craft items, and homemade arts and crafts.
Children’s Bureau (all4kids.org)
Another way to engage in Tzedakah as a family is to find a charity you would like to make a donation to. While younger children may have a harder time grasping the concept of making a monetary donation, many charities have a variety of options to make a contribution. This is a great option for parents of teens who are likely working and starting to earn money of their own.
Children’s Bureau assists vulnerable children in Los Angeles and Orange Counties with access to mental health services, family counseling and more. With a variety of ways to donate, you can find an option that is meaningful for your family.
Donate to an Animal Shelter
Adopting pets is a very important part of our family life. Before having children, my husband and I adopted a stray at our local animal shelter. Our son is a born animal lover and giving back in this capacity is a big draw for him, as with many children.
Many shelters run low on everyday items such as blankets, chew toys, and treats. Children could pick out a variety of goodies to deliver to a nearby animal shelter. Volunteering for an hour or two to walk and socialize with the animals is a more interactive way for children to see how their charity generates positive interactions and feelings.
8 days of small acts of kindness Another idea that can be adapted to any age and ability level is completing small acts of kindness. Come up with 8 days of kindness and focus on a different act of kindness each day. Whether it’s delivering baked goods to neighbors or placing kind notes on strangers’ cars, there are endless ways to incorporate small acts of kindness as a part of each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
While each of these ideas are ways that I can teach my own children about charity, and each are applicable to giving during Hanukkah, that does not mean they are limited to one time of year. In my discussions with friends and family, a common thread was that the act of Tzedakah is not just about one singular holiday or time of year, but rather a lifestyle. It is an integral part of Jewish heritage and culture that should be revisited throughout the year.
Whether we choose to donate monetarily or through physical acts of service, a little imagination and elbow grease will go a long way in teaching our children about Tzedakah as an integral part of their Jewish identity. While I don’t anticipate my son losing his excitement over receiving gifts, I know that incorporating lessons about giving will give him a more well-rounded perspective on celebrating and honoring tradition.