The 6th Night of Hanukkah Has a New Meaning for Modern Jewish Families
As a child growing up in the 1970’s, Hanukkah was a very low key event in my home. A minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, it was treated as such. There were no big family gatherings to celebrate Hanukkah-that only occurred on important Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover. There were no decorations; such things did not exist!
The month of December belonged to Christmas.
Image created by Hannah Gold
Sometime in the 1980’s, a subtle change occurred. Jewish families began to elevate the Hanukkah celebration to the level of Christmas. Jewish kids felt left out of all the Christmas festivities that surrounded them, and parents wanted to instill Jewish pride in their winter holiday. Since they both take place during the same time of year, it became easy to do.
Hanukkah decorations were soon on display in the same aisle as Christmas decorations. A new industry was born.
Even gift giving became grander. In years gone by, Hanukkah gelt (coins) and small gifts were the norm. Now Jewish children received grand gifts for eight nights.
As the backlash to lavish Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah parties occurred in the late 1990‘s, so did another movement to minimize the commercialism of Hanukkah. It is not a Jewish Christmas and it is not a holiday mentioned in the Torah. While it is perfectly fine to enjoy the Hanukkah traditions of eating fried foods like latkes and soufganyiot, lighting the candles and reciting the Hanukkah blessings over the chanukiyah, and playing the dreidel game, it should also be a time of giving to others.
Thus, the 6th night of Hanukkah celebration began.
At the Union for Reform Judaism's website, this night is called Ner Shel Tzedakah, the "Candle of Righteousness". Instead of exchanging gifts with family members, Jews should use the money and donate it to organizations that make a difference.
How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box is a beautiful story of tzedakah that can be read to children this time of year. In fact, you can buy a few copies to donate to synagogue libraries or your school library.
There are many worthwhile organizations that would love to have extra money during the holiday season. Here are just a few worthwhile ones.
Mazon, a Jewish Response to Hunger, is one of my favorite charitable organizations. Founded in 1985, it’s mission is to feed the hungry, no matter what religion you are. Money is given to food banks across the United States to feed those who are food insecure in their area. Many of the places that receive funding from Mazon are church run.
Photo by Hannah Gold
If your family wants to more than donate money to Mazon, you can donate food to your local food bank or Jewish Federation. Better yet, donate and help them sort donated items or do any clerical work to help them during the holiday season.
Meals on Wheels
In addition to donating food to a local food pantry, why not dedicate this night of Hanukkah to delivering meals with your local Meals on Wheel organization? The people whom they deliver the food to are shut ins and would welcome a fresh face and a sincere smile. Your family just might find themselves becoming regulars with the program!
Collect Winter Outerwear
If you live in a cold climate, the month of December and the subsequent months are brutally cold. Many children do not have warm coats, hats, gloves and scarves to protect them from winter’s decreased temperatures. Find an organization collecting these items, but new ones and donate them for your mitzvah project.
Adopt a Family for Christmas
In many areas, local organizations post about families in need either online or in the local newspaper. They are in need of a holiday meal and gifts for their children. In my local mall, there is a Christmas tree where my family adopts a few children and buys them gifts so they have something to open on Christmas Day. My children like to pick kids their own age and then we go shopping together for the presents on their list.
This is one mitzvah your children will enjoy doing, as they can imagine what it would feel like to have a Hanukkah celebration without receiving any gifts.
Many Jewish families plant trees in Israel for Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees that falls sometime in late January or early February via the Jewish National Fund. Why save this mitzvah for later when your family can plant a few trees in Israel now?
Jews in America not only support local Jewish charities, but also those in Israel. One charity that can be use a 6th night of Hanukkah donation is Leket Israel. This is Israel’s National Food Bank. Volunteers help to distribulte multiple tons of food to the food insecure all over Israel. They even manage to get fresh and perishable foods into the hands of the hungry, letting no resource go to waste.
Charitable giving, no matter what religion you practice, should take place all year round. No amount donated is too little or too large. For the 6th night of Hanukkah, families can help teach their children the meaning of mitzvot and tzedakah (good deeds and charitable giving) by not exchanging gifts and thinking of others.