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8 Lessons for Hanukkah, Useful All Year

A Hanukkah treasure from the Lilith archives!

Future Latke


Ten hanukkahs ago, when I was about four and my brother nine, my parents decided that it was time to make giving tzedakah a family project, and not just something they did on their own. They coupled this idea with another—their wish to take some of the consumerist curse off December—and instituted the following ritual. Here is the ceremony as we do it, including eight Hanukkah lessons I’ve learned from it.

Around October, my parents and brother and I begin throwing all of the tzedakah appeals that arrive in the mail into one big basket. By December it’s stuffed.

Hanukkah Lesson #1: It is amazing how many organizations need money.

A week or so before Hanukkah begins, we all sit down and sort through the envelopes, tossing out the ones that none of us really cares about. For each one that is left (maybe 20 or 25)— and any other tzedakahs we like thrown in, too—we make an index card. (As a compulsive family, we excel at activities that involve lining up cards in little rows on a table. I tend to get carried away arranging the cards alphabetically, categorically, and by the date of the appeal, but this really isn’t a necessary part of the process.)

Next, one person describes whatever organizations the others don’t know much about. This year, for example, my brother has been very involved with an orphanage in Delhi, India, so he spoke quite eloquently on behalf of his index card, waving it in the air and pressing it to his chest. Hanukkah Lesson #2: Speak out for what you believe in. We do this because we soon vote on the tzedakahs we want to give to, and because “it’s important,” as my father says every year, “to be educated voters, and to make educated decisions.” This is Hanukkah Lesson #3.