December 2, 2022
One of my favorite activities during the month of December was to visit my kids’ classes to teach about Hanukkah. Debra and I would tell the story of our people who faced religious persecution and who then fought for what they believed was just. We might have played the Maccabeats for the kids and we also taught the classes how to play dreidel. Every year we bought dreidels for every kid in the class and sent them home with the rules so they could play at home. Kids were always eager to learn the story and were excited to share their experience with their families. From time to time, we heard from other parents who thanked us for coming in.
When I meet with Bar and Bat Mitzvah families, I always ask the kids what makes them proud to be Jewish. Very often, I hear from them that they celebrate their uniqueness and how they are either the only or one of a couple of kids in their class or grade that is Jewish. They feel proud because they are experts at something that no one else really knows about.
The story of Hanukkah is one of pride in who we are as a people. The story of the Maccabees reminds me that our ancestors had a choice. They could have blended in and assimilated with the Hellenistic culture that ruled Israel at the time or they could have stood up and fought for their identity. Our ancestors, of course, chose the latter. Though we are a still a couple of weeks away from our Hanukkah celebrations, some of our parents may be emailing teachers about coming in to talk about Hanukkah. Such a moment only serves to build on that pride. Our kids can certainly help talk about family traditions, the story, and how we light the menorah. If you are planning to teach about Hanukkah, Morissa and I have resources that may help you including books and music.
What happens when a school pushes back? I recently read that a school in Florida informed a parent that she could not come in to discuss Hanukkah because it was “outside of the curriculum”. When the parent wrote back and said I assume that means no Christmas activities will be done but did not receive an immediate reply. Ultimately the school walked back their decision and the parent is now able to come in to teach about the holiday.
This can be a challenging time of year. We want to celebrate and honor the diversity that exists in our communities, and we also recognize the many challenges our kids feel when they realize that they are different. I am not sure that there is a universal solution to the complexities and the challenges of the season, but we are always here to support our kids and parents who may have questions. Hanukkah is a reminder for us that we can embrace diversity, as well as that religious freedom and pluralism are a core part of our values. As we navigate these next few weeks, please know that no one is alone and we are here to support you in whatever ways we can.