As some of you know, I was raised at a young age in Israel. When we moved to the US, I was kindergarten age and spoke no English. As part of our efforts to assimilate to American, and more specifically, New England culture, my parents joined a conservative Jewish synagogue. In Israel, we were not religious, which surprisingly describes a large portion of the Israeli population. But being Jewish was a given– our heritage, our nationality, how we saw ourselves. So, joining a synagogue was a way for us to connect and congregate with other Jewish families and find a ‘place’. Of course, sending a ‘Hebrew-speaking child’ to ‘Hebrew school’ was probably not the best course of action! My brothers and I definitely got into some scrapes and silliness through the years of Hebrew school.
As the holidays come around again, I think of my Jewish heritage with fondness. I particularly appreciate the ability to choose what parts of our religion we share with our children. Being Israeli, and Jewish, there are many traditions that my husband and I weave into our lives with our children. These traditions are fun and filled with opportunities for learning lessons about being a good citizen. Interestingly, Hanukkah in Israel is not a gift-giving holiday. But in the US, I imagine it has become one to help create more of a balance between Jewish and Christian families that often share communities.
During Hanukkah, there is one particular Jewish tradition that is referred to as a mitzvah, or a good deed, which is referred to as tzedakah. Tzedakah is charitable giving. This can be performed in as many different forms as there are forms of giving! Every year during Hanukkah, our family finds a special way to perform tzedakah during the holiday season.
Last year, we expressed our gratitude to heroes serving overseas and at home by writing letters through a service called Operation Gratitude. This year, we have been discussing how to volunteer at a soup kitchen. There are a million ways to teach our children how privileged we are and how it is our responsibility as good citizens to give of ourselves to those that are less fortunate then us. To help them understand that the feeling of inconvenience that we may feel is magnified greatly in others that have less food, less water, less home, less safety…
There are many different sites that offer suggestions for creative ways to dedicate some of this holiday season to ‘active’ giving. Here are some resources to help your family’s creative volunteer juices flowing:
Particularly, during this time of holiday stress, taking the time to step outside of ourselves and do more for others helps us to re-calibrate and remember what is truly important in life. As a family, we have always valued the richness of diverse cultures and religions. The more we can surround ourselves and our children with this diversity and expose our children at a young age to all members of our community, the more our children will truly mature into the good citizens that we wish them to be!
In the spirit of Hanukkah, I offer you this delicious variation of a traditional Jewish Hanukkah tradition–Paleo Latkes! (A.K.A. potato pancakes) There are a million and one ways to make potato latkes and a million and one recipes available online–but between all of these recipes, there are a few common denominators– check out the simple recipe below to learn how to make latkes!