Eight Ways LGBT Families Can
Deepen the Meaning of Chanukah

by Rabbi Denise L. Eger

Chanukah’s proximity to Christmas has in modern times led to the over commercialization not only of Christmas but of Chanukah as well. Our holiday of rededication of the temple by the Maccabees and a renewed commitment to the faith of the People Israel has been transformed into a present-giving “Feast of Gluttony!” Christmas is only one day—but Chanukah is eight nights of presents. And presents are not even traditionally given on Chanukah. Our main present giving holiday is Purim.

So how do you take this special time of year—the Festival of Lights—and transform it for your family from a focus on presents and competition with Christmas and turn it into an opportunity to build your connection to the Jewish people and the miracles of faith? Here are some techniques that can deepen your Chanukah celebration.

  1. Be committed to lighting the candles each night of the holiday. Say the blessings with your child/ren. Invite other families and friends to share in the candle lighting. Read the story of Chanukah to your children. Not just the story of the small jar of oil (which is from the Talmud and not an historical account) but the story of the Maccabees and their battle for freedom, reclaiming the temple and restoring it to the worship of God.
  2. Each night pick a theme and have your child/ren create art on that theme. Since the theme of miracles is the focus of the holiday, talk about miracles. Some people believe miracles are the amazing things that happen in the world. When Moses parted the Red Sea and the children of Israel crossed safely, that was a miracle. Miracles are events and places and things where we can see God at work. Ask your child to create a picture for each night on a miracle of the environment/our planet, the miracle of family, the miracle of peace, the miracle of laughter, the miracle of Chanukah, the miracle of healthy bodies, the miracle of love, the miracle of friends.
  3. Instead of gifts, choose a family charity. Let the kids be a part of the process of deciding who to bring Chanukah to. Some suggestions are: Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, American Jewish World Service, Darfur Relief, The American Red Cross, Jewish National Fund (Plant a Tree in Israel), National Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry (which has a special program for Chanukah) or your favorite charity.
  4. After lighting the candles with the prayers, create your own prayer as a family. Write out together the things you are thankful for and what the light of the menorah represents to you. Ask God to bless your home and your family. Ask God to help you build your faith and bolster your hope in the future.
  5. Play dreidle with your kids. If you don’t want to use pennies, use gelt, foil covered coins or even M&M candies! Remember the four letters: Nun means none (p), Gimel means get the pot (b), Hay is half the pot (d), and Shin means put one in (y)!
  6. Have a separate menorah for everyone in the family. Let each person light their own menorah. This way they participate in the miracle of the light themselves. Remember to put the menorah in a visible place to the outside world. One of the mitzvot of Chanukah is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah by showing the menorah to the world.
  7. Spend some time singing Chanukah songs. Even if you can’t sing well, singing Chanukah songs after lighting the candles is a fun way to extend the joy of the holidays and keep the focus off the material things. There are many songs beyond I Have A Little Dreidle although that is always a good place to begin. Check out some Jewish song websites for music like www.soundswrite.com. They have lots of Chanukah music. Even if you can’t sing, play some on the CD player or computer after the candle lighting for a sing-a-long!
  8. Don’t be afraid to talk about God! Even if you as the parent struggle with God, whether or not there is one, whether or not God is a personal God, give your kids the chance to talk about the amazing power of the universe that we Jews call God! The energy that we all share is the Divine energy of God’s love. The connection all people have to one another is what we Jews call God. Help your children see it and feel it. Say the Shema with them just as the Maccabees said it when they rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, California. Kol Ami is a progressive Reform synagogue with a large gay and lesbian population and lots of GLBT Families. www.kol-ami.org

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