A More Meaningful Chanukah

judaism-152029_640My friend Dawn Kepler* and I were talking recently about ways to make Chanukah more meaningful. How might we use the framework of eight days and make it a real re-dedication to Jewish values?

We decided we’d set up a list of eight Jewish values and give them each one day of Chanukah. We’d plan appropriate activities for ourselves and/or our households. We brainstormed activities that might be suitable for different households (depending on ages and abilities.) The idea of activities is not simply doing for doing’s sake, but doing for the sake of learning. Be sure to reflect and talk afterwards!

Now we invite you to look ahead at your calendar, see what Jewish value might fit each day.  If our activity suggestions are too modest for you, Yasher koach! Go do something that you think would be better.

1. Nidivut – Generosity
a. Go shopping for a needy family.
b. ​Make  breakfast in bed for the family cook.
c. Visit an animal shelter and give them your old towels and sheets for bedding.
d. Give gifts to one another.
e. Shop for a local “Toys for Tots” drive or for the Food Bank.

2. Tzedek – Justice
a. Write a letter to an elected official about some issue of justice.
b. Teach each other about a justice issue dear to us.
c. Make and decorate a family tzedakah box.
d. Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper about a justice issue.
e. Give tzedakah to an organization that works for justice.


3. Hoda’ah – Gratitude
a. Write a thank you card to someone who isn’t expecting it.
b. Write a thank you card to another member of the household. Be specific.
c. Make a list of things for which we are grateful. Then make a “bouquet” of those things by making paper flowers and writing the gratitudes on them. Use it to decorate the table next Shabbat.
​d. Play the ABC Gratitude game as a family:  Name something for which you are grateful for each letter of the alphabet. (I’m grateful for apricots. I’m grateful for blankets. etc.)​
e. See how many times you can say “thank you” to people during the day.

4. Kibud Av v’Em – Honoring Parents
a. Give gifts to parents and grandparents.
b. Adopt an elder who doesn’t have children for the evening or more.
c. Tell stories about family, maybe craft projects honoring family who have died.
​d. Make a coupon book of things you will do for a parent or grandparent in the coming year.​
e. Visit the graves of parents or grandparents who have died. Leave a stone.


5. Talmud Torah – Studying Torah
a. Play “Torah Jeopardy:” Give the questions to which Torah names and places are the answer.
b. Make a play of the Torah portion of the week (usually part of the Joseph story, very dramatic!)
c. Make Torah scrolls with citations or pictures of our favorite verses of Torah in them, gift to one another.
​d. Draw a picture of how you imagine your favorite biblical hero or heroine looked. Tell his/her story to your family.
e. Download and play “Middot-opoly.” It’s a game for learning Jewish values!
6. Hachnasat Orchim – Hospitality
a. Have a Chanukah party. Invite people over!
b. Have people over for Shabbat dinner & Menorah lighting.
​c. Invite someone who is single to dinner, services or out to coffee.​
​d. Volunteer to be an usher at your synagogue.
e. Provide part or all of the oneg for the Shabbat service that falls during Chanukah.

7. Ahavat Yisrael – Love of Israel (the country or the people)
a. Tzedakah to an Israeli organization
b. Tzedakah to a local Jewish organization
c. Watch an Israeli or Jewish-themed film together & discuss over popcorn.
d. Put on Israeli music or Klezmer and dance!


8. Rachmanut – Compassion
a. Volunteer at the Food Bank or similar nonprofit.
b. Give out clean, new tube socks to people on the street asking for help.
c. Visit someone who is shut-in, if possible light the menorah with them.
​d. During the week of Chanukah give one dollar to every person you see begging. (Keep a stash of dollars just for them.) Talk about how it felt at the end of the week.

There are many more Jewish values to choose from​, many more activities that you might try to express and learn about these and other values. Explore the possibilities, and let me know how it goes!


* Dawn is the Director of Building Jewish Bridges, a wonderful organization that supports interfaith families. If you are in an interfaith relationship, or have an interfaith family, check out their website!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

12 thoughts on “A More Meaningful Chanukah”

  1. Those are all good ideas, and it is helpful to have this structure. I also recommend putting the menorah of your coffee table after dinner and watching the candle flames. This is a wonderful way to take a time out at a hyper-active time of the year. Invite friends to join you, or just do it with your spouse or partner.


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