Hanukkah is not “the Jewish Christmas.” The word itself, hanukkah, means “re-dedication.” As the Maccabees rededicated the Temple to God’s service, Hanukkah calls us to rededicate ourselves to God’s service. So instead of a new toy, sweater, blender or set of golf clubs, why not try to give a gift that brings the recipient closer to Judaism and closer to God… and closer to you, too? If you like this idea, read on for some Hanukkah gift ideas that don’t lose their appeal as soon as they are unwrapped.
Give your loved one Shabbat candlesticks, or a Kiddush cup, or both. Then offer to help them use your gift each week. If you live near (or in the same house as) the recipient, include a card that says you would like to use this with them, starting this Friday evening. If you don’t know how to use them, ask! Ask me, ask Cantor Alexander, ask Rabbi Stern: we will be happy to give you our “Shabbat Guide” with everything you need to know to create your own Shabbat table. As a side note, if you give the gift of a Kiddush cup, include a bottle of wine. You can use any wine for Shabbat; having a 100% sugar content is not a requirement. Buy something you and the recipient will enjoy drinking, then enjoy it together.
If you don’t live near the recipient, include in your card a promise to “meet” every Friday evening on FaceTime or Skype, to make Shabbat together. For the Type-A people out there, consider buying yourself an identical gift so you can each light the candles or say Kiddush together across hundreds or thousands of miles. It’s not “traditional” to Skype on Shabbat, but I’m fine with that. Personally, I think God will be very pleased to hear the words of Shabbat prayers traveling across the Internet.
Give your loved one a kippah or a tallit. Then offer to go to services with them so they can use your gift each week. When I teach my students about wearing a kippah or a tallit, I always tell them that it feels much better to wear your own than it does to borrow one from the temple. When you own your own, you get to choose the design… and you can be sure that no one else has worn it! But wearing either of these when you haven’t done it before, or haven’t done it in years, can be uncomfortable. That’s why it helps to have someone you love coming with you when you do.
Give your loved one a Jewish book – something really good. Then tell them you got yourself a copy, too, and in a month you want to get together with them to talk about it. Where would you find a good Jewish book? Once again, ask! We would be thrilled to give you suggestions. And we’d love to hear how your conversation about the book went, too.
Give your loved one a beautiful mezuzah and offer to help them hang it. When I was growing up, most Jewish families purchased one mezuzah for their entire home. The hung it at the top of the doorframe, and often painted over it to make it completely inconspicuous. Today we are more comfortable with our Jewish identity and much less shy about saying so in public, so we create works of art that are meant to hang at eye-level – to be seen by everyone. And many Jews now follow tradition and hang one on every door in the home, often choosing designs that reflect the room. When our kids were little, we let them choose the mezuzah they each wanted on the door of their bedrooms, then we hung them at eye-level… Their eye-level. And yes, every couple of years we moved them higher, as a Jewish version of the marks on the wall that recorded each boy’s growth.
Work with me on this one… Give your loved one a trip to Israel – preferably for you, too. And if you cannot afford the entire cost of a trip at once, then open an Israel Trip Savings Account for them, and promise that you will contribute to it on every occasion. A trip to Israel is a life-changing experience; how many other Hanukkah gifts can you say that about? My Uncle Gene, z”l, did this for me when I was 16 years old, and I will never forget it. Wouldn’t you like to know you were giving a gift this Hanukkah that will never be forgotten?
Shira and I wish you a happy Hanukkah. May your holiday – and your life – be like the hanukiyyah, growing brighter every day.
Rabbi Don Weber