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A Timeless Gift for Hanukkah

December 12, 2016 | by Ariela Davis

For eight days, the glow of our menorah will be augmented by the darkness of my smartphone.

I work in a community Jewish Day School in a city where Jews are by far the minority and menorahs are outnumbered by Christmas trees. With Hanukkah and Christmas falling at the same time this year, there is much discussion of the two holidays amongst the students, including the oft-repeated mistaken belief that it must be that the Jewish holiday was created so Jews wouldn’t feel jealous at Christmas time. After all, the holidays generally fall out at the same time of year, and aren’t both holidays about presents?

Well, no. Giving presents actually has nothing to do with Hanukkah. The sages talk about giving gelt (money) to children but the idea of presents is a modern concept that has no origins in Judaism. Perhaps it began as way to combat “tree envy,” nonetheless it’s a practice we do not bring into my home.

In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee (a book I highly recommend to anyone who is on the parenting journey), Dr. Wendy Mogul speaks about the child who desperately longs for a certain toy or doll, the latest “it” item. Eager to prove our great love for our child, we shell out the cash, search high and low for the item and with great flourish, provide our child with their deepest wish and reap great happiness as we see the glow in our child’s eyes as they play with the item, bringing it everywhere with them, even sleeping with it in bed… until the next week when the excitement wears off and they want something new.

There is a far greater gift that our children desperately want and it is a gift whose excitement never wears off and it’s irreplaceable.

It is the gift of our time.

In our busy worlds of juggling working, errands, multiple children’s needs, we are exhausted by the end of the day. Some days I am literally dragging myself through the ride back home (while kids are kicking each other in the back of the car), helping with homework (with two kids requesting help at the same time, while third child has a tantrum from exhaustion and fourth child is emptying the spice cabinet on the floor), while preparing dinner at the same time. Dinnertime can sometimes be a wonderful time to chat about daily events, but there are those days when my brain and patience are just gone, and my smartphone offers an easy distraction from the hectic, stress-filled day, and to my shame, from my kids.

I am making the statement that the person I’m sending the message to is more important to me than the four people I brought into the world.

And the knowledge that everyone else is glued to their phone does not assuage the guilt I feel when I see the frustration in my child’s eyes at having to play second fiddle to my phone and the people all over the world it links me to. I am making the statement that the person I’m sending the message to is more important to me than the four people I brought into the world.

So last year I started a new practice. For the eight days of Hanukkah, I sign off from all social media to allow myself to be fully present with my family during this magical time. Instead of sharing family pictures and posts about lighting the menorah, I am there to enjoy the moment just for us. I am fully present to sing by the candles with my kids, and then dance together. To make latkes with them, play dreidel, retell the story of Hanukkah and discuss the incredible miracles that happened to the Maccabees as we share our hopes and prayers for the miracles that we yearn for today.

We do not give them presents; the word wasn’t even mentioned. But my full presence is noted.

Despite the lack of presents, my kids become aglow when they talk about Hanukkah and how the family comes together. My parents and mother-in-law do send them gifts but when my kids reflect on Hanukkah, the gifts barely enter their memory; they remember the family time.

So this year the glow of our menorah filling our home will be augmented by the darkness of my smartphone, as I give my children their greatest Hanukkah gift.

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