By Dasee Berkowitz, JTA
NEW YORK — When I walked into our local K-mart the night after Labor Day, Christmas music beckoned shoppers to consume.
Traditional Christians decry the way in which their holiday has shifted from its real meaning toward consumerism. Jewish folks decry this as well because it pressures us to celebrate our minor winter holiday, Chanukah, in a similar way.
The irony is striking.
Chanukah is the holiday that celebrates Jewish distinctiveness over assimilation. The Maccabees zealous freedom fighters fought to preserve Jewish distinctiveness in the face of the Assyrian Greeks.
To really celebrate Chanukah this year lets ask ourselves: What makes us Jews distinct?
How can we celebrate our distinctiveness in ways that strengthen our own identity and that of our families?
How can we bring the best of what Judaism has to offer to our communities and society?
THE concept of tzedakah is one of Judaisms great contributions to the world.
Jewish tradition posits giving tzedakah as an obligation (20% of your income is the maximum, 10% is the minimum) and holds that this obligation rests on everybody, not just the well-off (the Code of Jewish Law states that even one who is supported by tzedakah is required to give from what he has been given).
I propose that this Chanukah, instead of pouring our creative energies into giving material gifts, we use that creativity to dedicate each night and each candle to a different aspect of giving.
Candle 1: Have an intimate dinner with family and friends.
Learn about the issues of most concern to them, then set aside the money you would spend on a material gift to make a contribution to that organization or cause in their honor.
Candle 2: Make a site visit.
Follow up on the first nights activity and, if the cause is a local one, arrange to go on a site visit together to learn more about the organizations work and how you can get involved. This activity is especially good for parents with young children.
Candle 3: Be on the lookout for charity events in your area.
Plan ahead and bring a buddy, and dedicate yourself to expanding your horizons on issues in the world that need addressing.
Candle 4: Think about someone in your life in immediate need. It might be someone who just had a baby and could use a home-cooked meal. It might be someone in the hospital who could use a visit.
Bring them Chanukah-themed treats such as dreidel-shaped cookies or homemade Chanukah cards.
Candle 5: Get your charitable giving in order.
If eight nights of eating latkes and jelly donuts becomes too much for you, take the night off and plan ahead for the coming fiscal year. How much time or money do you want to give? Make a plan.
Candle 6: Give more than your money and time give of your values.
Think about a value that is important to you that you and do an activity that reflects that value with a spouse, child or friend. If it is caring for the environment, find a lecture, watch a movie or canvass for an environmental organization for the day. If the value is eating nutritious food, buy nutritious food and cook it with a friend.
Candle 7: Think about someone else in your life who is too busy to think about holiday presents.
Give them a break. For a busy parent, this could mean providing child care; for a busy professional, it could be giving your time as a coach.
Candle 8: Have a Chanukah party and ask your guests to bring a gift that you can pass onto a local charity.