Guidelines for Hanukkah Parent visits: where are they?
All over the country, volunteer parents are visiting their child’s classrooms and representing the entire Jewish people in 15 minutes or less.
In the spirit of “sharing traditions,” we bring a book, maybe some dreidels, some gelt (its never too early to jump-start a child’s association of Jews and money…see below), and a menorah. Hands-on parents bring all this stuff, and we check if we are allowed to actually light the menorah (and if we are allowed to keep the candles burning or blow them out far, far from the smoke detector).
Out of the dozens of books I’ve accumulated the last 16 years, plus the books I see at shul and in the library and in the bookstore (that just closed forever), why is it I can’t find a single one I LIKE?
Here’s what I want: a picture book with a word/image ratio to sustain interest. No logorreah, please.
The book should convey the story of Hanukkah, not the story of someone’s bubbe’s latkes or someone’s new menorah or someone’s lost dreidel. A Hanukkah parent visit should get down to the basics, even in a Jewish school (unless the kids are really old, and then why are you visiting if the kids are really old? They do not want to see you).
Having said that, I’d prefer playing-down the military aspects of the Hanukkah story. Yes, Hanukkah is a minor festival based on a military victory, but I’d rather focus on the miracle of the oil.
Not so much focus on gelt, please. Can we raise a new generation of children who do not automatically link Jews with gold coins? Hand out dreidels, by all means, but think about skipping the gelt.
Without the perfect book in hand, we can at least find one that can be easily paraphrased into perfection.
Props: Consider bringing olive oil, a jar of olives, and an oil menorah to light. This makes the link between Hanukkah and the original story concrete and immediate. Most regular menorahs can be adapted for oil. It just takes a few drops and a wick. Get new wicks at a craft store or break a couple of Hanukkah candles to bits, pull out the wick and cut to length.
Props: Making a semblance of a temple out of Duplos is optional, but it sure was a hit for me. Especially with the toy pigs and the LED mini-menorah the soldiers could put out and the good guys could re-light.
Note on terminology: Menorah vs. Hanukkiah. For school visits, it’s probably best to stick to menorah or you will confuse everyone. If you think it is important to use the proper term, I’d be ready with a 7-branched menorah (or at least a picture of the Temple menorah) and a lamp, as well. Menorah simply means lamp, and can refer to an ordinary electric table lamp. Hanukkiah is a menorah for Hanukkah, with 9 lights. Plural: hanukkiyot.
More terminology: Hanukkah means dedication. Play that up when you light the menorah and link it with the re-lighting of the Temple menorah.
And by the way, I never mention presents. Better not to reinforce the notion that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas. If you skip the gelt, skip the presents and talk about doing good deeds for others during the eight nights, you’ve sown some lovely seeds all around you.