The Swim Noodle Menorah. Google all you want, but it won’t be there unless it’s here, because I’ve just invented it. I am ridiculously pleased. It signals my complete recovery from a summer illness that left no room for aggressively thematic, Jewy frivolity.
My goal was to make a practice menorah irresistible to young children. Everybody likes swim noodles, don’t they? Swim noodle candles are fun to hold, are big, lightweight, and easy to slide in and out of foam drink-holders. Foam-against-foam friction is far more satisfying than, say, foam against cardboard tubes or metal cans. The craft foam flames are easy for little hands to poke into the top hole of the Noodle.
I made this for our synagogue’s upcoming Chanukah Carnival. It will be a Carnival station—one of about 32—and will be placed on the floor next to a seated volunteer. The whole thing stands at about 30 inches tall, mounted on a wooden plank 36 inches long. My candles turned out to be 21 inches tall each, a height that worked well for my preschooler testers.
To Use: Kids take the candles out of a big box and place them in the menorah, right to left. They can pretend to light the shamash, then light the candles left to right. They can hear or practice the blessings. They can be encouraged to wonder about the whole right and left thing, about why one candle is higher than the other, and about why that one candle isn’t in the middle and does it really matter, anyway?*
The adult volunteer should be prepared to place the flame in the noodle hole at the precise instant a kid lights each candle, and also be comfortable uttering a loud “whoosh” noise to indicate the kindling of a flame. Whooshing noises make the transaction more fun for everyone.
I bought the swim noodles for a buck apiece at a Dollar Store, and the foam can cozees (or whatever they are called) from a Michaels craft store, again for a dollar apiece. The cozees are attached to the plank with a screw and a big washer on the inside, which means I can take them off for safe storage. (Dent a piece of foam once and it is dented forever.)
Materials: Feel free to experiment, as usual.
- Swim noodles: a 2.5″ wide noodle fits nicely inside an average foam beverage-holder. How many depends on how long you cut each candle.
- 36″ piece of untreated 2×6 wood
- two squares of plywood, about 1x4x4 (to raise the shamash cup holder)
- two wooden blocks for feet. I used toy blocks 1x2x4.
- glue (I glued the plywood and blocks to the board with epoxy before painting)
- paint (I used blue acrylic in an attempt to match the can-holder color)
- 9 can cozees / can holders / beer koozies
- 9 screws with a broad head, long enough to pass through the washers and into the wood below.
- 9 flat washers. A quarter inch (.25) inside diameter ought to be fine for most wood or sheet metal screws, with at least a 1.5 inch outside diameter. The wider, the better for keeping the can-holders tight and strong against the wood.
- 9 pieces yellow craft foam. I cut a 3″ x 6″ rectangle, trimmed one end into a pointy flame, rolled the straight base together and secured with one staple. I cut several flames per 8×10 sheet of craft foam.
- stapler (for the flames)
Things I learned:
- Use this on the floor, not a table. Table height is too tall for little kids, and the candleholders will get smooshed sideways and eventually rip right off.
- Cut the noodles to length with a smooth kitchen knife. Use a serrated knife and you will get a serrated candle.
- Store the noodles flat or threaded onto dowels. Otherwise, they bend and look weird.
- Not everyone has heard of can cozees, even in Nashville.
- The cheapest time (and perhaps the only time) to buy swim noodles and beer koozies is during the summer.
- Swim noodles bigger than 2.5″ will fit not fit into can cozees, but will fit into the foam noodle connectors made by the manufacturer who makes that particular noodle. I love the giant noodles (because they are giant) but couldn’t find a foam receptacle large enough to hold them.
*The shamash has to be obviously different from the 8 Hanukkah candles. It can be above, below, in front of, in back of, whatever. So, it doesn’t matter if a shamash is on the right or left of a line of candles. However, there is a practical advantage to a shamash on the right: if one has just lit the Hanukkah candles (starting on the left and ending on the right), one is less likely to catch one’s sleeve on fire when replacing the shamash to the right of the flames. (Well, unless one is left-handed, which nicely balances out the Hebraic advantage lefties have over the rest of us—writing right from left— for once.)
Safety: Please, no open flames around any foam product. This swim noodle hanukiyah is meant for practice only. Duh.Swi
m Noodle Hanukkiyah, Swim Noodle Chanukiyah