“Hey, let’s go sit with the Jewish people!”
—Ava, 4 years-old, not Jewish.
Why we are the Hanukkah Parents
(and the Passover Parents, and the Purim Parents)
Our family is Jewish. Our children’s schools are not. Sometimes the kids have Jewish classmates and sometimes they don’t. So, when the two, big mainstream holidays roll around—Christmas and Easter—my kids are visibly and vastly outnumbered. Peers and parents don’t really “get” Jewish holidays here. Why should they? Nashville has less than 2 percent Jewish population. They don’t usually have first-hand experience with folks who do.
Does this situation sound relevant to yours?
One way to bring a bit of balance to the mix is to bring a bit of your family’s Jewish holiday traditions to school. A Holiday Parent Visit, arranged with the permission and parameters of the teacher, is like a family Show and Tell. It is presented in the spirit of sharing traditions. It needn’t be elaborate. As the name suggests, we show stuff and tell about it. We bring a quick story, actual holiday objects and perhaps a holiday food. A Holiday Parent Visit can be adapted to suit your particular customs, personality, time frame, and comfort level interacting with children. And of course, to how enthused your kid is about all this. Hopefully, your schools and teachers will be as welcoming and curious as ours, and your visits will be a positive reference point for your child’s classmates, teacher, fellow parents and administrators. In some cases, your Jewish visit might be the only in-person, Jewish exposure kids get while they are little.
Here’s a quick tale about a consequence of holiday visits: my husband and I did Hanukkah and Passover with our son’s preschool class this year. He was the only Jewish kid in the school. Later in the spring, as we sat in the grass at a class picnic, a group of 4 year-olds came running right at us. A girl named Ava was in the lead, hollering, “Hey, let’s go sit with the Jewish people!” It was funny as hell. Almost as funny were the frozen looks from nearby parents. We had to explain the back story, why Ava and her minions even knew we were Jewish. Her outburst was a spontaneous, genuine compliment. To this little group of kids, we were approachable, interesting, fun. We were “the Jewish people.”
Family Show and Tell Guidelines:
Some of us don’t need guidelines for this sort of thing and can go in and wing it beautifully. Not me. If I’d had guidelines way back when, perhaps my hands would not have trembled so dangerously as I lit Hanuakkah candles for a Kindergarten class. And maybe I would have thought twice about enacting the first Passover plague for a group of preschoolers. To turn water into blood from the Nile is, duh, a demonstration fraught with complications. And how could I have foreseen that hamantaschen—my prized family recipe—would be unanimously rejected as yucky?
So, again in the spirit of sharing, I offer some guidelines for Hanukkah Parent Visits and Passover Parent Visits. (Purim to come.)
Definition of “Parent:” Parents tend to vary in number, background, religious affiliation, work schedules and enthusiasm. A visit can work with one, two, and multiple parents who are raising a child Jewishly. We don’t have to be Jewish to raise a child Jewishly. And by the way, one of my favorite Hanukkah visits consisted of three families sharing the presentation (one set did the story, one the candles, one the dreidel demo).
Please leave comments on the relevant pages (Hanukkah or Passover), and share what has worked for you and what hasn’t. We can all pick and choose what works for us and our kids.