I needed an oversize Hanukkah decoration for our school’s program on Sunday, big enough to be seen across a drab Social Hall. Yesterday, a random Pinterest pic reminded me of an oldie but goodie: a big, paper-chain hanukkiyah. If mounted low enough, it can do double duty as teaching tool: kids can “light” it and practice proper order and blessings.
However, I really, really needed the decoration to be made by students.
After my Tootstie Torah experience last year—the latest in a series of self-afflicted solo projects that yield little return on investment—I swore my party-favor and decoration-making days were over. If students make stuff for themselves, they learn (especially with a decent lessson plan), they collaborate, they have a stake in what they make and how it gets used. If I make stuff for them, they don’t learn a thing and meanwhile, I’ve wasted untold hours making fiddly things that get gobbled or trashed without comment.
My motto became: “no decoration without participation.”
Unfortunately, I saw this marvelous idea after the last day of classes before our Hanukkah program. Which meant I had no source of child labor. Which meant, if I wanted a big paper-chain menorah, I would have to make it myself. And I totally caved. I drove to shul, schlepped down the dark halls empty but for cockroaches the size of Hot Wheels cars, unlocked my classroom and started to chop construction paper. . .
And then, I had a sudden thought. I remembered we had a massive bin full of student-made paper chains in Sukkot storage. (I knew because I put them there, along with the other sukkah decorations 9 weeks ago, while sorting and organizing and repairing. By myself, as a volunteer. Bless my heart, I have a problem.) And lo, that readymade chain was the exact length I needed for a Hanukkah menorah! I admit I made the 9 flames, but 95% of the project is child labor.
Technically, the students made the components, even if they didn’t make the project. Hardly ideal.
Consider my motto seriously bent, but not broken.
Ideally, here’s what would happen: I would present the challenge to a class. Challenge: We need an In-Your-Face Hanukkah Decoration for the wall of the stage.
Then, I’d listen to suggestions and if anything was actually doable I’d figure out how to facilitate it. If not, I’d suggest the paper chain menorah. We’d divide into teams / classes and each contribute a double-arm. Because class is 25-30 minutes, I will have already calculated an approximate number of chain links per double arm, but if we had more time students could figure it out.
Then, we’d assemble on site and stand on chairs and tape the sucker to the wall. We would put our homemade flames on a music stand, at the ready.
By the way, our stage wall required military-grade-adhesive glue dots, but your wall might take magnets, velcro, putty, duct tape or painter’s tape.
Kids need to be able to “light” the hanukkiyah over and over again, and to keep the flames where they won’t be stepped on.
Sustainability: The paper chains can be re-used as garland for Sukkot (indoors) and Hanukkah every year.
The Pinterest pic that jogged my memory: I tried to trace it to the source, but you know, Pinterest. It led me to Spearmint Baby.
Book: One of the benefits of being of advanced maternal age is that I have a big collection of actual books full of Jewish crafts. I’ve been doing this a long time. And there it was, still on my shelf: an out of print Jewish Holiday Crafts For Little Hands, by Ruth Esrig Brin, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, published by Kar-Ben. Paper Chain Menorah, Page 49.
When I googled “paper chain menorah,” I noticed author Jacqueline Jules posted a pdf excerpt from this very book, and of this very craft. I assume with permission, since she publishes with Kar-Ben, too. Note the menorah structure is more complex and would be fun to let kids figure out. In contrast, my menorah arms are simply slung under the shammash.