What Chanukah Means To Me

12 December, 2016

By: Jill Cogan, Judaic Coordinator

The days are shorter, the leaves have fallen, and we are starting to bundle up for winter which means – Chanukah is around the corner! This time of year is filled with rich traditions and time spent with family, which makes me think about some of the best memories from my childhood. I can still smell the latkes frying in the kitchen, the excitement of playing dreidel with my twin sister, and arguing over whose turn it was to light the Chanukiah, also known as a menorah.

My childhood Chanukiah, sculpted out of clay by my mom when she was in high school, is one of my most cherished possessions. It isn’t a traditional Chanukiah, but it means the world to me and was passed down to me to light in my own home during Chanukah. The base is shaped like the map of Israel as a result from the memorable first trip my mom took in the ‘70s. It’s adorned with figures of people sitting cross-legged holding the Chanukah candles, with two figures in the middle holding a candle together.

Another tradition my mom has passed down to me is the tradition of Tzedakah, and the importance of giving back.  There are many ways to interpret the word Tzedakah, as its root word in Hebrew is Tzedek – justice or righteousness. I have always been fascinated with the idea of Maimonides (Rambam) Ladder of Tzedakah that I learned during my years of studying at religious school. Maimonides broke down the various forms of Tzedakah into eight levels, starting with giving reluctantly and ending with providing those in need with a way for them to be self-sufficient.

During this holiday season, many people give back in the form of Tzedakah to causes that are near and dear to their hearts. As you celebrate Chanukah this year, think about ways you can incorporate Tzedakah. One way is through the Fifth Night, a meaningful and an easy way for the whole family to participate in Tzedakah; simply give the gifts you receive on the fifth night of Chanukah to someone in need.

My experience with the fifth night is something I will never forget. I was working as an educator with children at a synagogue in Philadelphia during the time, and the children I was teaching completely embraced the concept – it was amazing to watch! After all, Chanukah is called The Festival of Lights, and what brings more light into the world than helping those in need?

Take some time this holiday season to reflect on various acts of tzedakah that you might be able to perform in the coming weeks, and feel free to reach out to me if you are looking for ways to give back or get involved. Chag Chanukah Sameach, may you all feel the light and warmth of this special season.

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