Eight Ideas for Eight Nights


by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Hanukah candle lighting is celebratory, but also, often, “squeezed in” between homework and bedtime, work duties and the second shift at home. The following are some suggestions that can add structure and meaning to your Hanukah celebration. They do require some advance planning, but they are not time-intensive. You can carry one or more of the ideas through all eight nights, or use them for an individual gathering or party. The Talmud tells us that one small vial of oil miraculously lasted eight nights. Similarly, a small amount of preparation can yield unexpected and abundant meaning. Please let me know how you end up using or building on the following ideas. --Rabbi Debra

1. Kick off the Hanukah holiday with Story Night.
(The annotated Best of Hanukah: Recommended Books, CDs, and DVDs for Children and Adults offers many resources.) Stories could include different renditions of the historical story; personal and family stories; original texts (e.g., BT Shabbat 21a or a selection from the Books of the Maccabees); or folktales of Hanukah from around the world. You can also draw on literature that is thematically related to Hanukah: the right to be different, the fight for religious freedom, the few facing down the many, the spreading of Light.

2. Pick & Discuss Quotations
Choose a variety of quotations about Hanukah and its themes, write them on strips of paper, and let everyone who participates in the candle lighting select one randomly. Compare notes and discuss the quotations. Invite participants to consider the quote they selected as a message-of-the-day. The challenge: can you notice the quotation operating in the world and through you between one candle lighting and the next?

3. Share Poetry
If you are hosting a Hanukah party, ask each guest to bring a favorite poem to share about light, bravery, or miracles. (Children and adults can also write original poems.)

4. Dreydl Tournament
Sponsor an intergenerational dreydl tournament with all the money going to tzedakah. The “price” of admission is that each participant must describe a charitable organization that s/he thinks is particularly appropriate for Hanukah. (Ask everyone to bring literature to share about their chosen cause, as well.) Participants can vote on how to distribute the money, and the winner’s vote counts twice. Certificates, small trinkets, and chocolate coins can be awarded, as well. (The rules for the game are supplied at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreidel. )

5. Social Justice Project
Join or organize a social justice project for (at least) one night of the holiday. Rabbi Fred Greene shared with me the catchy title “Hanukah Lights & Mitzvah Nights.” The mitzvah you choose could be related to a specific Hanukah theme (such as supporting religious freedom), or it could spread light in another way. Though some specific mitzvot were targeted by Antiochus, our ancestors fought for the right to observe any and all of them.

6. Put on a show!
For one night of the holiday, sing Hanukah songs and light the candles at an assisted living facility or nursing home with Jewish residents. Or put on your show at a local hospital and bring small gifts for the pediatric ward.

7. Theme Night
Choose a theme for a night when you are leading or hosting candle lighting. Themes could include Light, Bravery, Miracles, Brit/Circumcision, Faith, (Re-) dedication of Holy Space, Overcoming the Odds, Integrating with Our Neighbors While Remaining Distinct as a People, The Number 8 in Jewish Tradition and Numerology, etc. Hosts can prepare everything from a traditional text study to children’s art projects to their table décor, based on a theme.

8. Meditation
Conduct a meditation following candle lighting. Hanukah meditations can build on one another (as my Hanukah miracle meditations do), or they can stand alone. Your meditation can be as simple as asking for a few moments of silence for everyone to contemplate the miracle of Jewish survival from “those days” to “this time.” In his book, Chanukah: Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul, Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf offers this beautiful Hanukah meditation:

On Chanukah, late at night, sit down in front of your menorah and just gaze at the flames. Tiny, silent flames. Glowing, sometimes dancing; vulnerable always reaching upward. You too possess an inner flame. As you look at the flames of the menorah, as you begin to notice every nuance and every detail, allow yourself to experience your own inner flame. Tiny, silent flame. Flame that is often lost in the swamp of so many things to do. Flame that wants to dance and reach upward, to touch something higher and richer deeper. That flame is your flame. And it can never be extinguished.