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“What can we do besides light candles and open gifts?”


The following are some ideas that you can carry out at the time of Hanukah candle lighting. No preparation is needed. Just pick the ones that particularly appeal to you, or print out this page and cut out each idea as its own strip of paper, so you pick one idea out of a hat and be surprised.

My thanks to Treasure Cohen, friend and family educator, with whom I collaborated in generating many of these ideas. Thanks also go to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, friend and mentor, who originated the “Five Minutes-es” with his own children, and whose preferred choice was five minutes of quiet meditation.
--Rabbi Debra Orenstein



The Five Minutes-es
Each member of the family gets five minutes to be a benevolent Maccabean King or Queen of the family. What do you want to do as a group (as long as it’s not destructive or dangerous)? One child might ask to lead a song; another will want to play Simon Says, put on a show, or go outside and play soccer in the dark. Anything goes. Parents get a turn, too. Watch out: they could ask everyone to clean up or just relax and be still for five minutes.

The Gift of a Compliment
Hanukah is a gift-giving holiday. Give the gift of a compliment to each person in the room. (Or, if there are a lot of people at your home tonight, give the gift of a compliment to the person standing to your right.)

Daring to the Different
The Maccabees didn’t go along with the crowd. Adults and children: tell the story of a time when you dared to be different.

The Gift of Affection
Hanukah is a gift-giving holiday. Give the gift of affection. Please give a hug, kiss, or high five to each person at your home tonight.

Cleanliness and Godliness
When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem, they cleaned it. Tell the story of a time when you did a mitzvah by cleaning up a mess (of any kind).

A Mitzvah That Is Born on Hanukah
The story of Hanukah reminds us that just a few people doing the right thing together can make a big difference. What could your family do together in the next year to make the world better?

Bazman Hazeh: Miracles At This Time
On Hanukah, we say a blessing thanking God for miracles – in the past and today. Ask each person present: tell the story of a miracle you have witnessed or been part of in your life.

Baruch Ata: Offering Thanks
With Hanukah blessings – and every Jewish blessing – we say thank you to God for the good in our lives. If you could add a blessing tonight – to say thank you for what is good – what would your blessing be?

The Gift of Laughter
Hanukah is a gift-giving holiday. Give the gift of laughter. Ask each person to take a turn telling a joke.

Human Dreydl Challenge
On Hanukah, you can certainly have a dreydl contest -- for gelt, pennies, m&m’s, or just for fun. You might also enjoy spinning the top on different surfaces and in different ways. (Some people can make the plastic dreydls spin upside down, on their handles. Others can spin dreydls on carpet.) Lots of families collect and compare dreydls. Tonight, try some human dreydl challenges! Who can spin around like a dreydl the longest? Can you create a living dreydl sculpture that spins around? Start with two people who work together to form a dreydl, then keep adding one person at a time, until the dreydl collapses.

Hanukah is a gift-giving holiday, which means that it is a time to be generous, as well as appreciative. To whom can you be generous? Is there something you have – whether a physical item or the gift of your time or the gift of your talent – that you could give to others? Where in your town are there people who might be alone or sad this holiday? How can you help?

Hanukah Detective Agency
One person describes a Hanukah custom practiced by your family – or by someone else. Everyone present then “plays detective,” inferring what the family and/or the tradition is trying to say with that custom. See how many different messages you can glean from each custom.

Take Time for Beauty
According to the tradition, we don’t use the light of Hanukah candles for practical purposes – for example, to sew or to read. Instead, we just admire their beauty. Take a few moments to notice the flames and their beauty. See how many colors you can find in them. Each person looking at the candles can take a turn pointing out what s/he finds most beautiful about the candles as they shine and burn.

Blessings Aplenty
The oil that was used in the original Menorah symbolized plenty. By any relative measure, we have so much! We have more options and luxuries than any generation before us, and we have more than most people in the world today. Of course, we may wish for something more (or something different) in some areas of our lives. But take a few moments to share about this question: How do you have plenty and abundance in your life?

Say it Loud and Say it Proud!
The reason Jews traditionally put our Hanukiyot beside the window is to “advertise the miracle.” When there is good news that you feel happy and proud about, it’s fun and uplifting to share it. Ask each person to find something else to put near the window as a symbol of what they are grateful, proud, and excited about. People can go anywhere in the house to find an object, or they can draw a picture. Then, listen as everyone takes a turn explaining their “advertisements.”

Hanukahs Past
Take turns telling favorite memories from prior Hanukahs. What were some surprises? Some great gifts? Your earliest memories of Hanukah?

For information on inspiring teachings you can have in your home or take on your way, please click on the CD's below.

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