This year, we shared the first night of Hanukkah with one of our “co-families.” We have no parents or siblings in our city, so this family has become part of our chosen, local tribe. Every year, they spoil us by frying latkes in their spacious kitchen, and then we all dance a rowdy hora together by the light of the Hanukkah candles.
Now that all four of our collective children are teens, we decided to start Hanukkah off this year with giving, rather than receiving, gifts. Each teen and each adult brought ten dollars from their own piggy bank or wallet. Then, around the dinner table, we discussed where to send our pooled funds. Each person made a pitch for a favorite cause. The nominees included two local homeless shelters, five international development projects, and an environmental organization.
What followed was a thoroughly philosophical and educational discussion of giving local versus giving global, coming to the rescue versus attacking root causes, and how to judge the efficacy of a non-profit.
Lacking consensus, except around the fact that they were all good causes, we resorted to drawing a project out of a hat. This year, our funds will go to helping the women affected by war in Congo. Given that Hanukkah commemorates a battle, putting money into healing the wounds of war seems just.
I won’t say my kids did not miss opening gifts on the first night. Who doesn’t like opening gifts? I am not a total Hanukkah scrooge. Last night, on the second night of Hanukkah, they did get a very nice gift. Tomorrow, they will go to our town’s Alternative Gift Fair, where non-profits set up giving booths, and they will make the rounds and each decide individually which organization to give to that night. Adolescence is all about transformation. As we watched with pride, our teens were transforming on Hanukkah from recipients to donors, from children to adults.
Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.