This is the first year that you will both celebrate Hanukkah away at college. Your dad and I will miss you, as we light the menorah and sing Rock of Ages by ourselves (sniffle). Maybe we’ll skype our Hanukkah with Nana and Grandpa one night, and with you another night. (We’re too middle-aged to figure out how to do both at the same time). I hope that you find some decent latkes at some point during the week, maybe at Hillel? You could try frying them up in the dorm kitchen but to be honest, it’s a laborious and messy job, which is why I brought you up mainly on box latkes (sorry!).
About the presents. I am taking advantage of the fact that you are grown and flown to return Hanukkah to its rightful place as a modest historical celebration that did not originally involve presents. As you know, we’ve been shifting our Hanukkah celebration for years now, away from gifts to you, and towards giving to those in need. We started this tradition when you were very young, and were able to get away with it in part because we have the privilege of being an interfaith family, and so you got a pile of gifts at Christmas. But also, we wanted you to understand that giving to those in need is appropriate for, well, any holiday.
This year, the world seems especially bleak in this, the darkest season (in the Northern hemisphere). I know you are worrying about climate change, terrorism, racial oppression, patriarchy, and, to be honest, finals. To combat this stress, your best tools will be cultivating a sense of gratitude, listening closely to others, and then attempting to make a difference in the world.
So, I have just returned from the Alternative Gift Fair, where I bought gifts for you, for six nights of Hanukkah. (You will also get a small box in the mail with a token tangible gift. I’m not trying to prove I’m a total Hanukkah Grinch here). Here is where I spent your Hanukkah gelt this year:
- Socks and underwear for 10 homeless people through Shepherd’s Table.
- A week of fresh vegetables from local farmers for one family through Crossroads Community Food Network.
- Four illustrated children’s books for DC children in transitional housing, through Share Literacy.
- A Leadership Workshop conducted by women of color for a DC girl of color, through SisterMentors.
- A week of camp for a child at one of our favorite spots, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.
- 40 school notebooks for girls at risk for child marriage and child trafficking in Nepal, through The Little Sisters Fund.
I trust, actually I know, that you will appreciate these gifts as much as any physical gift we could send you. We can’t wait for winter break, even if we don’t get to light Hanukkah candles with you this year. In the meantime, study hard, and remember that light in darkness, whether it is the light of Hanukkah or Christmas or Yule or Diwali, does lift spirits. Create that light. Be that light.
Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (forthcoming in 2019).