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The Gift Of
By Suzanne Kurtz
799 or mor.
f the thought of spending too
much Chanukah gelt on lavish
gifts for friends and loved ones
seems a little dim this year, adding a
little tikkun olam to the presents can
give your Festival of Lights a memo-
The Religious Action Center of Reform
Judaism has assembled a Social Justice
Chanukah Gift Guide with gift-giving
ideas suitable for all the do-gooders on
your list. Buying fair trade products,
adopting a U.S. serviceman or service-
woman, donating blood or joining the
National Bone Marrow Registry are
just a few of the suggestions that can be
found easily on their website (rac.org/
giftguide/). There's an idea for each of
the eight nights of Chanukah.
The organization created the guide
two years ago, says Naomi Abelson, the
social action specialist at the Union for
Reform Judaism, "when we realized no
such resource existed" to help those
interested in giving gifts for Chanukah
with a social justice bent.
Some rabbis and synagogues go even
further in aiding their congregants with
non-commercial gift-giving ideas.
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Congregation Beth Israel in Austin,
Texas, has been hosting a Chanukah
Mitzvah Bazaar for the past 15 years,
says Rabbi Cookie Olshein, as an alter-
native to gift shopping for the holiday.
A philanthropic cause is chosen each
year — like hunger, aging, Israel or the
environment — and several charitable
organizations devoted to the cause are
invited to come to the bazaar and intro-
duce their work, services and mission
to the holiday shopping congregants.
The shoppers select an organization
that they would like to support, and
purchase a donation for friends and
loved ones in lieu of buying them an
actual present. A beautiful, personalized
card is included.
"Chanukah isn't Yom Kippur; it isn't
a major holiday' Olshein says. "It is
a celebration of Jewish identity, and
small acts can make a big change in the
And unlike Purim, says Rabbi Sari
Laufer of Congregation Rodeph Shalom
in New York, there is no religious com-
mandment instructing us to give gifts
For families who want to bring a
social action spirit to their holiday cel-
ebration, Laufer encourages parents to
have their children pick out a toy for a
child in need instead of receiving one
themselves or volunteering as a family
at a soup kitchen one night instead of
making lathes at home.
Since gift giving is probably not what
the Maccabees had in mind for cel-
ebrating the Chanukah miracle, Rabbi
Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in
Franklin Lakes, N.J., says the home-
based aspect of the holiday lends itself
to an ideal opportunity for families to
also reinforce traditional values like
learning, humility and acts of loving
During the lighting of the menorah,
Frishman encourages families to take
the time and ask questions: Who are
these candles for? What matters to us
as a family? Who might we think of
If children in need of books come
to mind, Reading Village, a nonprofit
organization that promotes literacy in
impoverished villages in Guatemala,
has created a family discussion guide
geared to Chanukah.
With its Light Up Literacy program,
children are encouraged to forgo a toy
on the seventh night and instead give
tzedakah to Reading Village. Guided
learning material for having a discus-
sion about the importance of books
and literacy are also part of the pro-
gram, along with a special blessing to
be recited over the Chanukah candles.
The program, says Linda Smith,
founder of Reading Village, not only
"helps to lessen the consumerism
angle" of Chanukah but also creates a
shared bond between Jewish families
and the families in Guatemala, since
candle-lighting rituals are also sym-
bolic in Mayan culture.