The Meaning of Chanukah—by Jamie Levine
I am Jewish, but I don’t come from a very religious family; I never went to Hebrew School, wasn’t Bat Mizvahed, and have never really cared if the man I ultimately wind up with is Jewish or not. But since I’m a single mom, and my daughter is 100% Jewish, ever since Jayda’s birth, I’ve been determined to integrate Judaism into her life in some capacity so Jayda will be able to understand where she comes from, and who she really is.
In September, Jayda began attending “Torah for Tots,” a Sunday School for 3-4 year olds at our local temple; she loves it. The kids learn about Jewish traditions and holidays, create adorable arts and crafts, sing songs, and—Jayda’s favorite—enjoy a snack of challah bread and cookies. I never press Jayda for details about what she’s learned at Torah for Tots, but it’s amazing how much information about Judaism she’s soaked up already. The other day, while Jayda was playing with some decorative-shaped stickers, she found one that was paisley-shaped, and told me it was a “shofar.” And on a few occasions when Jayda’s been having a tea party with her dolls and doesn’t think I’m listening, I’ve heard her softly recite the Hebrew blessing over bread (which the kids in her class say before they eat their challah every week). Then, last weekend, when we were at a venue for a birthday party where a man dressed like Santa Claus was handiing out Christmas stockings at the exit, Jayda took one at his urging, but explained, “We don’t celebrate Christmas; we celebrate Chanukah.” I was very impressed.
This past week, Jayda anticipated the start of Chanukah with much excitement. On the first night, she happily helped me light the menorah and then raced to open her present; it was a new baby doll and she was thrilled. On the second night, Jayda was just as pleased with her gift of a bouncy seat for her baby. On the third night, Jayda raced into the house after school and begged me to “do Chanukah…now!” At first I was annoyed by how focused Jayda was on getting her gift; but then I reminded myself that I was like that when I was a kid—all kids are—and decided to indulge her. It was a bit early but the sun was starting to go down, so we lit the menorah and Jayda tore into her present. She didn’t like it. Her face crumbled and she literally dropped to the floor. And then the tantrum began: “I don’t like this. I don’t want this. I want another present!” Jayda screamed and pounded her fists and denounced her gift over and over and over again. And she pleaded for a new one. She was inconsolable. My parents, who were watching, stood dumbstruck. My niece walked away, disgusted. And I scooped up my screaming child and brought her upstairs to talk to her and attempt to calm her down. For twenty minutes, Jayda tantrumed, and I tried to explain that it was all right if she was disappointed in her gift, but that her outburst was not ok and, because of it, she most certainly would not be getting another present that night. It took a long time, but eventually Jayda’s tears and screams stopped—though she continued to plead for a new gift. I refused to relent and we went back downstairs, and in a short time, Jayda reverted to her usual pleasant, loving behavior. But for me, that tantrum was far from forgotten.
I know I can’t expect a 3-½ year old to understand the true meaning of Chanukah, or even to be grateful for all the wonderful things she has, but I’m still disappointed in Jayda. Is it my fault for indulging her with wonderful gifts? I honestly didn’t spend a ton of money on Jayda’s Chanukah presents, but perhaps I should have set the bar even lower? For instance, I have friends who shop at the Dollar Store for most of their eight gifts, and right now, that idea seems rather appealing. Then again, Chanukah—like Christmas—has become such a commercialized, high-expectations holiday, so maybe I’m not really the one who’s to blame. Who knows? Regardless, this incident left a sour taste in my mouth. Chanukah, like all of the Jewish holidays, is about tradition for me—and it’s still early enough in Jayda’s life to begin new ones for her. My mother suggested that, to avoid any disappointment in the future, I should ask Jayda to make a list of all the things she wants for Chanukah. That’s not a bad idea, but I think the key here instead, is teaching her how to handle her disappointment more gracefully—and to better appreciate what she has. Both are tough lessons to learn, but I’m working on it…and trying to continue to celebrate the joys of Chanukah (and yes, a few more gifts!), along the way.
Happy Holidays, everyone.