Magazine article Tikkun

From Gelt to Tzedakah

Magazine article Tikkun

From Gelt to Tzedakah

Article excerpt

For a festival consigned by the talmudic rabbis to "minor holiday" status, Chanukah has asserted itself over the past generation as a hugely popular folk holiday.

Among contemporary American Jews, menorah-lighting at Chanukah is second only to the Passover seder in popularity (77 percent of Jewish households and 59 percent of intermarrieds light candles; the figures for seders are 86 percent and 68 percent respectively, according to a major Jewish population survey, the 1990 Council of Jewish Federations study).

There are two obvious reasons for this success. First, Chanukah's largely secular/historical nature spares many Jews the struggle with doubt and ambivalence that they feel during most religious holidays. Second, the gift-giving, dreidl-playing, "child-friendly" atmosphere of Chanukah puts it on a par with its competitive twin, Christmas, as a ,season to be jolly." For Christians at Christmas, however, jollity is ideally a channel to generosity-the redemptive kind shown by Jesus to nearly all comers. By contrast, Chanukah speaks of national redemption through ferocious military struggle. What is there in this tradition to turn jollity into generosity-particularly towards the non-Jewish world?

We suggest that the custom of giving Chanukah Belt, small gifts of money, be transformed into a major Torah of Money effort during this Festival of Rededication. Each night, a different Chanukah theme can be explored for the purpose of guiding a tzedakah decision. By combining endof-the-tax-year charitable giving with Chanukah themes, families can be true to the rabbinic tradition (which emphasizes both Torah study and tzedakah during this season) and greatly heighten the tikkun olam element of their observance. For example:

1. Chanukah coincides with the darkest nights of the year and has roots in ancient winter solstice festivals. Devote a discussion to Judaism and ecological issues-and give tzedakah to an environmental group.

2. Chanukah embodies its symbolism through foods, especially fried potatoes (Ashkenazic) and fried dough (Sephardic) to represent the "miracle of oil" at the rededication of the Temple. Talk about the symbolism of food brands and the realities of food budgets. What does it mean to try to feed a family for 63 cents per person per meal (estimate for a family of four living at the federal poverty level of $15,100)? Give tzedakah to a hunger relief project. …

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