Coming Together for Hanukkah: A Conversation with Ronit Ziv-Kreger


On Hanukkah, we light the menorah using the shamash candle. Serving as the helper, the shamash candle uses one flame to ignite the rest. Like the Jewish people, each Hanukkah candle shines individually while also adding to the menorah’s beautiful glow. In this interview, JWRP Director of Education, Ronit Ziv-Kreger, shares ideas families can use to make Hanukkah meaningful and how its traditions can bring families and communities together.

How can we find relevance in the Hanukkah miracle as parents?

As mothers, we each have tricky moments when we may wonder whether we’re good enough. We compare ourselves to others and ask ourselves whether we’re raising our children and imparting our values effectively. The story of Hanukkah sheds new light on what it means to be good enough. The Jewish people found only one small flask of oil, and they could have rightly said it’s not enough to light the menorah. Nonetheless, they went ahead, making light with what they had. Miraculously, the flames burned for eight days. Like the burning candles, each of us carries a light within us. When we believe in our light, we can illuminate the darkness and help our children grow in remarkable ways.

How can we find relevance in the Hanukkah story as parents?

The Hanukkah story isn’t only about the miracle of the flask of oil being enough. It’s not only about how miracles happen. It’s also about how miracles are proactively created. The Hanukkah story is about a parent, Mattathias, who stood up to the dominant culture. It’s a story about a parent who took a stance for Jewish values and engaged his children, the Maccabees, in fighting for what’s right. As parents, might we too consider where in the current culture we can take a stance to right a wrong? How might we engage our children in making miracles happen in their circle of influence?

How can we find meaning in lighting the menorah?

During the time of the Hanukkah story, the Jewish people lit all of the menorah’s candles, each and every night. Today, why do we light the candles cumulatively instead — one candle on the first night, two candles on the second night, and so on? I believe that lighting more candles each night, gradually increasing their glow, invites us to consider what else we’d like to increase in our lives. Which causes do we want to embrace? Which values do we want to devote more attention to? Which relationships do we want to spend more time on? Which parts of our lives do we want to enrich? On Hanukkah, as we light the candles in my own family, we ask ourselves these questions. When we discussed this, my son reflected that creating a new habit is a process that builds on repetition, strengthening from day to day. What habit could bring more light to you or to those around you?

What are some ways that we can celebrate Hanukkah as a community?

Before the Maccabees revolted against the Syrian Greeks, it would have been much easier for them to say, “We’re the weak and we’re the few. It will be impossible for us to overcome the oppression, so there’s no point in trying.” Instead, the Maccabees imagined a reality in which they resisted the Syrian Greeks, brought the Jewish people together, and rededicated the Holy Temple. They dreamt big and they made their dreams come true. Hanukkah is the perfect time to come together as a community and to share your dreams. Ask yourselves, if you could enter a time machine and exit five years later, what do you imagine your community would look like? Listen to each other’s dreams. Pinpoint those that you share and use them as inspiration to create a vision for your communal future. Then, dedicate yourself — as a team — to making that dream become your community’s reality.

How can we make Hanukkah memorable for our children?

Each year, before or during Hanukkah our family envisions how we’ll make the holiday special. This year my daughter suggested we do art together each evening while the candles are lit. We’ve enjoyed creating music together and collaging. Such activities invite us to dream, be creative and step out of our regular weekday routines.  We loved this idea even before realizing how well it fits with our sages’ teaching that the word Hanukkah is derived from a Hebrew pun on the words “they rested on the 25th [day of the month of Kislev].” Other years we’ve hosted game nights, singing parties, put on puppet shows or created and delivered gifts. Our process starts with brainstorming ideas that align with the spirit of the holiday and bring joy to dark nights. What are holiday memories you have from past years? What might be a way of engaging your family in Hanukkah themes this year? How might you help your children take leadership in making the holiday memorable? 

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