Every year we do the same thing for Hanukkah — light the candles, make a few latkes. I know there are probably a lot of books that have information and, I am sure, some Web sites, too, but I do not have the time to start doing research. If there were some ideas of what we could do that would shake things up a bit and get us all excited and they were quick, easy, and accessible — that would be great, thank you.
Here’s something new for every night, C-L-I-P and S-A-V-E !
1. Study Together: Use this short paragraph from the Talmud Shabbat 21b about Hanukkah. Read it together:
What is Hanukkah? Our rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah which are eight, on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the high priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and the lit therewith for eight days.
And then use these talking points for discussion:
What is the reason given here for Hanukkah? How does it compare to other reasons that you have heard? What is a miracle? Has anyone in your family experienced a miracle? How did they know it was a miracle?
2. Bedikat Tzedakah Night: Right after candle lighting, go from room to room as on the night before Passover. Instead of searching for chametz, search for loose coins. Look in bureaus, inside pockets, and under couch pillows. Check those kitchen drawers, too. Open up all your tzedakah boxes! Count the change and add it all up, then have a family meeting about where you want to send this tzedakah. Write the check and send it off!
3. Write a Family Poem: Take out a piece of paper. Tell your family or friends to think of one sentence or phrase about Hanukkah — what they love most, a memory, a scene from their childhood, a feeling — it could be serious, or funny, or both. One person starts, he writes his line down, and then folds the paper over that one line he has just written. Then pass it to the next person who writes hers down, and so on. When this is complete, unravel the paper and read the poem aloud. You might hang it up for the rest of the holiday and even save it and read it next year. Put it away with your other Hanukkah paraphernalia. It could become a yearly tradition to read the old one and write the new!
4. Try a New Latke Recipe: Sweet potato, zucchini, cheese. Though our favorite is the standard, when we get energetic, we add a few steps to the core recipe that does, surprisingly, make a notable difference. Rinse the stringy, grated potatoes, add scallions instead of onions to the egg mixture, and poof! They’re just a little bit different.
5. Invite Over a Family You Have Never Hosted: Someone from the neighborhood, synagogue or one of your children’s classmates. What a warm way to reach out and create new connections!
6. Consider the Story of Judith: Here is one short paragraph about this unsung Hanukkah heroine from my blog:
The reconstruction of this episode may never be completely satisfying, but what does emerge is a tale of heroism and sacrifice. It is unclear whether it is Judith the widow who goes forth willingly or Judith the bride who is taken by force but, once alone with the Greek general, she feeds him wine and cheese. She waits for the soporific meal to take its effect, cuts off his head, places it in her basket and ever-so-nonchalantly returns to the Judean camp. Officers, troops and soldiers of the Greek camp are left in leaderless disarray and a breach enabling the smaller Judean army to triumph. And thus the miracle was truly executed by a woman.
Check out more of the details about Judith and how this narrative became part of Hanukkah practice at
You could designate one night of Hanukkah as Judith night. Tell her story, have guests come dressed up as different characters from the tale, play Judith Charades. There are great scenes crying out for depiction! Have a conversation; what do you think about the Judith legend? Is it truly connected to Hanukkah?
7. Take This Evening to Think About Gevurah — Strength: What is true strength? The Maccabees displayed physical strength, but also spiritual might. What were other times in our history that we as a people displayed strength? Are there different kinds of strength? Share this short story from Aish.com and discuss:
The pious Jewish inmates in Bergen-Belsen were determined to kindle Hanukkah lights and chant the appropriate Hebrew blessings. They were abject slaves, temporarily permitted to live and toil until their strength gave out. Death lurked on all sides. Even if they could manage to avoid detection by their taskmasters, they lacked the essential materials: Hanukkah candles and a Menorah.
Yet a seemingly impossible celebration came about on the first night of Hanukkah 1943 in Bergen-Belsen. One of 11 fortunate survivors, Rabbi Israel Shapiro, better known among his Chassidim as the Bluzhever Rebbe, was the central figure of that macabre Hanukkah celebration.
Living in the shadow of death and not knowing when their own turn would come, the Jewish inmates were determined to celebrate Hanukkah in the traditional manner and draw whatever spiritual strength they could from the story of the Maccabees. From their meager food portions, the men saved up some bits of fat. The women, for their part, pulled threads from their tattered garments and twisted them into a makeshift wick. For want of a real menorah, a candle-holder was fashioned out of raw potato.
8. Finally, have some fun taking an icon from another holiday and plug in Hanukkah! What would a Hanukkah Megillah look like? The Ten Commandments of Hanukkah? Here’s what I came up with: Introducing the Four Questions of Hanukkah! Feel free to read aloud with gusto and humor — the corny kind!
Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights of the year we flick on switches to light our homes or perhaps we light Shabbat candles. But on this night of Hanukkah, we light the menorah; adding one candle for each night until we’ve lit all eight.
On all other nights of the year we play many kinds of games; Gameboy, game boards, Wii. But, on this night of Hanukkah we spin only the dreidel.
On all other nights we eat potatoes in a variety of ways: French fries, mashed, or in maybe in a kugel! But, on this night of Hanukkah we search out the grater or possibly the Cuisinart, pull out the frying pan, and get cooking!
On all other nights of the year we listen to our iPods, iPhones and MP3s. But, on this night of Hanukkah we stand around the menorah and sing with our own voices! “Maoz Tzur,” “Mi Yimalel,” and of course do not forget the local favorite — “I Have a Little Dreidel!”
Enjoy and Happy Hanukkah!