By Emily Rosenbaum for Raising Kvell
I said at dinner. “You know how every year on the first night of
Hanukkah, we send gifts to kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation instead of
getting gifts ourselves?”
Their mouths were filled with beans
and their hands with burritos, but there was nodding and grunting. I
pressed on, taking advantage of their momentary inability to object.
“Well, I was thinking this year–since we have everything we need and
some of the things we want–instead of doing eight nights of gifts, we
could do eight nights of tikkun olam.”
“Yeah!” 7-year-old Benjamin exclaimed through a not-quite-finished mouthful.
“Do you know what tikkun olam means?” I asked.
“Yes. It’s ‘healing the world.’”
“Like in the Rebecca books!” That was his 5-year-old sister. It’s all about the American Girl books with Lilah.
was going better than I expected. We tossed around some ideas, like
donating a Thanksgiving dinner or visiting a retirement home.
Nine-year-old Zachary, however, was uncharacteristically quiet.
idea had been inspired by bumper stickers that are popular in my Boston
suburb. “Do you tikkun olam?” I pull up at stoplights behind these
stickers at least three times a week. My reaction is always pretty much
I give to charity. I hold the
door open for people and use canvas bags and compost. However, it
doesn’t feel like enough. The vast majority of my days are spent living
my life while feeling confident that tomorrow my kids will have access
to fresh fruit and dental care.
More importantly, I’m doing a
mediocre job teaching my kids to heal the world. We did the Walk for
Hunger last year. They put a portion of their allowance aside to give to
charity, and once they held a lemonade stand to help fund a homeless
man’s move into an apartment. But, for the most part, the kids don’t
know about our donations to Oxfam and Save the Children.
why my husband and I decided to ask our children to sacrifice a little
to help others. Well, a little from an adult perspective. It looms
pretty large from a child’s point of view.
We’re getting into
that time of year during which our society seems based almost
exclusively around the consumption of vast quantities of plastic toys
and electronic items. Children go to school and talk about their gifts,
which we tell them not to do but we all know they do anyway. This is
when the lights get twinkly and the malls get nasty.
I love the
happiness and peace Christmas brings some of my Christian friends. I
have friends for whom Advent is a time of spiritual reflection and
others who see distant relatives or reconnect with their loved ones.
It’s a beautiful, meaningful holiday for many people. However–and I know
I’m not alone in saying this–the frantic push to buy, buy, buy with
ever-increasing urgency makes me want to curl up in a ball in the back
of my closet and sing Maoz Tzur until January.
Buying my children
lots of crap during this time of year feels like I’m subscribing to the
happy-holidays-really-means-buy-Christmas-gifts school of thought. So,
we asked our children to say “no” to stuff and “yes” to tikkun olam.
that first dinner conversation, my younger two were enthusiastic about
the idea. Zachary, however, still seemed to be mulling it over.
he spoke up. “We could donate books!” It had taken him a few minutes to
respond because he had been thinking about what he would hope for if he
had only some of what he needs and very little of what he wants.
They’re in–all of them. Eight days of tikkun olam instead of eight days of presents.
week later, I was brushing Lilah’s hair after her bath and she mused
quietly to herself, “We’re not getting anything for ourselves for
Hanukkah. We’re getting things for other people.”
“That’s right, baby.”
She looked up at me. “We’re going to heal the world a little bit.”
“Yes, yes we are.”
Her eyes widened into a smile. “We could go to a soup kitchen and bring bread. Like in the Kit books!”