Eight nights of Hanukkah, eight ways to give back to the community

Eight nights of Hanukkah, eight ways to give back to the community


“When, in a settlement in the land that Adonai, your Creator, is giving you, any of your brothers is poor, do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother. Open your hand generously, and extend to him any credit he needs to take care of his wants.”

– Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Eight Nights to Give

Eight nights of Hanukkah does not necessarily mean eight nights of presents. Some families use this opportunity to teach their children about the importance of giving rather than getting this time of year. They also look for meaningful ways to celebrate. Some families have a theme for each night such as: family game night, movie and popcorn night, inviting friends over to share the holiday or giving tzedakah instead of gifts for an evening.

In fact, it is easy to find many examples throughout the St. Louis Jewish community of individuals, families, congregations, agencies and groups of friends who give of themselves with their time, their money and their acts of goodness. Many acts of kindness take place during Hanukkah and an equal number of them take place to assist the larger St. Louis community throughout the winter months. Here is just a small sampling of acts of tzedakah and gemilut hasidim our community is doing this Hanukkah.

One Night Our Students Raise Money for Tzedakah

Bais Yaacov students Devorah Abrams, Frieda Smason, Rochel Zakroff and Rina Zeffren are chairing an auction for a Hanukkah chesed project. Students bring in their own donations and faculty and staff often bring in items to join in the fun. Everyone enjoys bidding and the money raised will go to Kulanu Yachad in St. Louis.

One Night Our Community Reaches Out to Seniors

This is Sallie Wallis’s third year coordinating the volunteers from United Hebrew who celebrate Hanukkah with the residents of Brooking Park of Chesterfield. A different segment of the congregation such as: religious school, preschool, junior choir, families and individuals takes responsibility for each night of the holiday. They light the candles, say the blessings and visit with the residents. Sometimes they read books, sing songs or distribute goodie bags. Each group offers its own unique flavor, said Wallis. She brings her own children every year.

“After they participated the first year they asked me, ‘that was so great can we do it again next year,'” Wallis said. “When you give, the beautiful thing about it is, you get as well.”

One Night Our Community Adopts Families

United Hebrew and Temple Emanuel annually participate in Jewish Family & Children’s Service Adopt-A-Family program. Temple Emanuel’s religious school has been adopting a family for over ten years. Religious school families and the entire congregation donate cash and gift certificates to allow families in need to purchase the most appropriate gifts for their situation.

Linda Lewis has been coordinating the program at United Hebrew for a couple of years now. The religious school adopts eight families and the congregation adopts eight families. After receiving the information from JF &CS Lewis makes up lists identifying the needs of each family and family member. The lists are distributed throughout the congregation so members can sign up to take responsibility to bring specific items. Congregants put their purchases in oversize boxes labeled by numbers to identify each family.

“One Sunday the community action committee members wrap and sort the gifts to make sure every family’s needs are met,” Lewis said. “Every year it takes hours to sort. There is such a tremendous outpouring of generosity from our members.”

One Night Our Students Learn How to Give Tzedakah

The students at Saul Mirowitz Day School spend time learning about several organizations who need monetary donations through the school’s annual Chanukah Tamhui project. Teacher Cheryl Maayan coordinates the pro gram with assistance from a parent committee. Five organizations are highlighted each year. Each group makes a presentation to the entire school so students can learn how their money will benefit the organization. Students receive two tokens every day of Hanukkah while school is in session and choose which one or two organizations to give their tzedakah to for that particular day. Each token represents an equal portion of the tzedakah collected.

“The key for us is ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” assistant head of school Carol Rubin said. “It is our obligation to partner with God to make the world a better place.”

One Night Our Community Supports The Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry

On the first night of Chanukah Temple Israel families participate in a picnic dinner and the children’s service or intergenerational service. They enjoy lighting their Hanukkah menorahs as a community. While there isn’t any cost for the latke dinner, everyone brings items of food and toiletries to donate.

One Night Our Community Sets the Example

“Instead of each staff member purchasing a holiday gift for other staff, our leadership staff donates an equivalent amount of money to the Jewish Fund for Human Needs in their honor,” Temple Israel executive director Eli Montague said.

One Night Our Community Keeps People Warm in the Winter

Every winter there are individuals and families who remain cold throughout the winter months. Central Reform Congregation assists those in need with their annual Grace Hill weatherizing project. Members, friends and neighbors vinyl cover windows to help keep the chill outside and the warmth inside.

“It is like our Hanukkah gift to our neighbors,” coordinator Steve Kratchman said.

Our Night Our Community Gives Smiles

It is hard to miss the colorful Hanukkah Hugs boxes located in most of the congregations and at many agencies throughout the St. Louis Jewish community. This is the tenth annual year for the JF &CS toy drive. Last year the agency reported they distributed 2,500 gifts through the project.

From these few examples it is easy to see it would not be difficult to fill the nights of Hanukkah with something other than gift giving. Of course, while the holiday offers the “excuse” to give, the opportunity for giving is year-round.