With the chocolate money festival (Hanukkah) upon us, it is time to reminisce about growing up in northern Jew Jersey. Back in the 70’s Hanukkah was a burgeoning holiday for jealous Jewish children begging their parents for presents. My father reiterated time and again how Hanukkah was not traditionally a gift giving holiday and the rise in commercialism was merely a competition against Christmas in which our family would not participate. I took that to mean he was cheap.
One night when I was in fourth grade, my father mumbled a prayer in what I believed to be fake Hebrew over the electric menorah in our kitchen. He then handed me a small wrapped present. My nagging and crying about being a deprived Jewish child had paid off! My first Rubix cube was a testament to my relentless badgering and hopefully a sign I could guilt my father into buying me stuff. I was wrong. After handing me the gift he said, “Don’t expect 7 more.” Lest you feel sorry for me, I will accept your sympathy. At school, I had to hear the kids brag about getting a cool gift all eight nights. Even the Maccabees, who had to clean out an entire temple, had a better experience than I.
I now have a daughter who has grown up in full blown Hanukkah = Christmas mentality when it comes to getting presents. Now that I am a parent and realize having a child is a bottomless pit of debt and unexpected urgent care bills, I empathize more with my father. I was hoping living in Colorado where you actually have to look for Jews, there wouldn’t be as much pressure to dole out my cash during the holiday season. Again, I was wrong.
During my leaner single years I conjured up my Jewish resourcefulness and found a way to get her an acceptable amount of Hanukkah gifts -the free Santa workshop at a Lutheran church. While I preserve my father’s tradition of twisting on the electric menorah candles in the kitchen, I put an end to his practice of robbing a Jewish child of her Christmas gifts.