Once upon a time in a country far, far away (but somehow very like here) there lived a family named Rosengolden with six children, two parents, a cat named Kitty, a dog named Rover, a parakeet named Tweety and an iguana named Slimy. The six children were named Judah, Judith, Reuben, Ruth, Herschel and Hannah. The parents were named Mordecai and Malka.
Now, as you may have guessed, this was a Jewish family. They belonged to a synagogue, the children went to Religious School, and the pets didn't. They lit Shabbat candles on Friday night at sundown, sometimes they came to services, and they always celebrated Hanukkah.
One year, a year very like this one, Hanukkah rolled around and the Rosengolden family decided that they wanted to do something a little different for the holiday. Mordecai and Malka (the parents) were starting to think that getting six children eight gifts was a little crazy, especially since each child wanted eight new computer games, and at $50.00 each that added up to a lot of money! The children were tired of getting t-shirts with the wrong designs on them, since Malka and Mordecai didn't know that Michael Jackson wasn't cool anymore. So they called a family meeting.
“We think Hanukkah should be different this year,” the parents said. “Somehow we've become so caught up in getting you all these gifts that it just doesn't seem right to us…. What do you kids think?”
Judah, being the oldest child, started the discussion. He said that he was willing to give up wrapped gifts for straight cash. “The way I figure it, folks, 50 bucks a night adds up to $400.00 -and I'll even take a check!”... Judith, the next in line, was a little upset, since she really liked surprises. “How about a gift every other night, and money for the other four nights?” Malka and Mordecai didn't say anything. Reuben and Ruth (they were twins) spoke as one, “We think it would be easiest to just drop us at the mall with a credit card... then we'll give you the receipts-so you won't have any work to do.” Herschel didn't say much because he had his Walkman on and couldn't hear what they were talking about. Hannah, the youngest, noticed that Mordecai and Malka didn’t look too happy. “What's wrong? You said you wanted to do something different this year... these are all really good ideas-and they're all different!”
Malka looked around the room. Her six beautiful children were all in front of her. Mordecai sat beside her. Rover was curled up at her feet, Kitty was lying in front of the fire, Tweety and Slimy were resting in their cages... everything should be perfect-but instead it was terribly wrong. They had blown it . Her family no longer knew why they celebrated the festival of Hanukkah.
“Hanukkah has nothing to do with presents”, Malka said.
“What? Are you talking about eating latkes and playing dreidel, Mom?” Ruth asked.
“No, I mean the reason we celebrate the holiday, why we think the 25th of Kislev is an important date,” Malka responded.
Reuben rolled his eyes, “Oh, we're going to hear the same old story about Judah the Hammer and the great miracle...”
Mordecai jumped in at this point, “You kids don't have any idea what it's like to fight for something-to believe in something so much that you risk your life for it... you live in a nice house in a nice town where everyone lets you do what you want... so the story of the Maccabees-of the fight for religious freedom-doesn't mean much to you. We need to make it mean something. I'm not talking miracles here... I'm talking meaning. Hanukkah means dedication. There will be no presents this year until we figure out a way to dedicate ourselves to the meaning of the holiday!”
At this point, with the threat of no presents, the kids got serious. They decided that each family member would be responsible for dedicating one of the nights of Hanukkah. They would find a way to really light up each night with meaning. They also agreed that there would be no presents until all the candles of the Hanukiah were lit... so each night would have a light of dedication to build up until the eighth night - and eighth light.
This is what they did:
The First Night
Judah dedicated his night to the light of Courage. He thought about the Maccabees and how they stood up for what they believed in and talked about how that still goes on today. He told his family that he was going to put right and wrong ahead of being cool... that he would do his best to remember the lesson of doing the right thing even if it was a risk.
The Second Night
Judith took Gratitude as her dedication theme. She talked about being grateful to those who came before her-who fought to make this country free-who left loved ones behind to create a new nation where we could celebrate Hanukkah without risk. She promised never again to take her freedom for granted.
The Third Night
Reuben decided that the light of Tzedakah would be his way to dedicate the night. He said that whatever gifts he got this year, part of them would go to children less fortunate than he. He realized that he was truly blessed and not everyone was.
The Fourth Night
Ruth dedicated herself to the light of Knowledge. She promised to read eight Jewish books in the year ahead so that she would never forget the real meaning of being Jewish.
The Fifth Night
Herschel picked dedication to Service for his light. He said that he always liked the idea of being God's partner in the world, and after thinking about it for a long time, realized that God wanted him to act-to help the world-and so Herschel promised to spend time each month doing volunteer work.
The Sixth Night
Hannah chose a hard theme. Hannah decided that she needed the light of Understanding. She needed to think about what it meant to be a good person. She remembered her teacher telling her that if we could find the quiet space within ourselves, we could understand how to find the good within ourselves as well. Hannah chose to turn off the TV, the stereo, and all the other noise in her life for one day a week, and dedicate herself to listening for the quiet voice within.
The Seventh Night
Mordecai chose the light of Love. On the seventh night he looked at all his family and told them each what he loved about them. He got on the phone and called his friends and told them too. He said he knew how easy it was to take each other for granted and he dedicated himself to never doing that again.
The Eighth Night
With the eight candles burning, Malka celebrated the light of Hope. With her request to her family she had hoped to make a difference-and her hope was fulfilled. She promised to remember like the Maccabees that, even when it seems impossible, with hope and dedication the doors will open-we can make a difference-make the world a better place.
And then, the Rosengolden family, each aware that a great miracle had happened there, hugged each other, wished each other a Hag Sameach... and then remembered to open their gifts.