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Hanukkah and Economic Justice: Re-Examining the Holiday Shopping Season

Hanukkah and Economic Justice

Hanukkah has traditionally been a time of giving gifts and/or gelt to children. In Eastern Europe, teachers would let the children out of school early to enjoy their small bit of pocket money and have some time off during the holiday. This tradition of gift giving and receiving has magnified over the years. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for families to give ever larger presents each night of the holiday.

This emphasis on lavish gifts is a product of our interaction with modern North American culture, a culture in which the “Holiday Shopping Season” has grown longer each year. As our ancestors wrestled with the extent to which they should allow Greek culture to influence their lives, North American Jews wrestle with the extent to which we should allow secular culture to influence our lives. This culture of commercialism undermines the true meaning of our celebration. Even many Christian leaders bemoan the loss of a meaningful Christmas that gets overshadowed by an emphasis on gifts.

Hanukkah can be a time to reexamine what we consider to be a gift and how we go about giving and receiving gifts. Many of those in our congregations are blessed with enough to eat, a warm roof over their heads, an opportunity for education and sufficient clothing. If we look around, we see that these are truly great gifts:

  • In 2014, 46.7 million Americans lived below the poverty line.
  • 48.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households in 2014.
  • 925 million people worldwide are hungry.
  • 7.9  million Americans are currently unemployed.
  • One in twenty American Jewish families live below the poverty line.

This Hanukkah, and throughout the year, we can use our riches to ensure the wellbeing of all of God’s children. We can become excited not only about the great gifts we’ll receive, but also about the ways we can use our blessings and our gifts – by making monetary donations, material donations, volunteering, and participating in advocacy– to ensure the well-being of all of our brothers and sisters.