Hanukkah: Economic Justice: Program Ideas

Program Ideas on Economic Justice

Ner Shel Tzedakah 

Ner Shel Tzedakah (“Candle of Righteousness”) is a project in which families and individuals devote the 6th night of Hanukkah to learning about the problem of poverty. They donate the value of the gifts (or the gifts themselves) that they would otherwise exchange on that night to organizations that assist the poor. By making donations on the sixth night of Hanukkah, individuals will help the candle of righteousness glow brightly for those in need. More information.

There are many ways to incorporate Ner Shel Tzedakah into your Hanukkah practice. The following ideas can help you get started:

Donate Your ‘Gelt’

On the sixth night of Hanukkah, gather as a family to discuss ways to donate the value of your Hanukkah presents. In particular, in lieu of giving Hanukkah gifts, you might think about making donations in honor of your friends and family to help poor families keep the heat on during the cold winter months.

Light One Candle

Congregants at Congregation Shir Tikvah, of Troy, MI, provide Hanukkah gifts to less fortunate children, seniors and homeless adults in their community in a very personal way. Participants pick one or more candles from a large cardboard menorah, each listing the gender and age of one recipient. (Other congregations, such as Temple Shalom of Louisville, KY, place these cards on top of an actual chanukiyah). They then purchase a gift for the selected person. The gifts are then collected and delivered.

Winter Warm-Up Clothing Drive

Have a collection box in which congregants can place new or lightly worn hats, gloves, coats, boots and scarves. These can then be collected and donated to a local shelter. As one aspect of your Hanukkah celebration, this project can remind the community to engage in social action during the holiday.

Winter Warm-Up Knitting and Crocheting Drive

In December 2004, students at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion made and collected over 100 hand-knit and crochet hats as gifts for the guests at their in-house Soup Kitchen. A similar program could involve teenagers, seniors, the Sisterhood or anyone who loves crafts.

Religious School Gift Drive

Port Jewish Center, in Port Washington, New York sponsors a gift drive through the religious school. Noting that we each will be receiving presents, children are taught about our responsibility to share with those who might not be receiving presents. Each class is responsible for bringing in an item such as candies, lotions, magazines, sweaters, stuffed animals and other small items, which are collected into gift bags. A local bookstore donates plain brown bags, which are decorated by the K-1 class. Half of the bags are delivered to a nursing home by the fourth grade class, which studies life cycle. The class also sings some Hanukkah songs with the residents. The other bags are donated to a local AIDS program.

Mitzvah Mall

Invite poverty-related organizations to set up tables at a religious school Mitzvah Mall. During religious school, students visit the Mall, learn about the organizations and allocate their tzedakah money (as individuals or as a class). This activity could also be done with adults, or as a community-wide project. Contributions can be made in honor or in memory of friends and family and given as Chanukah gifts on the sixth night. At some Mitzvah Malls participants receive Hanukkah cards to give to family and friends in exchange for their donations.

Tzedakah Gift Shop

Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ runs a Tzedakah Gift Shop in conjunction with the Sisterhood Chanukah gift shop. A display of eight colorful tubes (set up to look like candles), each of which bears the name of a charity or project, is placed in the lobby. In front of each candle is a stack of colorful description cards describing the work of the particular organization. As people shop for their Hanukkah presents, they can donate money in these candle-shaped tzedakah boxes, and they are encouraged to use these donations in lieu of gifts (hence the colorful description cards). The Tzedakah Gift Shop remains in the synagogue lobby throughout Hanukkah (with regular removals of cash).

Judaica for World Jewry

Collect new Judaica items to send to the World Union for Progressive Judaism to donate to developing progressive Jewish congregations around the world. Contact the WUPJ at (212) 452-6530 to find out which items are most in demand.

Make a Mitzvah Catalog

The youth group, confirmation class, social action committee or other synagogue group could compile a catalog of a variety of tzedakah organizations that need funding, donations or volunteers. This catalog could then be distributed to temple members, who could use it to find donations for family and friends.

Kindle the Light of Social Justice as You Kindle the Lights of Hanukkah

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, encourages us to meditate upon eight social justice concepts during the eight nights of Hanukkah. Its website explains:

Jews are linked to the Maccabees not just through common bloodlines, but through common purpose. While they found the courage to stand their ground and speak their minds, we continue to raise our voices against injustice. And while they discovered in oil a miracle of hope, we strive to bring this miracle to people who are most in need. Millions of Americans – each of them Maccabees, each of them struggling for their future – go hungry every day. With your help, food will be their oil, their fuel and faith on the path to a brighter tomorrow.

Visit MAZON’s holiday website to download (as a PDF) these meditations that you can use during a home, school or synagogue Hanukkah celebration.

Make Our Tzedakah Grow

Congregation Or Ami, of Calabasas, CA, initiated this program to “transform Hanukkah from a holiday of getting presents into a festival of giving tzedakah.” At the community Chanukah service, the rabbi hands $100 to 4-6 randomly chosen congregants and challenges them to use this money as a vehicle for tikkun olam. They are not allowed to donate the money back to the synagogue, and they are asked to let the congregation know how the money was spent.