created at: 2012-12-06

Around this time every year, my Facebook page and Twitter feed are filled with posts by parents bemoaning and debating the December Dilemma—I’ve even written about it myself. Jewish parents wonder how to explain Christmas trees and Santa Claus to their curious children, and interfaith families struggle to create traditions that honor and respect both sides of the family.

Now that my daughters have realized that Chanukah presents come from stores, and that Mommy and Daddy can go to just such a store and buy that beloved American Girl Doll or Disney Princess Lego set, I’m facing an entirely different December Dilemma: how to balance my daughters’ desire for toys (and to be honest, my own joy in giving them) with my desire to model values such as simplicity, gratitude, and tzedakah.

My girls are young (just two and four), so we’re just starting to talk to them about tzedakah. My older daughter is still struggling to fully grasp the concept that there are families out there who won’t be getting gifts for Chanukah. I recognize that this is a testament to just how fortunate our family is, and it reinforces my desire to continue teaching my girls about our responsibility to each other.

It’s not easy, though. I don’t always have the right words, and it can be challenging to find ways to talk to my girls about this issue without scaring them. (One such conversation ended with my sensitive daughter in tears, worried that we might have to live in our car. Not one of my finer parenting moments.)

Often, concrete actions are more powerful and accessible than words, which is why I was thrilled to learn about CJP’s Project Dreidel. It’s simple and straightforward: you (and hopefully your child!) choose a gift to donate to a child in need, and CJP works with Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters to deliver it. My daughter, of course, wanted to get the doll for herself, but we talked about how lucky we are to have enough toys. We even spent some time in our play area, looking at the stuffed unicorns and books and puzzles and plastic cars and appreciating how many nice toys we already have. In the end, she quite liked the idea of helping another little girl get a new toy for Chanukah, though

The reality is that teaching tzedakah isn’t always easy. It can be inconvenient, yet another task to squeeze into a busy day. It certainly isn’t fun to be reminded that there are people in our own community who don’t have enough, and that we might not have fulfilled our own obligations to them. Yet, as the game of dreidel reminds us, you never know when you might win big, or lose it all. CJP’s Project Dreidel is a wonderful opportunity to support families in need while teaching our children important Jewish values along the way.


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