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Holiday Mitzvahs Top Wish Lists, at Least for Parents

As the first decade of the new millennium approaches (writers are always looking for a hook), I can’t help but contemplate how the wish lists of my children reflect today’s warped generation. Sari, almost 11, wants a cell phone. I didn’t own one until I was engaged to be married. Jack, a freshman in high school, yearns for Dr. Dre headphones that cost more than my auto insurance deductable.

Parents are to blame for their children’s spoiled behavior, and I’m certainly no exception, especially when it comes to high-tech toys. To start with, we stick our youngsters in front of the computer way too young, while they’re still in diapers, and we practically give them a username and password by the time they get a social security card. No wonder today’s youth have a constant need for stimulation and immediate gratification. When a recent Wal-mart television commercial advertises how Nintendo DS promotes family bonding, the situation is obviously out of control.

My point is, Jewish parents face a challenge every holiday season to resist the urge to give into our children’s unreasonable demands for things they truly don’t need. Is it really necessary for my kids to have the latest and greatest electronic devices? Of course not. Do they need to hoard gift cards the same way my mother used to collect those lick-and-stick eagle stamp books that she traded in for $2.50 at Famous-Barr? I don’t think so.

It’s our job as parents to teach our children from an early age about the real meaning of Hanukkah, which is to rededicate ourselves to others in need. While enjoying all the festivities of Menorah lighting, latke eating, and present exchanges, it’s also important to at least include the idea of giving and not just receiving. The best way to involve your family in a holiday mitzvah is to check out any local synagogue or social service organization to find out how you can help make the holidays brighter for someone who is going through tough times.

Jewish elves are in demand everywhere, especially in December, whether you contribute to an adopt-a-family program at your temple or children’s school, sing holiday songs to residents at a senior living center, serve dinner at the St. Louis HavenHouse or Ronald McDonald House, donate toys and warm clothes to Salvation Army’s Family Haven, wrap gifts for the Children’s Home Society, deliver meals to homebound elderly, or use your unique skills to entertain or play an instrument with patients at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Specialty Hospital.

At Congregation Shaare Emeth, which is where I belong, members are encouraged to participate in a unique ongoing mitzvah experience called Room at the Inn, which is a day and evening shelter for families who have been displaced because of domestic abuse or financial issues. Once a month, my synagogue opens its doors and welcomes 10 people from a shelter to enjoy a break from their daily hardships and a safe place for them to lay their head at night. As the only Jewish congregation in St. Louis to offer this kind of hospitality headquarters, this special program encourages congregants of all ages to get involved in a variety of ways, whether they knit blankets for the guests, prepare a home-cooked meal for them, or provide transportation to and from the shelter.
For young volunteers, who witness how other families struggle through life in the “real world,” the lessons are invaluable.

“Room at the Inn has become a first hand way for young people to get involved as they help serve meals and interact with the children by playing games, reading to them, and making a craft together,” says Ronnie Brockman, program director at Congregation Shaare Emeth. “I am so moved when I see kids helping kids. They learn at an early age how to make a difference in our community as well as within our congregation.”

Another worthwhile way to stay active in the community this time of year is to donate canned goods and stock shelves at the Harvey Kornblum Food Pantry (HKFP), which serves hundreds of families in December. Also throughout this month the food bank in Creve Coeur is hosting Hanukkah Hugs, and volunteers are needed to sort, organize, and categorize incoming toy donations and pack them up for clients.

So even if your child doesn’t get an iTouch for Hanukkah, the holiday is still filled with joy, especially when we share our blessings with others.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.