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College Students Gobble Up Thanksgivukkah Care Packages


It doesn’t seem that long ago when my son Jack was in elementary school, and I used to put a Hershey’s Kiss in his sack lunch with a little note that said something like, “Have a fun day!” or “Good luck on your spelling test!” or “xxxooo.” That lasted about a week, until he finally said, no more embarrassing notes, just chocolate.

Fast forward, Jack is now in college. That’s about how quickly time flies, and I’m still looking for ways to surprise him now and then with more than a text message. I’ve discovered that college care packages are a creative way to reach out to my hard working, sleep-deprived student who, by the way, appreciates my cooking now more than ever  after surviving on cold pizza the last few months.

It didn’t take long to send his first college care package. Right after move-in day,  he realized he forgot his expensive graphing calculator at home, so I eagerly shipped the TI-89 with a crisp $20 bill, a bag of sour straws, and a photo of our toy poodle Luci. (The only family photo on display in his dorm room). At the start of the new school year, the post office was crowded with moms like me mailing brown paper wrapped boxes filled with stuff their teens left behind. It was actually very therapeutic to wait in line with complete strangers and exchange bittersweet stories about emptying our nests.

Then after fall break, I sent another care package even though he didn’t ask for one. The parcel contained a pair of jeans he left in the laundry basket (he probably didn’t want them anyway,) a purple necktie, a bag of Halloween candy, and a bunch of organic fruit leathers hidden inside a pile of plaid boxer shorts.  I couldn’t decide between a fancy ballpoint pen or a mechanical pencil, so I threw in both. I know, I’m waaaaay overthinking this.

Whether the occasion is a holiday, final exam week, or “just because,” many companies offer college care packages, but nothing says “home away from home” like your local temple. Since Hanukkah is early this year, the first night is on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, there’s no time to waste.



Fortunately, hometown synagogues and Jewish organizations make it easy for parents to help students feel connected to their families and their faith when they are adjusting to their new life and might be feeling a bit lonely.  Am I talking about the parents or the kids? Both.

For Hanukkah, Chabad sends a tin menorah and invites students to the campus facility to light their candles in a safe environment while socializing with friends.

“Care packages sent to students act as touchpoints that connect them to their community back home, nurturing their Jewish identities and spirits,” said Rabbi Hershey Novack, the  director of Chabad on Campus in the St. Louis area.

“The ultimate goal is to nurture a generation of knowledgeable and involved Jews, and parents, students, and Jewish campus organizations like Chabad, all can participate in this noble task.”

At Bnai Amoona, students get a mug with the temple logo, gelt, a dreidel, and a Starbucks gift card.

starbuck hanukkah

“The college years are often the time of greatest exposure to big ideas. It is precisely at this time that we want our young people to know that our profound wisdom tradition has so much to add to the conversation,” said Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose.  “A little gift serves as a sweet reminder of their shul and their tradition and that their rabbis and Jewish teachers remain available to help sort out even the thorniest or most complex of challenges,” said Rose, who also invites students to Skype if they want to chat about anything.

Temple Israel helps students get into the Hanukkah spirit with dreidels, gelt, a mini menorah, candles, decorations for their dorm rooms, and a letter from the rabbis.

“We try to send something meaningful and fun for every holiday. Even though many of our college students may become involved in Hillel and other Jewish groups on campus, there’s something really special about receiving a gift from home, and remembering that your rabbis and your community are still there for you even when you’re far away,” said Rabbi Amy Feder.

“We are in email and Facebook contact with many of these kids, and the packages are just one more way to remain close.  College is such a challenging time for young people to figure out who they are spiritually, and having open communication with the rabbis who have known them their entire lives can be a really helpful way to sort through everything they’re hearing,” she said.

At United Hebrew Congregation, holiday care packages range from matzah on Passover to honey at Rosh Hashanah to a Thanksgivukkah t-shirt for this unusually early festival of lights.

“We like to send a taste of the holidays to our 18-26 year olds whether in college, back at home, grad school or working. We also send a greeting from the clergy with some resources on how to stay connected to Judaism when away from their childhood home,” said Lee Rosenberg Director of Youth Engagement at United Hebrew Congregation.

“Young adults are separated from their Jewish home when they head out and it takes time to find a comfortable fit in a new congregation or to recreate a Jewish home as the head of their own household. We want to bridge that gap by providing means and resources to build their new Jewish community,” Rosenberg added.

At Congregation Shaare Emeth, the College Connection program has been a part of its outreach to college students for years.

“We invite each of our high school graduates to enroll by providing their email address and also their address wherever they are living.  Parents are also invited to enroll their students in the program for a small fee that entitles them to additional care packages at various times during the year, such as the High Holidays, Hanukkah, and Passover,” said Rabbi James Bennett. “We also send mid-year gifts, such as a winter tea mug and tea, or other items intended to remind our students that we at Shaare Emeth are thinking of them.”

Whether your temple sends a college care package or you assemble your own goodies, these gifts from home make students feel special. By the way, the temple usually covers the cost of these care packages or the fee is minimal.  So as you light the menurkey and gobble up sweet potato latkes with your loved ones, I hope you find many things to be thankful for this Thanksgivukkah, especially having your kids home.

And on the day after Turkey Day, remember to save room for Shabbat. On November 29, Congregation Shaare Emeth is hosting a College Reunion Shabbat during 6 p.m. Shabbat services, and students are invited to wear their college colors.