Some things about Chanukah never change. Children will be delighted by spinning dreidels, yummy chocolate gelt and the glow of menorah candles; Judaica shops will be brimming over with holiday staples.
If you haven’t begun browsing Bay Area Judaica shops or for children’s gifts (and if that’s the case, you’d better hurry — the Festival of Lights begins at sundown Dec. 8) — you’ll be pleased by the wide variety of offerings, particularly for kids who love do-it-yourself projects, puzzles and crafts with Jewish flavor. Also check out special events — such as the “Almost Chanukah Fair” on Sunday, Dec. 2 at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley — where you might find the perfect gift.
With OyToys’ make-it-yourself dreidel kit, kids can act out the song: “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay …” Each kit comes with clay, an easy-to-use mold, paints and a paintbrush ($8 at Alef Bet Judaica in Los Gatos ).
The Chanukah Menorah Puzzle by KidKraft, for ages 3 and up, is a colorful, 30-piece wooden puzzle with easily gripped pieces. The best part about this puzzle is that each flame and candle is separate, allowing kids to play with installing the candle and “lighting” the menorah ($18 at Dayenu in San Francisco).
A brightly colored Building Block Menorah ($30) offers countless design possibilities for budding architects, and can be found (along with other children’s gifts), in the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s Chanukah gift guide.
At Alef Bet, you can also pick up the new board book “Elmo’s Little Dreidel,” in which our favorite furry red friend (who knew he was Jewish?) learns all about Chanukah fun ($5.99). Curious George goes on a similar adventure — lighting the menorah, cooking latkes, spinning the dreidel and learning about mitzvot — in “Happy Hanukkah, Curious George” ($7.99 at Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley).
The preschool set can use Chanukah as an excuse to demonstrate their mastery of counting. “Sesame Street’s” “The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown” ($6.95 at Dayenu) charmingly explains the ritual of the shamash (ninth candle), and provides many rousing opportunities to count up to eight with Count von Count. “Hanukkah Countdown” is part of the Shalom Sesame series, an adaptation of PBS’ “Sesame Street” that is intended to introduce children to Israel and Judaism. “The Missing Menorah” episode from 2010 is available at Afikomen for $14.95. Kids will learn about the holiday, practice Hebrew words and sing along to Chanukah songs with help from the Muppets and their grown-up Israeli friends.
To encourage more Hebrew literacy, Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix by OyToys is suitable for ages 3-8 ($19.95 at Alef Bet). Players take turns arranging nine colorful wooden pieces on a play mat, and before you know it, your kids will know their bets from their vets and their tavs from their tets.
For your tween or preteen girl, “Hanukkah Nail Decals” are cute, shiny Chanukah symbols that miraculously stay on for eight days and nights ($11.99 at Alef Bet). The packaging itself is not to be missed for the kitschy images and punny tagline: “The miracle of Hanukkah is at hand!” The decals are the brainchild of New York Rabbi Yael Buechler, who has been painting her own nails with images from the weekly Torah portion and Jewish holidays since 1996, displaying each week’s creative expression on her blog, www.MidrashManicures.com.
Afikomen offers the ideal accessory to the manicure: Shains’ new Hebrew bracelet kit comes with two recycled plastic wrist bands with perforations into which kids can affix colorful Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols, crafting their own unique wearable messages b’ivrit ($12.50).
Parents often feel pressure to purchase gifts for each night of Chanukah, but why not make a new holiday tradition and prepare a different, delicious dessert for every night, packaged festively? All of the local Judaica shops offer decorations such as Star of David confetti, Chanukah-themed stickers and holiday napkins. Making culinary memories with family around the table might be a meaningful way to celebrate.
And to encourage your child to focus on Chanukah’s nonmaterial themes, a personalized tzedakah box provides a great opportunity to talk about giving back to the community. My First Tzedakah Box by KidKraft, available at www.moderntribe.com for $15.50, is crafted from wood with a natural finish and decorated with vibrantly painted Jewish symbols. It comes full of chocolate gelt, which must be eaten quickly to make room for donations.
With more fair-trade Chanukah items available in stores and online, this is a perfect time to weave in discussions on social justice. For youth of an appropriate age, gently raising the issue of child labor in West Africa — which has long been a part of the chocolate industry’s dark side — can be an eye-opening way for them to connect their consumer dollars to others’ quality of life.
Be sure to sweeten the discussion of fair wages and community development with some fair-trade gelt from Divine Chocolate ($3.50 a bag at Dayenu, Afikomen and Rodef Sholom), which may also help your child understand the mitzvah of tikkun olam, or repair of the world — and that’s a gift that will last a lifetime.
Where to shop
3042 Claremont Ave.
Alef Bet Judaica
14103D Winchester Blvd.
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St., S.F.
Dayenu JCC of San Francisco
3220 California St., S.F.
Miriam’s Well Oshman Family JCC
3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
Rodef Sholom Sisterhood Gift Shop at the JCC
170 N. San Pedro Road