• ECE-RJ posted an article
    We have been hearing and talking about the December Dilemma for many, many years. see more

    The December Dilemma


    Everything we say and do is a message to ourselves and our families. What is the message you send to children and families when they walk into your center or classrooms? What is the message the classroom communicates? What message does your curriculum send to parents about what is appropriate for young learners? What is the consistent message that resonates, that helps build a school community or family?

    We have been hearing and talking about the December Dilemma for many, many years. The very words “December Dilemma” help to perpetuate the mindset that there is in fact, a dilemma for us and in the spaces where we work. Let’s take a breath. Is it a dilemma? Or is what happens around Hanukkah an opportunity to send a powerful message about what we believe about Judaism and how we welcome and engage all of our families, however they are constituted?

    At the core of all our prior writing and teaching has been the philosophy that it is crucial to be intentional in the way we teach authentic curriculum, one that resonates with children and adults. We said, “…We want these young learners to know so much about each holiday, but in our desire to give children every opportunity and every bit of information, sometimes the train gets a little off track…”

    To us, the question is why do we “teach” Hanukkah? The dilemma is whether we know why we are “doing” Hanukkah at all. Is it meaningful? Will there be opportunities for in depth, appropriate exploration, learning and understanding? Can children engage with what we are doing? What will the child learn about the holiday and him/herself? What will the children bring to this learning? Whose idea is this theme and how is it approached? Are the learning opportunities teacher-directed or children-initiated? What are the enduring understandings for this chronological and developmental age, and what are their particular interests? How will it all connect and make sense with their lives outside of school? At its essence, what’s the “big idea”?

    And our adults – teachers and families – what do they know about Hanukkah besides Maccabees, eight nights, and presents? What do they understand about the message of this holiday? What do they bring to this learning opportunity? What are their questions? What are the enduring understandings that are appropriate for an adult? How will it all connect and make sense with their lives outside of school? Even for adults, the question is what is the “big idea”?

    Today, connecting all of our families and teachers to the Jewish community is the challenge.  They have chosen a Jewish preschool. And we know that a deep connection only comes from a deep understanding. December offers us an opportunity to offer our families an intentional and meaningful understanding of Hanukkah.  And our early childhood centers are the place to do it.

    So, when someone asks, is Hanukkah worth doing, what answer will we give? No matter how many times we may have focused on that theme, as early childhood educators we recognize that each year we must ask the question and answer it. There is the profound understanding that in an early childhood program, there is always something new that happens.

    More than anything, we want ALL our families to know, “You are welcome here.” We are the portal; and more for the non-Jewish parent than the Jewish parent (though not always the case), we are the introduction to Jewish culture, tradition and “yiddishkeit.” Our fervent hope is that they find a home with us.

    We firmly believe that when families enroll their children in a Jewish preschool, they are telling us that they’re reaching out to us. How are we reaching back to them?

    In all the telling and the making, shouldn’t we see this time of year as an opportunity for true connection because of the deep understanding our adults can get from how we connect with them? This is not a dilemma, but an opportunity.

    It is our position that we must always be the model.  So, answer the question. Why do you “do” Hanukkah? What is your message?

    Dale Sides Cooperman
    Director of the Early Childhood Center
    Congregation Albert


    Idie Benjamin 
    Director of Professional Development
    Child Care Council of Westchester, New York

    November 2018

  • ECE-RJ posted an article
    Ideas and thoughts for your classrooms and families for Chanukah. see more

    Chanukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah or Chanuka

    There are as many ways to spell Chanukah as activities and ideas for the classroom. It is a wonderful holiday for all—parents, children and teachers. I would like to share with you some ideas and thoughts for your classrooms and families.


    While we all enjoy the holiday, it is important to always take the time to see Chanukah from a child’s eye view:

    • Chanukah lasts for eight days.
    • I light another candle on the chanukiah (menorah) each night for eight nights.
    • I use the shamash (helper candle) to light the other candles.
    • I celebrate Chanukah with my family and friends.
    • I can try to spin the dreidel and play the dreidel game.
    • I eat latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts).
    • I hear the story of the brave Maccabees.
    • It was a miracle that the oil lasted eight days instead of just one.

    Please feel free to copy and paste the section below to send home with your children.


    • Observe the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle (pirsum ha-nes) by placing the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) in a window so that all are reminded of the miraculous victory of the Maccabees.  As a family, light the chanukiah each night of the holiday and place it in a window at the front of your home.
    • Allow your child(ren) to take an active part in lighting the candles by having them pick the candles and placing them in the chanukiah.  Perhaps they can make a pattern with the colors.  As you light the candles, have a young child place his or her hand on your arm and go through the motions with you.
    • Celebrate the holiday by placing decorations around the house.   There are many commercially available decorations, but it is very special to include those made by children and to save these to be reused each year.
    • Make and send holiday cards to friends and families in other cities.
    • It is a custom on Jewish holidays to give tzedakah.  As a family, choose a favorite organization and donate money.    Some families choose one night where, instead of gifts to each other, money or something tangible is given to those in need.
    • It is a Jewish custom to eat foods that are fried in oil to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.  Two foods that are often served are potato latkes (common in the United States and Europe) and sufganiyot (donuts) which are common in Israel.
    • During the time of Antiochus, the Jews were prohibited from practicing their religion.  However, Jews continued to study secretly and used the game of dreidel to mask their studies.  If a Greek soldier would enter the room where they were studying, they would pretend to be engaged in a game of dreidel.  Allow your child to practice spinning a dreidel.  Directions for the game are attached.
    • Designate the time when the candles are burning each night as “family time”.  Use this time to play games or read a story. 

    Some suggested Chanukah stories are:

    We wish you a holiday filled with fun and happiness.

    Karen Lucy
    Director of Early Childhood Engagement
    Shaare Emeth

    November 2018