The Jewish Kid in Your Class

This post was written in 2009, but it is so very important this year as Hanukkah is coming extremely early. This year Hanukkah begins the day before Thanksgiving. Please, please, please as you celebrate the joys of the Christmas Season, remember that Santa doesn't visit every child in your class. 

Here is what is not fun in kindergarten if you happen to be Jewish:

Making an Advent Calendar consisting of a construction paper Santa head with a paper chain dangling from the beard - one link for each day till Christmas.

I still remember the project, and the sad, sinking feeling that went along with it. There were many such art project throughout my grade school career, along with often religious Christmas Carols, Christmas-themed stories and the like.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not for taking Christmas celebrations out of the schools. I realize that people who do not celebrate Christmas in one form or another are in the minority and that Christmas is fun and can be a jump off point for some great lessons. Never would I want to deny a class of third graders the delight that can only be found in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Case in point, nice Jewish girl that I am, I have still written posts and brain teasers that are Christmas themed. I also realize that unlike the 1970s, today's public school observances are of the secular variety and that we try to give time to Hanukkah (Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel...), and other observances as well. Just the same, please keep in mind:
  • Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah is based on a Lunar calendar, so it is at a different time each year. It is early this year - starting on December 8th and ending eight days later. It can be hard for kids to see everyone else celebrating when their holiday is...well, over.
  • Originally, Hanukkah was not that big a deal in the Jewish faith. It is a minor holiday. It has been made into a big one in an attempt to rival Christmas. But the truth is, there is no way on earth that Hanukkah can come close. We light candles. We eat potato pancakes, we play a game with a four-sided top. Yes, most Jewish kids get a present every day, but often many of those are small things. It doesn't compare with a mountain of gifts magically appearing under a decorated tree. We have no mythical fat guy traveling the world in a flying sled. We don't bring dead conifers into our homes and decorate them (try reading Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Fir Tree before you get your tree this year). We don't set up giant, lighted, plastic menorahs and Stars of David in our yards. So, please remember that the lone Jewish kid in your class might be feeling just a wee bit left out, and though he might never admit it, possibly wishing that he could have Christmas too. Or she might just be angry at having to do all this stupid Christmas stuff that has nothing to do with her real life.
  • Not every Jewish kid wants to share Hanukkah with the class. Some do, and that is great. If you have a kid that wants to bring in the menorah, tell the story of the Maccabbees, and teach everyone how to play dreidle, go for it! But some kids don't want to be pointed out as different. Make sure you know which one is in your class.
This post turned into a bit of a rant. Please exercise your Christian (or Jewish) charity and keep in mind that this is my opinion only.



Wise Owl said...

Although a Gentile, I taught general studies part-time for two years in a Jewish day school. I learned so much about the Old Testament during this time, and about the areas of sensitivity for Jewish children. My best friends when I was growing up were Jewish, and I didn't think I had so much to learn.

There is no one answer, though, and this is something that has to be worked out between the teacher each new Jewish family in the classroom. You are so right some children want to blend in and some would like to be special and share information. There are different main types of the Jewish faith, as well as different things each family values. Try to find out what each family would like for each of these children early in the school year, to best help the students.

Rachel Lynette said...


Thanks for such a thoughtful response. I think your idea of talking to the children and their families is a really good one.

Sharron Callahan said...

For years, I've been building a unit of world holidays. I teach it in December but lots of the holidays are at different times of the year. This year I have a girl who has mixed parentage so she celebrates Jewish and Christian holidays. I'm not sure how that actually works since it's kind of a contradiction... but I digress... I enjoy learning and teaching about different holidays and also the way people in different countries celebrate the same holidays. I focus on the similarities inherent to many holidays- lights, food, family activities, traditions, and fun. I do a huge chart and we list things for every holiday I can find. I try to help my children understand and respect how people can be different but value similar ideals.
PS- My Jewish student gives me such puzzled looks when I get all excited over my dreidel collection. I have dozens and dozens. hahaha

I am Bullyproof Music - Lessia Bonn said...

When my kids were little, I recorded three pop Jewish holiday albums. The first was a Chanukah album. I needed a candle song so I wrote one. Funny thing; this song eventually became so popular, I took out the middle verse, which I'd recorded in Hebrew, and replaced it with another English verse. This little Chanukah song that could is now used in schools all over the country as a Christmas song. It even appears in before Frosty in Alfred Music's "The Ultimate Xmas Music Collection." So technically, lots of kids are singing about Chanukah as they think about Christmas, all over the country every year! haha Just sayin'. I believe I've done my part :-)

But seriously, Chanukah is such a cool holiday. It's all about miracles and unexpected magic. I believe if we focus on sharing the lovely miracle story with students instead of coming from "my holiday is different than yours" there may be way to gently include Chanukah without having to say "And now here's Jacob's holiday, everybody" which, as you explained, we can just make little Jacob stand out in ways he may not appreciate.

Miracles ARE really cool. In my book, they are just as cool as Santa. And latkes? Latkes are delicious.

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