When I was a kid, my father was a Chief Petty Officer, and then a Chief Warrant Officer, in the Coast Guard. That was (long) before the all-volunteer military, which means we never had a lot of money. But he and my mother were always generous at Chanukah. I know, I know, it’s not supposed to be about gifts. But you can’t deny it—that stuff is important to kids, especially to a sister and brother who are the only Jews in the neighborhood. So my dad and mom made a big deal out of Chanukah, including the exchange of gifts.
A few years ago, when I heard that Jewish Family Service of Tidewater was doing a Chanukah gift wish list program for low-income Jewish kids in the area, it brought back memories. Mostly I remembered how lucky I was (and still am). I knew I had to be a part of this program.
It was (and still is) easy. JFS has a list of families, and within each family, a list of children. No names anywhere. The givers don’t know who the receivers are, and the receivers don’t know who the givers are (with a tip of the hat to Maimonides).
The children are identified only by age and gender, e.g., “Girl, 12 years” or “Boy, 10 years.” Underneath each is their wish list. You can do as much or as little as you’d like. You can sign up for one line item, or you can take a whole family. I told them I wanted a family with two elementary school age kids, a girl and a boy. JFS gave me the list, and off I went shopping.
I don’t normally consider shopping to be a recreational activity (except, of course, in Israel). However, THIS was the most fun I’d had shopping in a long time. Even though I wasn’t going to know who the kids were, as I walked up and down the aisles and the basket filled up, I couldn’t help imagining how happy they they’d be when they got stuff they wanted. Then, as I checked things off the list, I came to a sudden realization. They’re not really asking for much. I can get them ALL of this stuff. I can give them everything they want!
How often do you have the opportunity to give someone everything he/ she wants?
by Mark Solberg, JFS volunteer