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Getting a New Perspective on Jewish Holidays—Through the Eyes of a Child

I didn’t know about the holidays until my son came home from preschool wearing a cardboard Hanukkah candle on his head

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The author’s son’s classroom. (Dana Kessler)
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At preschool in Israel, holidays are The Big Thing. Even at the most nonobservant nursery or kindergarten, they’re all the rage. They are a child’s first brush with passing trends: Today little shofars are in, only to be replaced tomorrow by glow-in-the-dark dreidels. And holiday songs are a toddler’s equivalent of the Billboard Hot 100: Today we’re singing Tu B’Shevat songs, tomorrow we’re doing Purim medleys.

In Israel, little children learn about the holidays for weeks running up to the actual date, finger-painting over menorah cut-outs or gluing little pictures of lulavs and etrogs on empty shoeboxes. All this preparation culminates in a preschool holiday party in which the kids munch on their potato latkes, pomegranate seeds, or honey-dipped apple slices and spill non-alcoholic wine all over their little white shirts, while their parents capture every moment on their smartphone cameras. And when they return to their nursery school, after a long holiday in which their parents struggle to answer emails and get some work done while entertaining their children at home, they go on to learn about the next holiday in line, with the same level of enthusiasm, loving it no less than the previous one.

This is the naive and unadulterated version of Judaism, when holidays are just a series of fun rituals and symbols, songs and yummy foods. My son hasn’t yet reached the age where he asks questions about the customs he is taught, and I haven’t yet been required to search Wikipedia for answers to questions I’m sure I don’t have the answers to. So far so good.

Having the time of his life in his new world, which is filled with special fun days, my son is falling in love with the Jewish holidays, and as long as I look at them through his eyes, so am I. For better or worse, this is part of his socialization process and (sometimes aggressive) indoctrination into Israeli society. I guess that being an ex-olah chadashah—a status you never fully shed, no matter how many years you’ve lived in Israel—it’s basically the same thing for me. The first time I saw my kid dancing with a cardboard Hanukkah candle on his head was one of those rare occasions where I felt that I belonged. Other parents might be stressed out about the impending fire-hazard or the empty sufganiyot calories, but I can’t wait for this year’s pre-kindergarten Hanukkah party.

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Getting a New Perspective on Jewish Holidays—Through the Eyes of a Child

I didn’t know about the holidays until my son came home from preschool wearing a cardboard Hanukkah candle on his head

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