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Celebrating Harmonica: Hanukkah and Children

Pottery Barn menorah, menorah, silver menorah

My daughter emerged from preschool today with an art project in hand and a proud smile on her face.

“Look, Mommy,” she gushed, “I made a beautiful menorah!”

As I oohhed and aahhed over her work, I silently hoped she wouldn’t ask me about the Jewish faith.

She continued on, “Today, we learned all about harmonica, Mommy.”

Stifling a smile, I replied, “I’m so happy you learned about Hanukkah.”

I grew up in Central Maine, where it seemed as though everyone was the same…Catholic, Protestant, or Baptist.

The few Jewish families I knew seemed so mysterious.

I have no recollection of learning about non-Christian religions as a child (or any other religions, for that matter).

And if I’m honest, though I have many Jewish friends now, my knowledge of the Jewish faith is truly lacking.

So, I dodged Katie’s Hanukkah questions all through lunch and as soon as I put her down for her nap, I Skyped my friend Cam, telling her that I felt like a deer in the headlights. She shared with me a few links for general information and after spending some time reading, I think I’m ready to answer Katie’s questions — or at least help her to find the answers —when she wakes up.

When I asked Cam about her exposure to Judaism when she was growing up, she replied with this …

Growing up in a primarily white, Christian town — a child of agnostic parents who celebrated a lovely but secular Christmas and Easter, spending time with my new Jewish friends in high school opened my eyes to a faith which dazzled with foods and language as foreign to me as anything I’d experienced. Learning about their beliefs and traditions opened my heart up and kindled a curiosity about culture and spirituality that I still carry as an adult.

That, right there … that’s what I want for our children.

Have you ever experienced that feeling of being completely unprepared to answer important questions?

And if you can recommend some great books for kids on Judaism and other faiths, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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