Is it possible for kids not to enjoy the Festival of Lights? Well…

Do you know any Jewish kids who did not totally enjoy one of the most beloved holidays, Chanukah? Don’t bother to answer; this is a rhetorical question.
Nevertheless, since I asked, obviously I have a reason. You see, I know a girl whose Chanukah was marred by unforgettable experiences.
My daughter Neeli was born in mid-September. For her second birthday, we invited my wife’s parents. My wife, Cheri, baked Neeli’s favorite cake; we lit the candles, sang “Happy Birthday” and then we instructed the toddler to blow hard and put out the candles. She did and was rewarded with applause, hugs, kisses and presents.
About three months passed and it was Chanukah eve. Again, we invited Cheri’s parents. Neeli sat on a high chair in front of the chanukiah (menorah), beaming with excitement since she remembered the last candle event.
I can almost see you, dear readers, smiling to yourselves, but don’t get ahead of me. I chanted the blessings and lit the shamash with which I then lit the first candle.
To our utter shock, Neeli, who remembered the routine, leaned over and with a couple of puffs, put out the candles, smiling happily.
At once, all four of us pounced on her
‘What are you doing!?“
“You shouldn’t!”
“You don’t blow out the candles!”
Even now, as I’m writing what happened quite a few years ago, I cringe as I remember how her happy face turned to shock and horror. I am trying to guess what she felt as the four closest human beings to her attacked her with the cacophony of rebuke. Where is the applause? The hugs? the kisses?
When she was 4, I taught her to chant the blessings by heart. The first two she learned pretty well, but the third one, the Shehecheyanu, proved to be a big challenge. Small wonder.
“She-he-che-ya-nu v’-ki-ye-ma-nu v’-hi-gi-a-nu” – long and difficult words to pronounce for a 4-year-old. Frustrated, she complained how difficult this blessing was. Trying to encourage her, I said, “but darling, you will have to do the third blessing only once – on the first night.
“What!” she screamed. “All this hard work for one night only?”
At age 6, Neeli was a second grader at the Jewish Day School. On the seventh day of Chanukah, when I picked her up from school, she entered the car visibly upset. When I asked what was the matter, she intoned, “The teacher told us that it’s better to give than to receive.”
She fell silent for a minute, then added with a painful apology, “But I love to receive more than I love to give.”
(I have a modest request for all you well-intended teachers. Please, remember that little children look up to you admiringly and often take your words literally. Such a moral and compassionate concept can be misconstrued by them.)
I explained to Neeli, who was plainly perplexed by what the teacher meant. I told her that all of us like to receive gifts and that’s OK, but there is great satisfaction also in giving, whether it is to people we love or sharing with people who have less than us.
“In fact,” I concluded, “since you got so many presents for Chanukah, perhaps you should donate one to needy children.”
Neeli, who by now was consoled, nodded her head in agreement and added, “but daddy, do I have to donate my favorite present?”

(Moshe Ben-David is a Louisville storyteller.)

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