Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Holidays



It’s that time again. Cold weather brings thoughts of the Christmas holiday. There are Christmas vacations, sales, parties, street lights and more. Children get very excited by images of Santa Claus and colorful Christmas trees with brightly wrapped gifts underneath. It’s hard for Chanukah to compete with all this.

Showing children that there is something from their own tradition that can bring them light and joy is an important message. While Chanukah, within the scope of Jewish tradition, is a relatively minor holiday, it carries with it some important messages, as well as lots of fun for children. Just as Christmas and many other festivals worldwide do, Chanukah brings light into the darkness. Lighting the menorah brings a distinctive Jewish message regarding the strength and dedication of a minority against a majority. The Syrian Greeks tried to force the Jews to abandon their traditions, but the Maccabees, Jewish warriors, fought against them. After the Greeks destroyed the Temple, the Jews returned to find enough oil for one day. The miracle, according to tradition, was that that oil was sufficient for eight days. Holding on to our traditions is valuable not just during holidays, but throughout the year.

The holiday is now commemorated for eight days by lighting the menorah, giving gifts, playing with a dreidel, and eating latkes or other foods fried in oil. There are wonderful songs to sing and children’s books to read. With some preparation, the celebration of this holiday has a real magic for children.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the tenacity of the Jewish people to maintain their traditions through time in the face of outside pressure or persecution.


  • Why is it important to know about your heritage and history?
  • What is your favorite (family) Jewish tradition?
  • Do you ever feel embarrassed to be Jewish? Why?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.



simchat-torahUnbridled joy is the gift that children often experience as they go through their daily lives. They are capable of so much feeling, of happiness and sadness, and with such intensity. We celebrate with them when they are happy, and we are sad when they grieve. At times it’s important not to
get too caught up with our children’s emotions and to maintain a calm front in the face of their ups and downs. At other times, it’s important to get right in there and rejoice or grieve right along with them. As a parent it takes wisdom to know when to hold back and when to join in.

Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, is the Jewish day for rejoicing—for children and adults alike. We dance with the Torah scroll, celebrating the completion of a year of reading the entire Torah in our community. It’s a time to express unrestrained joy. Children are often put at the center of this rejoicing and form circles with one another in the midst of adults or ride on their parents’ shoulders. It is a time of great excitement, a moment to share our joy.

Having a day set aside to celebrate is important for community and family life. Simchat Torah, along with the weekly opportunity for joy and rest, the Sabbath, give us communal opportunities to feel and express one of the most important emotions of childhood and adulthood—joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the joy they feel after successfully completing a big goal in their lives.


  • How do you express your happiness? Your sadness? And with whom?
  • Why does feeling joy in the midst of others enhance the experience?
  • What makes us hesitate to show happiness or sadness in front of others?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.



sukkotMuch of what we do tries to instill in our children a sense of security. What a challenge it is when life presents something unexpected to us that shows us how fragile we really are. Life in all its fragility can be difficult. We carry around fears of illness and worse for ourselves or our children or other loved ones. Everyone, at some point in life is faced with this feeling of fragility.

The Holiday of Sukkot is all about fragility. A sukkah is a temporary shelter with a roof that allows us to see the sky and the stars. The house is flimsy, but during Sukkot we try to live in it, eat in it, even sleep in it during the eight-day festival. It presents an opportunity to remember our fragility. Sukkot is said to recall the time the Jews spent wandering around in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt, while journeying to the land of Israel.

While on Sukkot we recall our fragility, it is also a time of bounty, a time of harvest, a time of great blessing. Sukkot is meant to be a joyous and festive holiday. When remembering our own fragility, we are able to be in touch with the temporary nature of all blessings and thus enjoy them even more deeply. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach children that fragility also means good things: not only illness and death, but also blessing and joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the time the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the land of Israel and lived in booths through which they could see the stars.


  • What kinds of things frighten you?
  • What helps you feel safe?
  • How do you think experiencing a simpler, more fragile life in a sukkah would make you feel?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.



Yom-KippurIt’s not always easy to forgive others. At times, it’s emotionally easier to bear a grudge than to let go of slights. Having a hardened heart means we are impervious to continued hurts. But it also means it’s difficult to let love and friendship into our lives.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a day of forgiveness. It is important to come to Yom Kippur with a clean slate. According to tradition, we are to ask each other for forgiveness and give others forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Once we are forgiven by others, we fast and pray on Yom Kippur with our communities, asking God to forgive us.

It’s important to instruct our children in the act of forgiveness, first by modeling. After imposing appropriate consequences and limits, do we forgive our children when they’ve committed wrongs? Do we ask their forgiveness once we have hurt them, or if we’ve been wrong? Modeling forgiveness can help them learn to forgive us, as well as their brothers and sisters and friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of forgiveness and having a day such as Yom Kippur on which we are forgiven all our sins.


  • What happens when you get mad? Do the feelings go away after awhile? Or do the angry feelings stay?
  • Is it difficult to forgive people who have hurt you? What makes it so?
  • Is it easier sometimes to forgive others than to forgive ourselves?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.



Passover2Freedom is such an attractive concept to us all. We like the idea of doing what we want, when we want. Often we think that being free of rules, regulations, and requirements are important for us to feel free. Could we be wrong in expecting too much of freedom? What if people did exactly as they pleased, whenever they wanted. Life could get very confusing, complicated, and dangerous.

On Passover, we celebrate our freedom from slavery with a Seder. Interestingly the word Seder means order, and our special celebration of freedom starts with 15 steps to follow. None of our other meals has so many requirements. Why does this special meal require us to follow 15 proscribed steps? First a cup of wine, then washing hands, dipping vegetables, breaking the middle matza, storytelling. . .and that is only 40% of the steps.

The wisdom of our tradition teaches that to be free we need order in our lives. Only within a structure of order and responsibility can we be free to pursue our desires. Imagine if others were free to harm themselves or us. Imagine if everyone was so free and did not have to follow rules; chaos would result. In chaos, none of us could accomplish what we want. There is wisdom in realizing how much our freedom depends on a structure of rules and laws for the benefit of all.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how rules are important for our safety and our freedom.


  • What do we like most about freedom?
  • Are there parts of your life in which you feel you do not have freedom?
  • Has there ever been a situation when you wished you did not have so much freedom?

By Fred Claar

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.