November 9, 2022

Hanukkah Surprise Pack Giveaway

We’re excited to be launching our 2nd Annual 8-Night Hanukkah Surprise Pack giveaway on Thursday, November 8th. To participate, just sign up at

For each day of the drawing (scheduled from now until Sunday, December 2nd), we’ll choose someone’s name at random (in fact, does the actual choosing for us) and send a surprise pack full of goodies pulled from our five Hanukkah products.

Why surprise packs? I’ve always love them myself — so I decided to borrow the idea for you.

Last year, I also “met” the most wonderful people through the giveaway, including a super supportive Rabbi in Washington State, a knitter of truly beautiful yarns, a Mom who found us through, and others. I look forward to making more connections this year.

 Hanukkah Bingo is a Blast!

Congrats to Nicole E, winner of the first  Hanukkah Surprise Pack!

One thing she gets is our Hanukkah Bingo Game for 4 players – super popular with the 5- to 9-year-old set. The laminated cards will last for years.  (Available in Hanukkah in a Box and Hanukkah Games Box.)  Just 7 nights left to enter.  Sign up for free holiday ideas at to be entered in our random drawing.

When our girls were little, I made a Hanukkah Bingo game out of shirt cardboards. Anyone remember shirt cardboards?! Anyway, they hauled out that game year after year, inviting their friends – Jewish and not Jewish – to play.

This version of Hanukkah Bingo is a lot prettier and a lot sturdier.  Enjoy, Nicole!

Hanukkah Gifts for Young Children

I’m always on the lookout for books to give as presents to young children. (Okay, let’s be honest, I love children’s book illustrations.)

Here are two you might like, both of which feature winter landscapes, perfect for December cuddling and reading.

Happy Hanukkah, Curious George  

(We’re a little confused about authorship of this book. According to, H.A. and Margret Rey wrote Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, but the book itself shows Emily Flaschner Meyer and Mary O’Keefe Young as author and illustrator. In any case, we’re fans.)

I’m drawn to Curious George because that playful monkey was one of our daughter’s absolute faves. In this Hanukkah book, you get the cute simian himself, along with the man in the yellow hat, in a series of poems about different aspects of the holiday.

Here are a few things I especially like:

  • Each poem is a two-page spread, with tabs on the end illustrated with Hanukkah and other symbols. So it’s very tactile and inviting.
  • The illustrations are, as you’d expect, absolutely charming.
  • It’s a board book, so it’s very sturdy for young readers.
  • It plays on the idea of Curious George and his special abilities and mishaps. For instance, when George spins the dreidel, he can use “both hands and feet.” And when he helps make the potato latkes, one egg ends up a gooey mess on the counter.

Snow. By Uri Shulevitz

This Caldecott Honor Book isn’t about Hanukkah, but it is about winter magic.

Our first Shulevitz book, Rain Rain Rivers, is now a favorite of our grandson, something you might not expect because it’s so poetic, spare in its illustration, and full of soothing greens and grays.

So shhh.  This book might end up to be a Hanukkah present for him.

Here, Shulevitz illustrates a gloomy gray day that, little by little, is filled with snowflakes. The characters, initially, are equally gloomy adults who don’t believe it’s going to snow.  After awhile, they are covered with inches of heavy snow that forces them to bend over under the weight. .

Gradually, the snow overtakes the community and begins “circling and swirling, spinning and twirling.”  The characters who are now out in this snowy scene are joyful (canine and human), as they watch the formerly gray landscape turn totally, totally white.


Our Hanukkah Surprise Pack Giveaway starts November 8th. To participate, sign up at Spread the word!

Customize Your Hanukkah Celebrations

Our expanding, diverse family just expanded again. Mazal tov to the newlyweds! So as each Jewish holiday rolls around, I wonder what this huge mix of ages, interests, and backgrounds might enjoy.

For the first time at Rosh Hashanah dinner, for example, we used Bugles (the salty, crunchy snack food) to pretend that we were blowing the shofar, through a series of tekiahs, shevarims, and teruahs. Everyone at the table, except the baby, played along.

One Passover, we wrote new lyrics to a popular tune (“You Are My Sunshine”) as a welcome-to-our-Seder song, then played it on banjo and guitar. We handed out song sheets, so everyone could sing along with us at what might have been the first-ever bluegrass Seder.

As you think about celebrating Hanukkah this year, what does your family care about most? And how can you draw on their talents and interests to create a rich, multi-textured holiday? Do you have:

  • Avid bakers?
  • Younger kids who love to color?
  • Older kids who can make truly fabulous decorations?
  • Photographers and videographers?
  • Woodworkers?
  • Lego-loving kids and adults?

There are endless ways to draw on their unique abilities – from simple, quickie projects to more complicated ones. In bringing them into the preparations through their passions, you add to the joy.

Hanukkah cookies, quick or fancy

If you have bakers in your group, find a recipe for classic Hanukkah sugar cookies or just slice some rounds from ready-to-bake cookie dough. To decorate, use blue and silver sprinkles, a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, or colored sugar.

Or use the fun and easy stained glass painting technique: mix egg yolk with a little water and add a few drops of food coloring to small batches of the yolk mixture. Provide new watercolor paint brushes for each bowl and watch the creativity bloom. After the cookies are painted, pop them into the oven.

Got ambitious and experienced bakers? Try making your own jelly-filled doughnuts, sufganiyot. (Try this yummy-sounding recipe for sufganiyot.)  [For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that this is far above my current abilities. One day. Maybe.]

Capturing the moments

Ask family photographers and videographers to preserve holiday prep, candle lighting, and games. For example, budding videographers can capture, then edit a three-minute show featuring baking, table setting, drawing, and present wrapping. Invite them to present their show one evening after you light the candles.

We haven’t gotten organized enough to do this ourselves, but I want to start getting a group shot at family gatherings. The key is planning ahead to identify a place in the house where everyone can fit into the shot, get the camera and tripod ready, and review how to set the timer. Is the best moment at the beginning, before the flow of food and games and candles? Or with everyone surrounding platters of hot latkes, just before they’re served? If you have a technique that works for this, please share. I love the idea of taking an annual shot that becomes a Hanukkah history of your family.

Building with Legos and wood

If you’re a Lego-loving family, check out these two posts from the remarkable Joanna Brichetto to make a lightable menorah and a flameless menorah.

Do you have a passion for woodworking and some tools? You can make your own wooden menorah. My husband experimented with a prototype using a piece of red oak, but you could make it from a piece of a 2 x 4. Here, he drilled holes for the nuts with a Forstner bit, then glued nuts into the holes. To create the shamash (the higher candle), he used a piece of 7/8-diameter wooden dowel. First, he drilled a 7/8” hole in the wood to hold the dowel, then glued in the dowel, and finally, drilled a hole in the top of the dowel for the nut. (NOTE: This prototype is far from perfect. And I apologize to my husband for showing it here. See how one of the holes cuts into the beveled edge? I didn’t, but he sure did. Still, you get the concept. He donated the other, more perfect menorahs he made to soldiers serving abroad.)

Want some other ideas? Just do an online search for “make your own menorah.”

Decorating for Hanukkah

All of these are ways to call out the artistic spirit of your family.

  • Coloring pictures
  • Making a huge banner
  • Creating a centerpiece
  •  Assembling a long, colorful paper chain
  • Stringing colorful ribbons around the room

In our Hanukkah in a Box , we provide coloring pages, plus orange, blue, and white curling ribbons to make your home festive, as well as other decorating ideas. We also include Hanukkah napkins. Just dressing up your dinner table with these says, “It’s a party!”

In our Hanukkah Games Box , we have a menorah cut-and-color activity that little hands can color and “light” every night. There’s also a design-your-own banner that can end up a dramatic six-foot-long piece of art, suspended from ribbon. It can be decorated simply, just with crayons. Or it can be masterfully designed and layered with fabrics, buttons, glitter glue, holographic papers, origami, markers, or any other design tools that your artists prefer.

Musicians lead a songfest

If you are lucky enough to have singers or musicians in your midst, you can do a little advance prep and get them a CD of Hanukkah songs or sheet music. Music teachers will often help recommend music at the right level of complexity. Or explore I’ve purchased some of my favorite books of Jewish and Israeli music from them, like “Harvest of Jewish Song” and “The Ultimate Jewish Piano Book.”

Your musicians can then lead the group in singing the classic tunes and introduce you to new songs.

Got songwriters? Ask them to come up with new lyrics to a tune everyone knows or pen a whole new creation to unveil.

Bottom line: you can showcase many of the talents in your family to make this a DIY Hanukkah, filled with warmth and bright memories.

For more free holiday ideas, sign up at

Do You Love Your Menorah?

Do you have artwork that you’ve bought on trips that reminds you of those places, those moments, those vistas?

Menorahs are like that for me.  We have one that was given to us by a dear Israeli cousin, z”l. It looks like an antique, but I’m guessing it’s just not shiny and maybe not even very old. Here’s a detail from it.

Making memories with menorahs

Another has the traditional brass Lion of Judah, which is virtually identical to the one I grew up lighting.  (I looked for this one for years, so our girls would grow to love it, too.)

We have a third hanukkiah that features klezmer musicians joyfully playing the violin, clarinet, cello, drum, and more. Our trumpet-playing daughter claimed this one as hers to light during her high school years.

Our tradition was to let our girls choose the candles they wanted and set the color palette each night. We’ve started that with our grandson. Options include the multi-colored twisted candles we’ve used for years, as well as the elegant blue-and-white tapers from Safed that feel old world to me – like I’m walking down old cobblestone streets in the ancient city.

Adding an oil-burning menorah

This year, I want to add an oil-burning menorah to our collection. I want something that really makes sense of the message of the one jug of oil miraculously burning for eight days and eight nights, until new oil could be purified.

Here are some options I’ve discovered in online searching, though I haven’t seen them myself.

  • I find this Hannah Miller Oil Burning Pitcher Hanukkiah totally charming!  The description on the website says, “Hand crafted in Israel and signed by noted folk artist Hannah Miller, this ceramic menorah is designed to resemble ancient oil pitchers, and is in fact a traditional oil burning hanukia.”
  • This Harp Metal Menorah from Yad Lakashish looks more like other menorahs and features King David “playing a harp, made of a combination of brass and alpaca silver,” according to the website.
  • And here’s a Maoz Tzur Oil Hanukkah Menorah (based on the words from the Hanukkah song of the same name, which is included, by the way, in our song sheets in Hanukkah in a Box, Hanukkah CD Tutorial, Hanukkah Helper Box). This menorah design, per their website, includes “laser-cut doves and Swarovski crystals” and is “decorated with prominent Jewish motifs: palms, pomegranates and the landscape of Jerusalem.” If you’re looking for something with lots of color and lots of Hebrew, this is your menorah, since it also features this verse from Psalms (137:5-6), “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem . . .”

Do you have a menorah you love? Send me a picture at [email protected] and I’ll share.

Want free holiday ideas, plus discount codes, simple how-tos and celebration tips and recipes? Sign up on our home page, right column,



Just Fry Up the Latkes!

Calling all parents and grandparents with college-age or 20-something-age kids or grandkids:

Introducing our new Hanukkah Helper Box.  Originally designed for college students and 20-somethings, this package is the perfect gift for anyone who wants a simple celebration.

You get a tin menorah, candles, gelt, dreidels, recipes, blessings, songs and Hanukkah Libs Silly Stories.

What we love most:

  • Our testers roared when we tried out the Hanukkah Libs Silly Stories.
  • And the recipe for edible dreidels is super cute, super easy to make. Perfect to create during a party.

Just fry up the latkes and let the party begin!

Use code HHB15 at checkout for 15% off!  Offer good through 10/31/12.

Thanks to Jeremy R! You’re the college student who suggested that we create something for college students

Carrying the Spirit Forward

As the last of the fall holidays winds down, we have to wait two months until Hanukkah.

If you attended services or had festive meals with family over Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, did you feel renewed, inspired, recommitted to Jewish practice? I think this happens for lots us.

[Conversely, some people feel more alienated. We’ll talk about that next week, because it can be a powerful letdown.]

Establishing new traditions

If you do want to rededicate yourself to a new tradition, how could you go about it?

You could choose just one addition to your weekly routine that would fill your spirit. Of course, attending services more regularly might be the best choice for you.

But there are lots of others paths. Here are some that might work for you:

Donate to a charity of your choice once a week.  Here’s one to consider. You could even make a super simple tzedakah box for this purpose.

Buy a beautiful new mezuzah and say the blessings as you put it up.

Find a piece of Jewish music that you like and learn to play it on your instrument; guitar chords and piano music are easy to find for many popular songs. Or just buy a CD of Jewish or Israeli music that you pop in every Friday night to create atmosphere. Here are just a few of my favorites.

  • Debbie Friedman, with her soul-filling songs “And You Shall Be a Blessing” and “Mi Shebeirach.”
  • Authentic Israeli Folk Songs and Dances with a wonderful rendition of Hora Medura that pretty much makes you get up and dance.
  • And Neil Sedaka’s Brighton Beach Memories, with his stirring Shein Vi Di L’Vone.

Establish a new tradition of hiking on Shabbat with family or friends, away from computers and washing machines, enjoying nature.

Sign up for a blog that inspires you.  Here are three of the many choices:

  • Rabbi Yael Levy’s A Way In Blog  
  • Ann White’s Creating Calm Within Chaos   
  • Rabbi Jonathan Freirich‘s blog


My Commitment

What am I going to do? Work harder at unplugging over Shabbat. I give myself an F for the past 10 months. But the two Shabbatot (yes, only two, really) where I followed the spirit of the day, for the whole day, were so energizing and relaxing and spiritual.  And I have 52 opportunities a year to try to improve.

I’m also going to commit myself to baking at least one challah.  I hear it’s not so hard. We’ll see . . .

Please share this post with friends and family who might like it.

Celebrating Our Unique Paths

Last week, I enjoyed a warm, spirited conversation with a mid-30s mom who, along with her husband and children, is thinking about converting to Judaism. She is reading and exploring and learning.

As we spoke, it hit me again how different our paths are — of the people in my synagogue and even in my extended family. And that there is no such thing as the “right” or “perfect” path. What would perfect look like, anyway?  My husband was raised very traditionally (in the Conservative Judaism world); I was not.

In that spirit, when I found this funny blog post by Estelle Sobel Erasmus, I asked permission to share it with you.  It’s Not the Religion in the Man that Matters, It’s the Man in the Religion 

Many of you will have resonances with her story. With the parts about JDate.  Or with the parts about her grandfather. Or with cooking.  Enjoy!

If you liked this post, you might also like my cooking story.

And if you’re in an interfaith relationship, you might appreciate knowing about these resources from

Thanks to High Holy Day Volunteers

In congregations throughout the world, volunteers make our services flow. They take turns being ark openers, ushers, readers, etc.

This year, I was honored to open the ark at our Kol Nidre service. By happenstance.  I got to synagogue early. So Steve, our wonderful organizer, asked.


Sensory Feast

What I didn’t know was that I’d be on the bimah surrounded by sensory stimuli beyond anything I could have imagined.

Our Rebbitzin played the haunting Kol Nidre melody on her magnificent flute. . . just to my left.  Really, less than two feet away. And to my right, within inches, three congregants held Torah scrolls, the bells on the rimonim tinkling, tinkling, as they swayed slightly with the weight of those scrolls.

Immediately in front of me, the holiday candles were glowing. I could smell their light. (Well, maybe it was the lighter that had been used. But there was a distinctive fragrance wafting my way.) I was absolutely transported.


Gift of the Volunteers

And it made me wonder, again, about those who volunteer for longer roles during services.  Like Steve, who is virtually on call throughout the holidays, to make sure everything goes smoothly. And to figure out a solution-on-the-fly if something doesn’t.

When we belonged to a huge temple with a large choir, I didn’t know any of the singers.  So I didn’t think about who, exactly, was giving up the opportunity to pray, to nourish the rest of us.  But when we joined our current synagogue, I saw Linda sitting at the piano for hours at a time, for many years. And I wondered how she felt about missing the introspective moments for herself.  (Linda - if you’re reading this, let us know.)

Sarah Lazarovic, a filmmaker, animator and illustrator, explores this subject in a visual essay in Tablet Magazine called “The Serenaders of Yom Kippur.” She asks, “Who volunteers to sing in the synagogue choir for Kol Nidre? This year, I joined and found out.”


Heartfelt Thanks

Here’s a shout-out of thanks to all the congregants who share their time and talents to enhance the services for the rest of us.


If you like thinking about prayer in your life, you might enjoy this post.

The Honey Cake – Against All Odds

I’ve baked cookies a few times recently with my little grandson.  Nothing sweeter than that.

When there are messes – chocolate chips fall on the counter and get scooped up by little hands, for example – it’s expected.  It’s part of the delight of creating together.

Can I Still Bake?

But when I set out on my journey to make a Joan Nathan honey cake for Rosh Hashanah, I was on my own. The house was quiet. No one to watch me falter.

Ingredients check: baking powder still active. Amazing. Baking soda, too. The flour? Oh dear.  It said “best by 2010.” So I popped over to the grocery store to get fresh.

Then I carefully set out all the dry ingredients on the counter, as well as the measuring cups and spoons.  I was still feeling confident, positive.

Time to start.  Where is the sifter? I couldn’t find it; it had been that long.  Finally, I used the “flashlight” app on my iPhone to spread illumination into those deep lower cabinets. Whew!  There it was.

Then I pulled out the hand mixer. Um. Did I fry its motor last time I used it? I couldn’t remember, but I decided to hope for the best.

Step by step, I followed the recipe. It was going well.  When, then, did the salt bowl (pictured above) get half dumped over? My husband turned this beautiful dish from a piece of cherry wood.  I scooped about half the salt pile on the counter back into the dish and wiped the rest into the trash.

Beware the False Sense of Security

After sifting the dry ingredients into a large bowl, I made a well in the middle (the way Mom taught me) and poured in the wet ingredients – egg yolks, fresh lemon juice, honey, oil, and warm coffee. Then I started . . .not panicking, but pondering.  Did I need a mixer? The recipe didn’t say.  So I started with a spoon. Ahh.  Maybe it was that warm coffee, but it blended together beautifully.

When it was time to beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, I discovered that the mixer still worked.  Then I folded and folded the snowy whites into the café-au-lait colored batter.

As I write this, the cake is in the oven. The dirty dishes are cleaned. The counter tops are wiped free of flour, salt, and various sticky bits.

Plan B

If all else fails, a local farmer’s market makes wonderful apple cider doughnuts this time of year.

Darn. Darn. Disclaimer: in writing this post, I thought I should see if I could find the honey cake recipe online to share with you.  Here it is, modified from the cookbook I used.  So now I know I did it wrong. I should have used a mixer . . . A real baker would have known that, of course. Well, at this point, I think you know not to follow my baking instincts.

Nu, So How Was It?

The fam gave me varying reviews.  One said it reminded her of summer; another said “citrusy,” because of the grated lemon rind and fresh lemon juice.  One (British) said it tasted like ginger cake — and he was quite happy to take a chunk home. My husband? Well, he felt the same way as he does about mandel bread. Don’t ask.

Several of us, including me, loved the flavors. Next time, I just need to (a) mix better and (b) bake for a shorter time if I use the silicone bundt pan again.  (Yes, I am going to bake again. I have to get better sometime. Right?)

To Joan Nathan: I love the depth and richness of your cookbooks — the images, the stories, and the history.  And I am committed to becoming a better cook, with the help of your recipes.

Like to read about cooking? You might enjoy this post about easing interfaith celebration tensions through cooking. Or this post about cook extraordinaire Allesandra Rovati’s recipe for a Hanukkah treat.

Please feel free to share with other kitchen-challenged or kitchen-loving friends!

Feel free, too, to pass along any tips and instructions to me. As we enter the year 5773, I’m eager to do better — on many fronts.

Ready, Set . . . Rosh Hashanah

The smell of brisket in the oven, the potato kugel getting nice and crisp on top.  Fabulous.

Well, this year, we just don’t have time for those special treats.  So we’re preparing the easier, yet also delicious roasted chicken + potatoes + carrots + onions in one pot dish.

If you’re also pinched on time, but want to make things special, just think “round, sweet, new” – those are concepts you can build a meal around for Rosh Hashanah.

Shopping List

Here’s my shopping list so far for the symbolic foods:

  • Round challah (ordered)
  • Green and yellow squash slices
  • Peas
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumber slices
  • Canteloupe balls
  • Apples (of course!)
  • Honey (that I’ll put in round bowls)
  • Doughnut holes
  • Baked apples or round brownies (for dessert)

 Honey Feast

Thanks to Barb W. for the cool idea to serve a variety of honeys at lunch after services on Rosh Hashanah.  See if your family can distinguish between orange blossom, wildflower, clover or whatever honeys you can find.

For more ideas, check out our latest issue of Simply Celebrating!  (There’s a link to a fabulous Rosh Hashanah music video there, too.)

 And scan our Rosh Hashanah Pinterest board for decorating, crafts, and cooking ideas that appeal to you.  I’ve read a lot of discussion this year in the blogosphere about cocktails for Rosh Hashanah.  The sangria recipe sounds delightful to me!

Please share this with anyone you think could use a hand with last-minute ideas.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this wonderful music video to get into the spirit and these  ideas for food with Sephardi inspiration.

Shana Tova!