'Gift'-giving to charities

December 25, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

On the first night of Hanukkah last Saturday, Michael and Shelley Eizelman gave their daughter Emily a cassette tape called "Schlock Rock." On the second night, the 9-year-old got a nightgown, robe and slippers.

But when the adult members of the Eizelman family got together for potato latkes on Sunday night, they exchanged no gifts.

Instead, Michael and Shelley Eizelman of West Bloomfield, Mich., donated the $250 they once might have used to buy Hanukkah gifts to a Detroit-based parenting and educational group called the REACH Project (Realizing Education Achievement and Community Health). They brought a brochure to the party so that everyone could read about the Hanukkah gift, given in their name.

For the past three years, the Eizelmans, like many Jewish families across the country, have given up on Hanukkah gift-giving between adults. Instead, they're donating to charity, which they believe is more in keeping with the spirit of the season and Jewish tradition.

"It's one of what we call our mitzvahs, one of the things that we're supposed to do is give to charity and we give all year-round," says Mr. Eizelman, an attorney who has done pro bono work for REACH.

Rabbi M. Robert Syme of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield believes charitable giving at Hanukkah is more prevalent this year than any other. He sees young people becoming less selfish and the recession making people realize that financial security is something to cherish.

"And anything that prompts people to forget about themselves and give to others, I think, is a wonderful idea," Rabbi Syme says.

Hanukkah is based on one of the earliest recorded instances of people fighting for religious freedom. Hanukkah, which in Hebrew means "dedication," marks an event 21 centuries ago when a small band of Jewish rebels, led by Judah Maccabee, defeated Syrian-Greek forces which had defiled the temple in Jerusalem.

According to Jewish tradition, when the Maccabees retook the temple they found only enough consecrated oil for the Eternal Light to last one day. But the lamp burned for eight days, which believers say, was a miracle.

Now the event is commemorated by lighting a succession of candles at sunset over eight days. It symbolizes the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem.

Gift-giving isn't part of the Hanukkah story. In fact, exchanging gifts is a Jewish-American custom that many Jews believe came about because of such proximity to Christians. For some Jews, giving to charity is an attempt to separate Hanukkah from Christmas.

The Eizelmans still buy presents for the children in their family; Emily gets a gift every night of the holiday. But by the time she is 13 and has her bat mitzvah, the ceremony to mark the beginning of religious duty and responsibility, they hope she, too, will want to forsake presents.

At that time, they'll include Emily in the decision of where to donate money. In the past, the Eizelmans have given to two food banks and the American Diabetes Foundation.

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