Let’s face it; in order to help Jewish children from feeling left out of the Christmas season, Hanukkah has lost much of it’s traditional meaning and has become a holiday based around eight nights of presents. Customarily, Hanukkah is celebrated with candles, dreidels, and latkes; the eight crazy nights of toys and books was only added to compete with Christmas.
The Fifth Night Project was created to help combat this excess that has permeated the holiday. It is a way to bring the gift of tzedakah into the holiday, and make it meaningful to the nursery-school crowd. The goal is to encourage Jewish families with preschool age children to begin dedicating the fifth night of Hanukkah for charity–to skip the gifts for their children and instead teach them the importance of giving to those in need. The projects asks parents to go with their child(ren) to the store to select a toy or book that they think another child would enjoy and donate it to an organization for less fortunate children.
Launched last year in three Bay Area preschools, The Fifth Night Project collected over 200 toys, which were donated to the San Francisco branch of Jewish Family and Children Services. JFCS then distributed the toys to children in a variety of their programs, including The Dream House, which provides support and temporary housing for victims of domestic violence and their children.
Participating preschools and families are also provided with both classroom and take-home activities to help make the project and the holiday meaningful for the preschooler.
This year, The Fifth Night Project is partnering with PJ Library and reaching 10 different schools stretching between Santa Rosa, Oakland, and Palo Alto. Tomorrow, on December 12 (12/12/12), over a thousand preschoolers will be forgoing their own gift in order to help a child in need. The presents will be donated to JFCS branches in San Francisco, and the North and South Bays.
While collecting donation for less fortunate children is an awesome end result, the real goal of the project is to actively involve young children in the process of giving. Rarely does a 3-year-old have the opportunity to truly give something of her own. When the tzedakah jar is passed around at the preschool morning circle, children may drop in a few coins left jingling in the bottom of her mother’s purse or father’s pocket. However, with The Fifth Night Project, the child can give up her gift so that another child can have one.
Next year, Fifth Night plans to expand the project to Jewish preschools across the nation, but for now families can begin the tradition in their own homes–just set the fifth night aside for charity. During the holiday season there are numerous organizations collecting toys for those less fortunate; a quick trip to the local toy store can help teach your preschooler about the value of Hanukkah tzedakah.
To learn more about The Fifth Night’s co-sponsor, PJ Library, click here. For families in the New York metro area, you can sign up to get free books from PJ Library through Kveller here. For families living elsewhere, you can search for your local PJ community here.