Erie Skoczylas and children Avi, 15, Alyssa, 12, and Emma, 5, last year during Chanukah

Metro Detroit families find ways to incorporate lessons for their children about the importance of giving during Chanukah.

Featured photo courtesy of Rebecca Skoczylas

Many Jewish parents worry about materialism in this gift-giving season. How best to balance spirituality, instill cherished values in the kids, all while giving them a good time?

Many Detroit families say they use Chanukah as an opportunity to teach their kids about giving. Rebecca Skoczylas of Southfield describes an enthusiastic holiday with her husband, Erie, and kids, Avi, 15, Alyssa, 12, and Emma, 5. “We light the candles and then all dance together in a family circle every night, while the dog goes crazy! It’s really interactive and enjoyable and the kids love it.”

Skoczylas gives her kids gifts every night of Chanukah although most are the affordable variety: vouchers for a parent-child ice cream date, chore-free day and stay-up-late pass.

They also write a check in their children’s honor to a charity every Chanukah. “We let the kids choose which charity because that opens the discussion for what causes are important to them. It helps develop an awareness of the world, how others may need and how lucky they are.”

Last year, Skoczylas was surprised and pleased when Avi thanked her for doing that — proving that giving can be more enjoyable than receiving, even for kids.

Inspiration for eight days’ worth of creative gift-giving can be found anywhere. In 2015, Debra Yamron Yamstein of Oak Park read an article on that suggested a spin that didn’t sound too overwhelming. Yamstein tweaked it slightly and ever since, her kids Shira, 10, and Noa, 8, look forward to a different theme every night of Chanukah: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read, something to give, something fuzzy, something to eat and something with Bubbie…

Debra Yamron Yamstein and her children Shira, 10, and Noa, 8, play dreidel with Bubbie. Courtesy of the Yamstein family

“It’s hard to get away from the fact that kids expect gifts in today’s culture. This way we don’t have to do anything extravagant and it’s a good way to manage the kid’s expectations,” said Yamstein, who’s vice president of senior adult services and community inclusion at JVS Human Services. She said implementing these categories freed them up to enjoy the holiday in a different way, without too much focus on the gifts.

Most meaningful is their “something to give” night, when the Yamstein kids sort through their toys and decide what to give away. They also empty their tzedakah boxes and have a family discussion about which charity the money should go to. Last year, they picked Yad Ezra, purchased food and hand-delivered it.

There are many opportunities to give in the Detroit community and one of the most beloved is Jewish Family Service’s Adopt-A-Family program. Families in need give an anonymous “wish list” to JFS, which then shares it with generous local families who try to fulfill them.

Julie and Eric Rosenbaum with children Simon, 4, and Pearl, 2. Courtesy of the Rosenbaum family
Julie Rosenbaum delivers all the gifts her family gathered for the families they adopt during the holidays through Jewish Family Service. Courtesy of the Rosenbaum family

Julie and Eric Rosenbaum of Novi are one of several families who adopt a family with the PJ Library network of parents. “We deliberately seek out families with kids the same ages as ours, which gives us a tangible and direct opportunity to talk with our kids about how, while they enjoy holiday abundance, there are other kids who don’t get to enjoy the same things. So, we’re making sure they have a nice experience like we have,” Rosenbaum said.

Though she admits her kids Simon, 4, and Pearl, 2, are really too young to fully comprehend yet, she said these discussions are surely planting the seeds for the future and how they want their children to act.

“Doing this builds a connection to a family we don’t know; it’s an opportunity to reinforce a value we try to embody,” she said.

Dr. Anna Strumba, Yakov Fradkin and their sons Eliyah, 14, and Shlomo, 4 Courtesy of the Fradkin family
The Fradkin men with a Fleischman resident last Chanukah. Courtesy of the Fradkin family

Beyond sending money and gifts, some people give the gift of themselves. Last year, the Fradkin family of Farmington Hills joined The Shul as they visited residents at Fleischman Residence of Jewish Senior Life in West Bloomfield for menorah lighting.

Dr. Anna Strumba, Yakov Fradkin and their sons Eliyah, 14, and Shlomo, 4, sang while Eliyah played the piano. Strumba said, “It was so meaningful to see how happy the music made the residents and how much they appreciated our visit.”

She said her thoughts naturally turned to her father-in-law, now deceased, who at the time was in a nursing home in Minnesota. She hoped families in Minnesota were brightening his holiday just like they were doing for the folks at Fleischman.

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