To answer the question you have to take a step back and reflect; what type of children do I want to raise? Do I want them to go to a good college (if affordable, yes)? Do I want them to be well off? (nice, but not necessary). Do I want them Jewish (definitely, yes)? What do I want the most for them?
My answer is contained in this story:
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a ten year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him and waited for his order.
“How much is an ice cream sundae?”
“Fifty cents,” replied the waitress.
The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it.
“How much is a dish of plain ice cream?”
Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient.
“Thirty five cents,” she said, a little brusquely.
The little boy again counted the coins and said, “I’ll have a plain ice cream.”
The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished his ice cream, paid the cashier and departed. When the waitress came back, she picked up the empty dish and swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies, fifteen cents, the difference between a scoop and a sundae – her tip.”
I want my children to be compassionate enough to think a person, overworked and not very likable at the moment, is still more important than fudge and whipped cream.
But, how can we accomplish this? By giving our children the best present of all on Hanukkah – ourselves. By spending the time with them instead of whatever else is most pressing at the moment.
Rachel Naomi Remen taught, “There is so much more to life than a perfectly clean kitchen floor.” There is also so much more to life than a football game. I have officiated at many funerals. I have never heard a child praise a parent for devoting their time to career.
You can only make a difference in life if you make a difference with others.
What gift to get for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah? The challenge with gifts for a life cycle event is two fold. On the one hand you want to give something that is relevant and meaningful to who the person is. On the other hand this gift is meant to mark an exceptional moment and as such we might hope for a gift that either endures or creates meaning. Most of whom a child is at 13 is not likely to endure, and for the most part is a good thing. So finding a fitting gift can be complicated. Moreover, becoming bar or bat mitzvah is about moving towards adulthood not necessarily about staying where you are. And if you opt for trendy you might end up with one of many which for many years ago was personalized Lucite and for my brother calculators. So finding the ‘right’ gift can be challenging.
My daughter and her friends are in the midst of becoming bat and bar mitzvah and I’m hoping to side step the accumulation of Lucite and calculators which besieged me and my brother when we reached that stage. Here are some of the better ideas I’ve gathered so far. I’d love to hear from you about the best (or worst) gifts that you have given or received.
Books: Sure books are old fashioned and may not be relevant in twenty years but they can be meaningful on several levels. Becoming bar or bat mitzvah is in no small part about Jewish learning so helping set up a basic Jewish library is entirely appropriate. What to give? A Bible (I’m partial to The Jewish Study Bible) a haggadah with cool commentary or pictures (Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday) other basics include books on Jewish humor, Jewish women or the The Book of Jewish Why.
Secular books can also have staying power. I still have the complete works of Shakespeare cousin Tamar gave me and the atlas cousins Phil and Gil gave me was used up until google maps took over. Jewish educator, Tamar Rabinowich, recalls that, “ I got an entire beautiful collection of the Bronte sister’s books – loved them especially in my late teens.” Similar kinds of classic works can be influential.
Art: Nice art endures. As Debbie Fein-Goldbach of Toronto explains “My favorite Bat Mitzvah gift was a limited edition framed print. Owning some ‘art’ made me feel so grown up.” A print I was given at 13, hangs I my living room even today.
Jewish ritual items: There are particular items that one needs to fulfill Jewish rituals. Many make quite lovely gifts. Everyone can use candle sticks, a Kiddush cup, a Hanukkah menorah, havdalah set, and a mezuzah. The more religious types might appreciate a yad (the pointer used when reading Torah), tefillin or a tallit. Some of these can get kind of pricey, so Andrea Hodos of Moving Torah recommends doing what she and some friends did for a child in their community, “getting together to purchase tefillin.” You may of course not be the only one thinking in this direction, as Career Coach and mother of two Pearl Mattenson warns, “kiddush cups were so popular among my boys’ friends that we can open up a store at this point.” A tallit is often given by a family member so check in before going ahead with a purchase.
Cash: Yes, admittedly it is crass but it is also very useful and is often used by kids to make some of their first adult purchases. My husband pooled his money and bought himself a computer which in the early 1980s put him ahead of the curve on his way to a life time love of technology. Others have used it for buying cars, a trip to Israel, or paying for college. It is also common for b’nai mitzvah to give a portion of their gifts to charity so it may go to a good cause. Denominations of 18 (which is linked to life) are considered good luck.
Tzedakah: Teaching kids about philanthropy as a means of helping them grow is a wonderful gift. I’ve seen several people give two checks, one for the child and the other one to be filled out for the organization of the young person’s choosing. Sometimes a straight donation will do wonders, especially if there is a cause that is near and dear to the heart of bar or bat mitzvah. Author Amy Meltzer gives out Kiva Cards which help to facilitate the giving process.
Sports Memorabilia: Sport team affiliation endures and memorabilia from a beloved team or player are likely to mark both the moment and feel timeless. If you want to give it a Jewish spin, educational consultant and Hebrew School teacher Nancy Martin suggests a “rare baseball card and poster of famous Jewish player who played for bar/bat mitzvah’s favorite team.”
Jewelry: This is a popular choice. Wearing jewelry is part of being grown up and nice pieces can endure as we grow. Items can be Jewish or not!
A truly personal gift: If you know the kid well, you know better than anyone what might be the right thing. Tickets for an outing? A photo of the family dog? A framed copy of the invitation?
You tell us, what is best to give or to avoid?