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Hannukah grinch gets in the holiday spirit

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12/03/2010

Hannukah grinch photo

It’s outrageous to wake up on the morning of December 3, having only had two days of below 30 degree weather and one light dusting of snow, and realize that tonight is already the third night of Hanukkah…craziness, right?!

For most of us, it feels like Hanukkah just snuck right up on us – we’ve only been seeing commercials about Christmas for a month – not the requisite 7+ weeks that we’re used to by Christmas time when Hanukkah usually falls (some of you might remember my Christmas overload frustration).

For me, it’s quite the opposite.  I’ve been talking about Hanukkah on a regular basis nearly daily since August.  Yes – that probably seems odd to most of you, but as a volunteer coordinator at a local Jewish agency, The ARK, Jewish (and some secular) holidays drive my workload…and sometimes drive me crazy.

The ARK runs an incredible program called Chanukah Gift Wishes.  (Sidenote: yes, the I just spelled Hanukkah with the “Ch” – don’t ask me why but while I have always drifted to the one “H”, two “K”s in my personal life, The ARK typically uses the “Ch” spelling, but I just can’t give Hanukkah up…I’m weird.)

Chanukah Gift Wishes is a program where ARK clients and their families fill out wish lists for holiday presents (valued around $35 per gift) and volunteers from the Chicagoland community generously purchase their gifts anonymously so that the recipients can celebrate the holidays in the same dignified manner that us Oy!readers do.

By October 25th, I was already feeling like the Hanukkah Grinch!  It was 10 days past the deadline, and I had dozens of clients turning in forms late.  I had donors turning in forms late.  I was trying my best to accommodate special requests from both parties, juggling over 850 clients and 250 volunteer families, and I just wanted to pull out all my hair!

Fast forward to a month later, making sure that the gifts came in for all 885 clients (final tally!), and I was just beat.  Hanukkah was a few days away, Thanksgiving was upon us, and the thought of lighting a menorah made me want to hide under my desk.

My wonderful husband asked me what I wanted this year for Hanukkah, and I asked him to cancel the holiday – for me and for everyone else!  Um…not an option (duh).

We decided that instead of buy gifts for each other, we would take part in The ARK’s Chanukah Gift Wishes program, so we headed to Target with wish lists in tow, and picked out presents for ARK clients who wouldn’t otherwise receive gifts this year.

As we stood in line at Target with gifts for others filling my cart, my strange Chanukah hatred slowly started to evaporate.  As the trite saying goes, it’s better to give than to receive.  And boy did our community give.

We, along with 270 other families, bought linens and toys, kitchen goods and books, towels and games, DVDs and gift cards to Target, Kohls, Walmart and even the CTA.

Reading words of thanks from an elderly couple who haven’t received gifts in years brought tears to my eyes.  Seeing the faces of parents as they walk out of The ARK with gifts to give their children made my Hanukkah hatred dissipate faster than those cheap candles burn in our menorah 20 minutes after we light them.

Had I been smarter, I would have shared this story with the Oy! community sooner, so you could have taken part in this mitzvah.  I’m lucky that not only did we have 270 families by gifts for ARK clients but dozens of others donated money so we could provide gift cards for clients in our transitional housing shelter and program for mentally ill adults.

The program has ended, but the needs still remain – not for Hanukkah, but for the year-round needs of Jews in need in our community.

To find out how you can get involved and volunteer at The ARK, email rfriedman@arkchicago.org.

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