Hanukkah is the favorite holiday of Jewish children. There are colorful candle-lighting rituals, delicious foods, gifts, games and happy songs. If you are a Sunday school teacher, you will have plenty material to make your class have some real fun! In this article, for instance, I am offering you an idea that I believe will work for your elementary school children.
Let’s begin the class with a game called “Hanukkah Twist”.
Hanukkah Twist is a movement game to enable students to learn about Hanukkah and its symbols.
1. “Twister” game (Milton Bradley)
Black permanent marker
With the black marker, draw symbols and pictures on colored circles of Twister game. (suggestions: dreidle, Hanukkah geilt, gift, menorah, etc.)
Directions to the students:
Play this like “Twister,” but you must be able to identify the object in the circle to stay in the game. *
After this warm up game, it’s time to get a little bit serious. How about talking to them about the story of Hanukkah? Tell the students that “the story of Hanukkah goes back many, many years to the time when our ancestors were living in the land of Israel. In those days the beautiful Temple, called in Hebrew Bet Ha-mikdash, stood in Jerusalem. The country was ruled by the Syrian Greeks who were known as Yevanim. In the year 175 B.C.E., a wicked king, Antiochus, became the ruler.
In order to destroy the Jewish people, Antiochus wanted Jews to think of him as God, but of course they refused. The Jews also refused to worship Greek gods in their temples. So this king decided to punish the Jews for refusing to obey him. However, in the small town of Modin, lived a priest named Mattathias. He sent out a call to the people to rise up and join him in fighting the wicked king.
Many Jews came forward to form an army which was led by Judah Maccabee, the youngest of Mattathia’s five sons. They fought against the Syrian Greeks and drove them out of Jerusalem and from other cities. But when the victorious Jewish army came into the Bet Ha-mikdash in Jerusalem, their joy turned to sadness. The Syrian Greeks had made their beautiful Bet Ha-mikdash into a Greek Temple.
The Jews cleaned and purified the temple for the service and worship of God. When all was ready, a small jar of pure oil was found to light the Eternal Lamp, the Ner Tamid. The lamp burned for eight days on this tiny bit of oil! So for this reason, Hanukkah is celebrated today for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Kislev. A special Menorah, with eight lights and a Shamash as the ninth light, is lit each night of Hanukkah. The special Menorah for Hanukkah is called a Hanukiah.”
After telling your class this story, it’s time to have some fun again. How about offering them this puzzle to solve in groups of four?
Who lost the game of dreidel?
“Sara’s daughter Jane played dreidel until Jane called out, ‘I won!’
‘I don’t mind losing, ‘the other player said, ‘since it’s my daughter who won.’
If Sara didn’t lose, who did?”
Then, to finish the class, let’s sing and dance! You can choose some nice songs from your prayer book and improvise some movements with your students. Remember that the Jewish tradition is full of dance movements; take advantage of this happy holiday to have fun with your students and wish them a Happy Hanukkah!
* The game Hanukkah Twist is suggested in the book “The Lively Jewish Classroom: Games and Activities for Learning, by Rita Kopin. Denver, CO. 1980.