Abrams family has fun celebrating Hanukkah
By Lisa Fingeroot
The Abrams family's Hanukkah has included the annual party at Congregation Shomrei Torah synagogue for more than 30 years, This year, youngest daughter, Debbie , 15, added something new to the tradition. She created a sweatshirt that read: Mean Old Mother.
Debbie is the last of four kids raised by Michael and Rochel Abrams in the Northeast Tallahassee Shomrei community, and the only one to create this particular present for "MOM."
"The part I objected to was 'old,' Rochel joked. "I practice being mean."
Like other Jewish families around the world, the Abrams also light candles in a menorah on each of Hanukkah's eight nights and say specific Hanukkah blessings in Hebrew to celebrate the Jewish "Festival of Lights" each year.
Hanukkah, which means "dedication," commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and was celebrated this year from Dec. 4 to Dec. 11. Part of the Abrams' tradition is that once a child reaches 3 years old, he or she must be able to recite the Hebrew blessings, said Abrams, who has taught religion school at Shomrei for about 30 years and is the assistant principal for curriculum at Adult & Community Education (ACE).
Some families use more than one menorah on each night — some even have a menorah for each member of the family, but the Abrams use just one and take turns lighting the candles. They begin with the oldest member of the family, Dad Michael, and each night another family member is added according to age.
After the candles are lit each night, the family sings a variety of Hanukkah songs, which may change from night to night and from year to year, and then reads a Jewish-themed story together. Some years they choose children's Hanukkah stories and other years they might read Jewish-based short stories, she said.
Like the songs, the readings change from year to year, but the custom of family activities does not. They play dreidel, the game of chance played with a four-sided spinning top, but they play it with an Abrams twist — they try to use healthy food items instead of the traditional chocolate coins used by many. This year they used pecans as tokens for the game.
The Abrams kids, who range in age from 15 to 31 and now live in three different states, also created their own family tradition of trying to spin a "whole bunch" of dreidels upside down at one time, their mother said. And, naturally, the family eats potato latkes or pancakes and invites friends over to help create the culinary miracle that graces every Jewish family's Hanukkah table. The miracle of Hanukkah is all about the Temple oil lasting for eight days when it was not expected to last that long and Jews eat fried foods during the modern-day holiday to commemorate that miracle.
"We don't want it to be about only presents, and that's so easy to do," Abrams said. About 10 years ago, the family created a new present policy. Each family member must buy or make two presents for every other family member. The policy "makes it more about giving" than receiving and "Mom isn't doing all the buying," Abrams added.
While the immediate family keeps its traditions alive through e-mail wish lists, telephone calls and holiday visits, they can't all be home for the Shomrei party that is so much a part of the family's holiday. The older children say they have "missed the family feeling" they got from their hometown synagogue.
"We always come to this because Shomrei is such a big part of our life," Abrams said. "It's a big extended family. It's wonderful watching these kids grow up and continue Jewish traditions."
Rochel was one of the original party planners at Shomrei and her traditional Hanukkah craft is still made by children whose parents might have made the same craft — a menorah drip pad. It is a piece of cardboard covered in aluminum foil and decorated by the children with paints, glitter, confetti and craft beads that strike their fancy. When it is finished, parents can place the family menorah on top of the drip pad, and it catches the melted wax, "which further decorates the drip pad instead of your good tablecloth," Abrams said with a sly smile.
Wit must be a family tradition, too.
After making a sweatshirt for her mother and having her face painted at the annual Hanukkah party her family has been attending for more than 30 years, Debbie Abrams, left, works on a handmade menorah with her friend, Sarah Coven. Both teenagers are members of Congregation Shomrei Torah synagogue on Kerry Forest Parkway, where the annual party includes crafts, food and other activities for the kids