Haggadot Activity

The teacher will offer the students a plethora of haggadot from different organizations/denominations.

Students will answer the following questions, then share their answers with the class.

    1. Name of Haggadah
    2. Who published it
    3. When was it published
    4. Name something you’re familiar with from the haggadah, and note the page
    5. Name something new to you, and note the page

Hanukkah Story, Version #1

What is Hanukkah? This is what our sages taught:

On the 25th of Kislev - the days of Hanukkah, they are eight, not to eulogize on them and not to fast on them, for when the Greeks entered the Temple, they polluted all the oils in the Temple, and when the Hasmonean dynasty overcame and defeated them, they checked and they found but one cruse of oil that was set in place with the seal of the High Priest, but there was in it only enough to light a single day. A miracle was done with it, and they lit from it for eight days. The following year the sages fixed those days, making them holidays for praise and thanksgiving.

Talmud Shabbat 21b

Hanukkah Story, Version #2

Maccabees 1 and 2 tell the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E., Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice. Antiochus banned circumcision, and forced Jews to eat pork, with the threat of death if they did not obey. Many Jews were killed by Antiochus for standing up for their religion, traditions, and their people.

The Maccabees - led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah - waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and re-dedication of the Temple. This small band of brothers fought together against the great Greek army of Antiochus.

Since they were unable to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at its proper time in early autumn, the victorious Maccabees decided that Sukkot should be celebrated once they re-dedicated the Temple, which they did on the 25th of the month of Kislev in the year 164 B.C.E. Since Sukkot lasts seven days, this became the time frame adopted for Hanukkah.

About 250 years after these events, the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote his account of the origins of the holiday. Josephus referred to the holiday as the Festival of Lights and not as Hanukkah. Josephus seems to be connecting the newfound liberty that resulted from the events with the image of light, and the holiday is still often referred to by the title Josephus gave it.

Hanukkah Story, Version #3

Around the year 170 B.C.E., the land of Judea was dominated by Greek, Hellenizing powers. Despite this, the Jews enjoyed relatively religious freedom because the Greeks were Pagan. As Pagans and polytheists (those who believe in more than one god), they didn't really mind if your God was different from theirs, as long as you paid your taxes!

Amidst this era of freedom of choice, many Jews fell in love with the Greek culture of arts, athletics, and literature, and stopped worshiping God at the Temple in Jerusalem. Other Jews remained as committed as ever to Temple worship, including sacrifice, Shabbat, Kashrut, and circumcision. This conflict about how to respond to Greek culture led to near civil war amongst the Jews.

At a certain point, the Greek leader at the time, Antiochus IV, went away to fight a battle in Egypt. After he had been away from some time, news reached Judea that Antiochus IV had lost the battle, possibly dying in the process. Faced with the possibility of a lack of leadership in the land, violence broke out amongst the competing factions of Jews, as well as between Jews and Greeks.

Antiochus IV rushed back to Judea, enraged from his own loss in battle, and with a weakened army, tried to suppress the Jewish revolt. He tried to stop the violence between the competing factions of Jews and prevent it from weakening his own power. In the process, he outlawed many Jewish practices, including keeping Kashrut, circumcision, and Shabbat. He had Jews put to death for practicing these Jewish rituals.

Finally, those Jews committed to Jewish tradition and ritual won out (Maccabees), beating the Jews who were committed to Greek culture and the Greek army of Antiochus IV. Within a year of their victory, they re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem and held a huge feast and fundraiser, called Hanukkah, which means 're-dedication.'

Fall Holidays Discussion

Think, Pair, Share: What are the similarities and differences between Thanksgiving and Sukkot? Create a Venn Diagram with spaces for each of the holidays and the overlap - first individually, then with your chevruta, and finally compiled on the board as a class.

Class mindfulness visualization of farm life: tilling, planting, growing/tending, harvesting. Questions for discussion: impressions of farm experience? How does it change perspective on food at your meals? How does it motivate fall harvest holidays? What are the differences in menu, ritual, location?

Rosh Hashanah Resolutions and Goals

Addressing Students

  • What will the next year be? 57--
  • In the Jewish calendar, the beginning of the New Year is a time of teshuva, return. What might this idea of return mean? What are we returning to?
    • get them to think about their own lives: school (religious and secular), seasons changing, cycle of Jewish holidays
  • In some ways this returning, this teshuva, actually starting completely anew. Jewish wisdom tells us that we have the chance to recreate ourselves anew, starting over in places where we'd like to improve or change. Does this seem like a contradiction, 'starting something new' + 'returning?' (let them discuss a bit)
  • When you start school you are both starting something new AND returning. You will still have your memories from last year, the things that were hard and the things that went well. Next week as we prepare for Yom Kippur we will talk about the things you would like to leave behind from this past year. But right now, we want to focus on our goals and the ways we want to start anew!

Poster Board Activity

Use 4 different poster boards around the room to serve as stations. Each group will spend 6-8 min at each station, in rotation. Each student should write:

  • Family
    • What is your role in your family? How do you contribute to your family unit?
    • Is there anything you would change about the way your family works? How can you change yourself to make that possible?
    • Bottom line: What are your goals for yourself as a child/sibling/grandchild?
  • School
    • What are you looking forward to in this year of school? How do you want to grow as a student?
    • Bottom line: What are your goals for yourself as a student?
  • Jewish Life
    • What areas of Jewish life are you interested in learning more about this year: prayer, God, history, culture?
    • Bottom line: What are your goals for yourself as a Jew
  • Extracurricular Activities
    • What new projects would you like to take on this year? How would you like to improve or grow in the projects you already do?
    • Bottom line: What are your goals in your other projects, or in life in general this year?

Sukkah Guests: Ushpizin

Explain to students about Ushpzin being invited symbolically:

  • Abraham welcomed guests to his home no matter who they were and fed them. This is where we get our Jewish value of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests. What are some of the ways that you are hospitable in your own home?
  • On Sukkot, we are commanded to welcome guests into our sukkah, especially those who are poor or needy.
  • In addition, we have 'symbolic guests' called 'Ushpizin.' These are people that we keep in the back of our mind as we dwell in our sukkah. Sometimes people include pictures of their Ushpizin as decoration on the wall of their sukkah. The traditional Ushpizin are the Forefathers/Foremothers.
  • The Ushpizin you select are people you look up to and want to take after in your own life.

Ushpizin Activity

Students should pick one person whom they would like to symbolically host, draw their picture, and add a few words to the picture on why they want to invite that person to the sukkah. It can be someone they know, or not; alive, or deceased; maybe a role model.

Students will play a variant of the "I'm taking with me..." game, where students must repeat what everyone before them has said IN ADDITION to stating their own.

The traditional Ushpizin statement is made each night of Sukkot, and a different guest is singled out each night:

"I invite to my meal the exalted guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell with me."

Students will say, "I invite to my meal the exalted guests (insert all the Ushpizin already stated by classmates). May it please you, (students will say their own Ushpizin here), my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell with me."

*You might need to explain what 'exalted' means!

Thanksgiving Done Jewishly

What will you be thankful for this year? Giving thanks is an essential part of Jewish tradition. Why?

Study Texts

Jewish Thanksgiving Activity

You will be creating your own Jewish Thanksgiving dinner. Follow the instructions below in your group.

1. Create a list of items that will be on your Jewish Thanksgiving table (at least 15 items!). Using your Hebrew dictionary, translate the words. Your paper should look like this:

1) Turkey תרנגול הודו

2. Using your prayer books, choose (at least) 3 prayers or Jewish songs that you would like to include in your Jewish Thanksgiving. Write the prayer names AND PAGE NUMBERS on your paper below your Item list.


      • Make sure you know the prayers you choose
      • Make sure to have a reason you want to include it in your dinner! (“This prayer fits into my Jewish Thanksgiving because it talks about…”)

3. Create your Dinner schedule. Be sure to include readings of the 4 study texts and the 3 prayers you selected.

Sample Schedule:

5 Guests arrive

5:30 Guests seated; Text #1, read and discuss

5:45 Prayer #1

5:50 Appetizers

6 Text #2, read and discuss

6:10 Carve turkey

4. IF you have completed Steps 1-3 before the class is ready to present, look back at your list from Step 1. Draw the items on your list on pieces of paper and cut them out. Make sure to label your props with their Hebrew names.

5. Prepare within your group to present your Jewish Thanksgiving dinner to the class.

Online Resources

Need more online resources for Jewish holidays? Check out our Online Resources page by clicking the blue button below!