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LifestyleHolidaysWinter Holidays

During a Hanukkah like no other, Long Islanders share family traditions 

The Feinberg family of Syosset wanted to make Hanukkah about more than just the presents for their 5-year-old daughter Kayla, so they came up with an eight days of kindness menorah.  Credit: Morgan Campbell

Like any typical preschooler, Kayla Feinberg would wake every morning during Hanukkah and ask, "When is it sundown? Where is the present?"

Her mother, Samara, was troubled by the emphasis on the gifts children typically receive on each of the eight evenings of the holiday, and she wanted to pivot the focus. So, she came up with a new Kindness Menorah tradition, which becomes even more relevant this year when everybody could use a little.

Five Long Island families, including the Feinbergs of Syosset, shared traditions they’ve created that others can adopt for their families this year as well, as eight nights of Hanukkah during a pandemic may mean eight nights celebrating primarily at home:

FLAMES OF KINDNESS

To create the new family tradition, Feinberg, 38, director of events for the American Camp Association NY and NJ, and her husband, Adam, 38, a managing director at KPMG, adapted a menorah that Kayla had created at preschool. The menorah features clothespins as candles and paper flames to be attached each night as the holiday progresses.

Feinberg took the paper flames and wrote a different act of kindness on the back of each one, such as "leave treats for the delivery person on our front stoop with a note," or "FaceTime someone you haven’t talked to in a while and tell them you love them," or "draw a picture to mail to our relatives in Texas."

Last year, on each morning of Hanukkah, Kayla, then 4, turned around a flame to see what the act of the day was. "She got very excited," Feinberg says. This year, Kayla, now 5, has already asked what her parents think this year’s acts of kindness might be.

THE LOSER ‘WINS’ TOO

Alison Kyler-Wank, 49, a stay-at-home mom from Woodbury, and her husband, Greg, 51, an accountant, have four children between the ages of 9 and 20. If the kids had their way, they would all tear open their gifts simultaneously each night and then run off to play with them. "I spend a lot of time purchasing and wrapping presents. I want the night to linger," Kyler-Wank says.

So she created a dreidel game tradition to slow down the opening of the presents. The family plays around the dining room table each night, and as each person is "out," play stops while that person gets to open a present. Then the game resumes until another person is out. The winner of the game has bragging rights and all the jelly beans or chocolate gelt that was used to ante up each round but also opens his or her present last.

"It keeps us around the table longer. I try to make it drag on as long as possible," Kyler-Wank admits. "It’s a little gimmicky and silly, but it’s may way of keeping everybody together."

NOSTALGIC DECORATIONS

Wendy Marx’s children are now in their mid-30s, but the 68-year-old Jewish educator from Jericho continues a tradition she’s had for decades. Each year, she decorates her home for the holiday with arts and crafts projects her children made when they were in nursery school, from popsicle menorahs to dreidel mobiles. "It reminds me that we were once young. It reminds me that as Jews, we believe in ‘from one generation to the next.’ "

Marx also looks through the Hanukkah cards that her children made for their parents in 1988 and 1989. And the menorahs that she lights each night are two that her kids made in Hebrew School, she says. "My kids think I go overboard, but this is how I get into the holiday spirit," Marx says.

COUNT THE MENORAHS

When Marcy Fogel was growing up, her father would drive the family around their Plainview neighborhood to count the number of electric menorahs they could see in other people’s windows.

Fogel, now 45 and a school counselor, lives with her husband, Marc, 44, an accountant, and their two children, Eliana, 15 and Alyssa, 8, in nearby Old Bethpage, and the family carries on the tradition, piling in the car to make the drive each Hanukkah. Sometimes they make a competition of it, seeing whether they spot more menorahs out of the right side of the car or out of the left; sometimes they also count any Hanukkah decorations such as blow-ups people have on their lawns.

"Over the years, it seems like the numbers have increased," Fogel says. Adds Marc: "We actually counted up to 100 last year. It took about two hours."

HANUKKAH SINGALONG

For more than 15 years, Deborah Faust of Commack has a Hanukkah singalong with her family, her sister’s family and their parents on one of the holiday nights. "We have song sheets with old favorites and a few new ones," she says.

Songs include, of course, "I Have a Little Dreidel," but the family also sings, "Hanukkah, Oh Hannukah," "Light One Candle," Rock of Ages" and more. The song session lasts more than half an hour, says Faust, a middle school guidance counselor, and has carried on even as Faust's son, Jeremy, 19, has become a college freshman, and her sister's children have reached their 20s.

But this will be the first Hanukkah since Faust’s father, Rabbi Rievan Slavkin, died in early April due to complications of COVID-19. "Like all of the ‘firsts’ since his passing, we are doing our best to keep these traditions going, in his memory and for us, too," Faust says.

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