Columns - 2008

    Original gifts

    by Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice columnist

    Ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to dreidel!!!

    It's December, time to put the recess in recession. Time for Jews everywhere to be thankful for being Jews. After all, as recently reported, all the gifts in the song "Twelve Days of Christmas" this year cost approximately $86,609. All the gifts in "Dreidel, Dreidel" still maintain their longstanding street value of approximately fifty cents.

    But let's face it. Whether you're braving mall traffic or simply trying to sit through commercials, the only people who aren't feeling Santa Claustrophobic are agoraphobic. But perhaps this season of commercials and commercialism shouldn't feel so alien to the J Crew as you might think.

    It's a commonly forgotten fact today that Chanukah was originally not a gift-giving holiday. It only recently, within the last hundred years or less, became about gift-giving via guilt by proximity to Christmas.

    Originally, Chanukah was about giving gelt. Unfortunately, through the game-of-telephone effect, over the centuries this Jewish tradition became giving guilt and was no longer limited to Chanukah.

    However, thanks to recently unearthed information in the long-lost Mishnah tractate Bava Gump, we now know that before gelt was given for Chanukah, gifts were actually exchanged. So today's Chanukah tradition is actually regifted.

    But this discovery is unique from all other discoveries made in our minutes of research into Bava Gump. This discovery was in Bava Gump, but was not actually part of its text.

    How is that possible? Folded neatly and stuck in near the back of our discovered copy of Bava Gump is a shopping list which scientific analysis would inconclusively show is from one of the very first Chanukah observations.

    So now, in lieu of scientific analysis (because while the results wouldn't be much different, the bill would be), for the first time in our time you can see what the popular gifts were for one of the earliest celebrations of Chanukah:

    • A hammer, in honor of the Maccabees, especially Judah (known as "Judah the Hammer"); and by necessity to break the latkes into small enough pieces to eat.
    • A menorah, because with two young kids and this season's drought we can't afford the trip to Jerusalem this year to watch the annual Menorah Lighting at Rock-of-Ages Center.
    • Oil, enough to light the menorah for eight days and to make enough latkes for eight days. (The little-known miracle of Chanukah is actually that the menorah stayed lit for eight days even though eighty percent of the oil was used in the latkes.)
    • A dreidel, made of something that will actually spin and be easily weighted evenly. Not something silly like clay.
    • Gold coins for betting during the dreidel game, not those fakes that Uncle Moishe bet with last year which look real but are really filled with chocolate.
    • Elephant repellant, because if there's one lesson to learn from the Maccabeean Revolt it's to avoid the fate of Judah's oldest brother Eliezer by avoiding the elephants.
    • Apples and honey, because they're good for you and they're still on special after being overstocked again for Rosh Hashanah this year.
    • "Sukkah Disassembly for Dummies," just to give him the hint.
    • Two boxes of matzah, because if we don't buy it this early it might still be edible by Passover.
    • Potatoes, to lightly sprinkle in the oil when making latkes.
    • Latke mix, for when we give up on the oil and potatoes after the third failed attempt.
    • Stockings, because it gets chilly this time of year; and hooks to hang them from the mantle to dry them out over the fire.
    • One latke, two latkes, and so on into the night; because you may not guess, but it was the latkes, that gave brave Judah his fight.
    • Fruit-filled doughnuts, because Krispy Kreme hasn't opened here yet.
    • An Alabama victory in the SEC Championship Game.

    So what caused the change from gifts to gelt? Just like today, people quickly found that their relatives and friends are impossible to shop for, so instead of presents they just gave money: The gift that keeps on giving, at least while it's still worth the paper it's printed on.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who, for the first time in thirteen years, spelled Hanukkah the same way throughout an entire column. Until now. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.