Julianne Albano, team leader at Just Kidding Around , wraps a gift with blue and silver ribbons, for Hanukkah. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Holiday begins evening of Tuesday, Dec. 12; ends evening of Wednesday, Dec. 20

Shomrei Emunah, 67 Park St.
Hannukah Party, Sunday, Dec. 17, 5-7 p.m. shomrei.org

Bnai Keshet,99 South Fullerton Ave.
Latkepalooza, Friday, Dec. 15, 6-8 p.m. Bnaikeshet.org


Gift-giving is not really a big part of Hanukkah.

The Festival of Lights commemorates a miracle: oil that should have kept a menorah going for only one day lasted for eight days.

A popular Twitter meme shows a phone with 10 percent battery. Imagine that phone staying charged for eight days and nights.

During the eight-day holiday, Jews light a candle on a menorah every night.

Heather Wise, education director at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, said that Jewish education at Shomrei focuses on what makes the holiday, not a major one, special. Instead of focusing on gifts, the congregation has a “Shomrei Shares” program that adopts families, in a gift drive.

Rabbi Ariann Weitzman of Bnai Keshet said that her family doesn’t do gifts, but “every night we do a couple of pieces of gelt.”

Hanukkah “gelt” are gold-wrapped chocolate coins.

Dreidels for sale at Just Kidding Around. NEIL GRABOWSKING/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

“We pick some activity while we watch the candles, that takes half an hour, while they burn down,” Weitzman said. The dreidel, a spinning top, is also popular with her family and with the school. The dreidel game itself is “really boring and slow,” so the kids create “a new version of dreidel” every year, she said. And in school, they use the holiday to talk about fighting oppression, since the holiday commemorates an uprising against oppressive rulers.

“We like to highlight fair-trade chocolate,” Weitzman said.

At Bnai Keshet, children will actually make gelt, using a mold and press.

The symbolism of the oil is the reason latkes fried potato pancakes are a traditional food of the holiday.

Both Montclair synagogues are holding special events for Hanukkah.

But while synagogues highlight the meaning of the holiday, it’s a big toy day for many families.

At Just Kidding Around, 507 Bloomfield Ave., team leader Julianne Albano said, “Ohhh, yeah,” the week before and during Hanukkah is a “big rush week” for toy buying. That means it’s going on right now:

Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, which falls on the evening of Dec. 12 this year. (Jewish holidays begin at sundown.)

Albano said that her customers tend to buy enough to give a gift per night, sometimes a mix of big and small gifts, sometimes lots of little gifts with a big one at the end.

Or sometimes there are toys that combine to make a big one, such as HABA’s Little Friends

Julianne Albano, team leader at Just Kidding Around, shows off a “big ticket item.” NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

dolls and dollhouse rooms, with the dollhouse the “big ticket” item.

For boys, magic sets are big, she said.

Some big sellers include the cooperative game “Forbidden Island,” which Albano had sold several of just that day. A cooperative game is one in which everyone wins or everyone loses, she explained.

“I play this with my fiancé, and I’m almost 30,” said Albano. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking putty, which she described as “souped up silly putty,” is popular. Some of it is magnetic, some changes color, some of it is reactive to heat, she said. The putty is also a popular Secret Santa gift. And again, Albano plays with it too: “It’s a big stress reliever.”

Jewish coupon book at Just Kidding Around. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

The store has a Hanukkah section, too, with play menorahs, dreidels and party favors.

At Learning Express, 596 Valley Road, customers can request Hanukkah wrapping paper. People were already asking for it last Friday.

Toys, gelt, songs, and food: the holiday is also an “excuse to fry a lot of things,” Weitzman said with a laugh. “It’s a great excuse to treat kids a little bit. We want kids to feel special.”

Hanukkah wrapping paper and plastic dreidels at Learning Express. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL