Including Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired in Hanukkah Traditions

hands of family members around a lit Menorah

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with a family friend, a rabbi. I asked him to explain the holiday of Hanukkah along with its traditions and celebrations.

He explained that the holiday of Hanukkah commemorates a time (2,180 years ago) when G-d empowered the ancient Israelites to defeat the powerful Syrian-Greek army. The army, under the leadership of Antiochus Epiphanes, sought to conquer Israel and cruelly deny the Jews their right to worship G-d or practice their faith. Although vastly outnumbered and short of weapons, the brave Israelites miraculously defeated the Syrian-Greek army over a three-year period. The Jews re-claimed their land and holy sites, including the Jerusalem Temple, and re-dedicated it to G-d (the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication”). Upon re-lighting the holy candelabra (or “menorah”) lights inside their holy Temple, the Jews experienced a second miracle when the lights stayed lit for eight days and nights (instead of one day/night which was the amount of pure olive oil available to fuel the lights).

The miracle of the menorah explains why Hanukkah presently lasts eight days and nights, and it further teaches why traditional holiday foods such as potato pancakes and doughnuts are eaten (because they’re fried in oil). In addition, Jewish families celebrate the holiday by: annually recounting the Hanukkah story, lighting menorah candles in their homes, singing Hanukkah songs, giving gifts to each other, playing a game that involves spinning a top (known as a “dreidel”) and helping the less fortunate.

I wondered aloud if these festival elements are accessible to children who are blind or visually impaired. Having previously worked with adults who had various disabilities including blindness, I knew my friend, the rabbi, was an ideal sounding board for my questions. He was beyond gracious in providing his thoughts, recommendations, and time.

“If you had a child who was totally blind, what specific Hanukkah traditions would you make accessible in order for your child to participate?” I asked.

Below are his recommendations and complementary resources:

  • In order to find Hanukkah information for a blind child, view Paths to Literacy’s list of braille Hanukkah books for accessible literature.
  • Google instructions on how to build a simple menorah or purchase a candle making kit (online) and assist your child in making either or both.
  • Because an additional menorah candle is lit each evening, one can use hand over hand instruction to allow a blind child to participate in the ceremony.
  • You can provide song lyrics or the words of the candle lighting blessings in braille or large print for each evening’s celebration. Alternatively (or additionally), you can teach your child to memorize the songs and blessings before the holiday begins.
  • For your child’s participation in the dreidel game (each side of the four-sided top has a different Hebrew letter embossed on it), you can purchase a braille dreidel or add tactile markings to your dreidel. You can then Google instructions for “dreidel game” and play it with your child.
  • Invite your child to help make holiday treats of potato pancakes (known as “latkes”) and doughnuts. Review “Safe cooking techniques for cooks who are blind or visually impaired”.
  • As a means to extend your blessings to others, volunteer as a family to help the less fortunate (such as by distributing gifts to children in low income families, feeding hungry families, etc.). You may find the article “Finding a Volunteer Position as an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired” helpful.
  • Attend an enjoyable community Hanukkah celebration. If helpful, utilize the information in “Prepare to Take Your Child Who Is Blind Someplace New”. (For example, San Antonio is having a public Hanukkah celebration from 1:30 – 4:30 PM on Sunday, December 13th. There will be a: “Hanukkah Wonderland”, menorah lighting ceremony and musical concert near the Riverwalk).
  • As gift giving is now a component of Hanukkah, look through FamilyConnect’s Holiday Gift Guide when choosing gifts appropriate for a child who is blind, and consider giving “experience gifts.”

If you have found additional ways to include your blind or visually-impaired child in the celebration and traditions of Hanukkah, we would love to hear your input and ideas!

Happy Hanukkah to you and yours!