Bringing Hanukkah to Life Through Theater, Play, and Imagination

K'ilu Hanukkah Adventure, Photo: Michael Balter

When we think about bringing Jewish holiday stories to life, we often think about Passover. Tradition tells us to experience the Exodus story “k’ilu” – “as if” – we ourselves were leaving Egypt. What if we applied this idea to all of our holiday narratives, including Hanukkah?

Many children are introduced to the rituals of lighting the Chanukiah, spinning the dreidel, and eating latkes well before they understand the why behind these actions.

How can the modalities of theater and multi-sensory play help us bring the story of Hanukkah to life –and spread light in the darkness–with our children, families and communities this year?

Covenant Foundation
Jewish Grandparents Network Grandparent & Me Workshop, Photo Credit: Jordan Zelvin

Here are a few examples from my organization, The K’ilu Company, of ways you can use theatrical play and imagination to connect yourselves and the children in your lives to Hanukkah. The resources listed here can be used at home or in your community.

  • Hanukkah Adventure Kits bring the story of the holiday to life for families at home through immersive theater. A guided audio experience, offering a short chapter to play each night of Hanukkah, offers children and families the chance to act out the story using homemade props and imagination – running away with Judah, rebuilding the temple, and finding the last bit of oil to save the day.
  • This year, the Hanukkah Adventure program is also coming to life as a communal experience in classrooms, synagogues, and communities in Chicago, Miami, Ohio, Maine, and Toronto. Children and families put on their disguises, grab their maps, and travel back in time to Ancient Israel to uncover why we light the menorah and spin the dreidel each year.
  • Grandparents and grandchildren can use the Hanukkah Discovery Kit (a partnership with the Jewish Grandparents Network) to build a miniature puppet theater activating the Hanukkah story, and complete challenges each night of Hanukkah as a way to connect with each other – either in person or at a distance.
  • Recently, grandparents and grandchildren participated in a pilot project called Grandparent & Me (a project of Jewish Grandparents Network at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook IL), exploring the Hanukkah story by building human menorahs using their bodies and simple materials.
  • Pre-School Teachers participating in the national ElevatEd program explored the technique of Shadow Puppetry as a way to bring the Hanukkah story to life with children using light itself.

There are many ways to spread the light of our tradition to children and families. If you’re looking for more, consider joining me as part of the inaugural cohort of the K’ilu Lab for Jewish Family Educators, March 13-14 at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, IL.

Apply today for this training and community-building lab designed for Jewish family education & engagement professionals from across the country. Together, we’ll explore tangible tools to use in your community this Passover while joining a national cohort of Jewish educators dedicated to creating innovative Jewish family programming.

Chag Sameach!