Like the holiday of Chanukah itself, some of the best gifts have great stories behind them. Here are some suggestions of gifts that have tales of hope, gifts that advance good works and help illuminate the world, creating miracles.
Create your own signature blend of coffee, or in the words of Dean’s Beans founder Dean Cycon, “Sculpt your own cup.” On the company’s website, you get to create a blend with Fair Trade, kosher-certified coffees from 13 countries, and name it. Beans are roasted in Dean’s northern Massachusetts headquarters, which ships about about 10,000 pounds of coffee a week.
Cycon has been in the coffee business for 18 years and considers the business his own “path of mitzvoth.” Dean’s Beans does development work in every village where it grows coffee, and it pays the highest prices in the coffee industry to farmers. Dean’s designs its programs based on farmers’ priorities: It has funded women’s health programs in Guatemala, a project to help reduce gender violence in Rwanda, and new schools in Ethiopia.
The lawyer-turned-coffee-entrepreneur was talking about eco-kosher and tikkun olam long before those terms needed no translation. He says, “Coffee is often the sole source of income for coffee farmers, so paying a fair price has significant ability to help them put food on the table, keep kids in school and have a better life.”
Dean’s Beans, deansbeans.com, Custom-designed coffee blends, $8.99 (minimum order of one pound)
Lights that Unite
Israeli artist Shraga Landesman’s sources are the Bible and ancient cultures. In this menorah, mystical teachings inspire the imagery. The bird, a creature that flies on the wind, faces the Tree of Life and the gazelle, a creature bound to earth but yearning to fly. As he explains, “the Chanukah lights are the Light of Torah that connects and unites the spiritual and material.”
Trees Menorah, judaica-mall.com, pewter and aluminum, $119.95 (Product #16068); solid brass, $229.95 (Product #19069), or see the artist’s website, landesman-shraga.israel.net.
Read About Generosity
Journalist Ted Gup was handed a great story. A few years ago, his mother gave him an old suitcase filled with letters and cancelled checks from someone named B. Virdot. It seemed that Virdot had placed an ad in December 1933 in the Canton Repository, the local newspaper in Canton, Ohio, where Gup grew up. The ad, placed during the dark days of the Depression, offered a cash gift to anyone who was going through difficult times, who would tell him his story. He sent out 150 checks for $5 each to families all over the city. No one had heard of Virdot, and he kept his identity a secret. While his modest checks didn’t reverse course of the Great Depression, they helped families with practical needs, and also gave them hope.
Seventy-five years later, Gup discovered that Virdot was the invented name of his grandfather, Sam Stone, an immigrant who had kept his own past hidden. In a “A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness — and a Trove of Letters — Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression,” Gup tells a great family story of a humble man who made a difference.
“A Secret Gift” by Ted Gup (Penguin Press), $25.95
Haitian artist Jhonson Augustin makes art from recycled 55-gallon oil drums. Made by hand, this sculptural wall hanging of a tree of life is for indoor or outdoor display. Augustin works in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, with great imagination amidst very difficult times; his work is life affirming in subject and creative process.
Oil Drum Tree of Life, globalexchangestore.com (Product #HISM15), $36
For urban enthusiasts who want to expand their photography skills, photographer Judah S. Harris leads a series of explorative Manhattan photo walks. The itinerary includes Lower Manhattan and the Lower East Side, with views of architecture, waterways and Jewish life. Along the 3-mile route, Harris provides instruction in camera technique and visual composition, as well as city lore.
Walk Manhattan 1, Dec. 19, 10:45 a.m.-2:15 p.m., judahsharris.com/workshops, $45 per person; bring a friend for an additional $35.
Spin New Tales
This unusual menorah was once a well-oiled bicycle chain. The metal spokes have been recycled into candleholders by artisans in a fair trade cooperative in India.
Recycled bicycle chain menorah, Moderntribe.com, $24
Increase the Light
Fragrant with possibility, this candle is a joint effort of Israeli and Palestinian women. The hollow candle, handcrafted from beeswax by Israeli women and ornamented with local leaves and flowers, is packaged inside a bag embroidered by Palestinian women. Also included is a small tea light to extend the light. Sales of the candle benefit the Parents Circle, an organization of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the conflict and are now working toward reconciliation and healing.
The Jerusalem Candle of Hope, globalexchangestore.com (Product # PA8205), $35.95
Give Sustainable, In Style
Choose bamboo, one of the earth’s fastest growing plants. These stately vases are made by hand in a village in Vietnam, using strips of bamboo. The Teaneck General Store is a new shop, featuring an appealing selection of artist-made, Fair Trade and eco-chic gifts, including the work of local artisans — and a Fair Trade coffee bar with kosher snacks.
Bamboo Inlaid Vase, Teaneck General Store, Cedar Lane, 505A Cedar Lane, Teaneck, N.J. 07666; teaneckgeneralstore.com, $39.99
Affirm Jewish History
Support the newest Jewish museum in the country. Become a member of the brand-new National Museum of American Jewish History, just opened on historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia. The five-story building includes over 1000 artifacts and opportunities for interactive viewing, emphasizing themes of immigration, freedom and achievement. Visitors can record their own family histories in a recording booth, and the interviews will be archived for public access.
Membership: Individual, $54: Dual, $72: Supporter, $180. National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 South Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA 19106-251; www.nmajh.org/join
Shmaltz Brewing celebrates its 14th year of brewing with the release of three Chanukah offerings: Jewbelation 14®, HE’BREW Holiday Gift Pack®, and barrel-aged Vertical Jewbelation®. Jewbelation 14® is brewed with 14 malts and 14 hops; Vertical Jewbelation® is a blend of all seven recipes of Jewbelation® barrel-aged in Sazerac 6-year rye whiskey barrels throughout 2010. HE’BREW Holiday Gift Pack® features all seven recipes of the award-winning Jewbelation® series (8-14) plus a bottle of the barrel-aged Vertical Jewbelation®. The eight-beer gift pack features a custom glass, Chanukah candles and a copy of “A Chanukah Prayer” by San Francisco stand-up comedian and cartoonist Michael Capozzola.
See shmaltz.com for store locations. Prices range from $5.99 to $30.99.
Hear Elie Wiesel in Concert
Here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: This concert was born out of Elie Wiesel’s love for the melodies of his childhood. Take a friend along to hear the author, teacher and activist sing the songs that have stayed with him for life. He will be backed by an orchestra and choir conducted by Matthew Lazar, produced by Grammy Award-winner Phil Ramone.
“Elie Wiesel in Concert: Melodies and Stories from Long Ago,” Saturday, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m., at the 92nd Street Y, $40.
Feed the Hungry
Celebrate light and miracles and make a charitable contribution. Consider Carmei Ha’ir, an innovative organization that helps the poor in Jerusalem, treating them with great dignity. Their soup kitchen in the heart of Jerusalem has the look and feel of a restaurant, but there’s no bill.
72 Agripas St., Jerusalem; or 1356 E. 19th St., Box 300713, Brooklyn, NY 11230; Carmeihair.org.il, POB, (718) 375-1900
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