Nothing says the holidays are approaching like the Whole Foods parking lot a few days before Thanksgiving and Hanukkah combined with a snow storm supposedly on the way. I am grateful I am finished with that part of my week. It was such a contradiction with holiday tunes rocking the store AND the guy in line behind me instructing the cashier he was "in a hurry" when she tried to wish me a Happy Holidays.
I took some time to think about what I am thankful for on my way home.
I found myself being thankful over how I decided to stop giving presents a few years back. You heard me right. I don't give my kids gifts at Hanukkah. Don't fret. When they were little, they received gobs and gobs of gifts. After they each filled a garbage bag full of toys they did not use anymore, so we could donate it to those who did not get gobs and gobs of gifts.
Then, a couple of years ago, when they were older, and asking me for so many things, which they so clearly did not need, I quit cold turkey. Rather than buying a bunch of junk, we went on a really great family trip. After all, there are only so many more years in which we can do this, so I started a different family tradition.
The gift was for all of us to spend time away as a family. The even greater gift was to find an opportunity as a family to get involved helping others. Over time, we loved playing a part in providing winter coats to those who could not afford them or helping to raise money at the Boys and Girls Club.
This year, our project runs deep, travels close to our hearts -- collectively.
Last summer, while the boys were at one Jewish sleepover camp, our cousins were at another camp working as counselors, where a terrible tragedy struck. A bolt of lighting struck several campers at The Goldman Union Camp (GUCI), one of them being Ethan Kadish. Ethan, 12-years-old at the time, was enjoying a fun-filled summer at camp, while preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. As the incident was covered on local news and CNN, most parents I knew could not help but to stop, connect and make some type of silent wish for Ethan and his family.
After 140+ days, Ethan recently returned home to his family, but not without tremendous medical needs and costs. Over the last several weeks, as my son and I readied ourselves for his Bar Mitzvah, our Rabbi mentioned Ethan. Ethan happens to be our Rabbi's cousin, and he wanted to ask us for help. Help in raising awareness.
My son, who ingested this situation on so many different levels -- another 13-year-old boy who should be having a Bar Mitzvah -- needed help to survive instead.
The answer was yes. Immediately. No presents this year, but we are going to help Ethan. This idea of helping was not unique to us, but to many others.
My cousin, who was on the scene and acted as a first responder, told me about that day and actions of those who were with Ethan at camp in the last few months:
I was on the field with a lot of campers for a frisbee tournament during Shabbat when it happened. As soon as the lightning struck, everyone made their way up to the cabins. It was one of the loudest noises I've ever heard. I looked to my right and saw three kids laying on the ground as if they had been arranged there in a triangle, and they all looked dead. I saw two counselors immediately go over to the kids and begin CPR. Every single staff member was doing something, whether it was gathering help, acting as a first responder, or staying with the kids who were obviously troubled by what they saw.
When I went back to my cabin to be with the campers, I found one of them crying. He saw all the same things I saw on the field, and staying strong after I saw him crying was the hardest thing I had to do as a counselor for nine weeks.
After the strike is when some really beautiful things happened. Prayers at our daily services were dedicated to the 3 kids and their families. By the time the session had ended, 2 of the 3 were out of the hospital, and one even returned to GUCI for the final few days, as cheerful as ever. As we all know, Ethan's injuries were much more serious, and the entire community has been keeping track of his progress. When I go to lunch with my friends from camp, there is always a mention of something that was posted in a blog by Ethan's family.
I think I speak for the entire GUCI staff when I say that not a day goes by that we don't spend some time thinking about Ethan.
During the holiday season, it warms all of our hearts to know that Ethan can finally be home again with his family. We know that there is still a long journey ahead for him, and our community will take it with him. But how far he has come, and the way he showed us how strong we all can be is a miracle on its own.
Not only are we along with Ethan's fellow campers, counselors, friends and family getting involved in spreading Ethan's story and helping his mom, dad, sister and brother, but they have formed Team Ethan. Team Ethan is where our family will be donating this holiday season, but not only that, showing our solidarity and support for another holiday.
On the 8th night of Hanukkah, families all over the country will light a blue candle for Ethan.
This was where my son knew we could help with spreading the word. Please think about lighting a candle on the 8th night of Hanukkah for Ethan and sharing a picture using the hashtag #8NE.
I am sure Ethan's family feels thankful to be reunited for the holidays. No gifts needed.