HUNTINGTON BEACH : Parent Visits Class to Explain Hanukkah


Parent Fran Gitsham told a classroom of fifth-graders Friday that the meaning of Hanukkah is to respect each others’ beliefs and to “always have a good heart.”

“If you live a life helping others, then good things will come to you,” she said.

For the past six years, Gitsham, a volunteer at Isojiro Oka School, has shared Jewish traditions, the culture and the religion with students during the week of Hanukkah, which celebrates religious freedom and commemorates the victory in 165 BC of the outnumbered Maccabees over the Syrians, who had captured and defiled the temple in Jerusalem with Greek deities.

Hanukkah ends Monday at sundown.

On Friday, she was back teaching the children the history of Hanukkah and the symbolism of a menorah and dreidel--a toy similar to a top.


She also explained her own family traditions of making latke, potato pancakes, and of her mother’s tradition of baking mandel, a hard biscuit cookie (her mother now makes the treat with chocolate chips for her grandchildren).

Gitsham started the annual program when her daughter, Sara, now 10 and in fifth grade, was in kindergarten.

At the time, Gitsham said the school had a small Jewish population and believed it was important that children learn more about each others’ cultures: “It’s a learning experience that I hope helps them to fight prejudices when they get older.”

Gitsham, her daughter and classmate, Briana Garber, also 10, gave the presentation. Sara said she teaches her friends about her faith because “everyone should know about different traditions so they’ll understand more about the culture.”

The two students handed out chocolate coins, or gelt , which signifies “sweetness and good,” and showed their classmates how to play the dreidel game.

Briana said the lesson teaches students to be more open-minded and caring toward each other. She added that it is important so her classmates “don’t judge people who are Jewish.” Principal Paul Klempner said the presentation ties in with this year’s schoolwide theme of “Building a Bridge of Compassion.”


“If we can understand about a person’s culture and beliefs, it allows us to accept each other for who we are and to build tolerance,” he said.