Raz Chen

Improving Purim

Yes, I even like to get into costume. (My own picture from a costume event)
Yes, I even like to get into costume. (My own picture from a costume event)

I know I’m about to become a Scrooge, (do Jews have that?) but holidays have gotten out of control here in the United States. 

My disapproval began with watching my neighbors celebrate Halloween. I asked my co-author to explain this strange custom to me. “Maybe I’m missing something but it looks like people dress kids up in costumes and teach them to beg strangers for candy?” I asked, watching kids lug around sacks stuffed with sugar. 

My co-author provided me with a (very) detailed historical lecture that basically said it wasn’t meant to be a candy consumption marathon, but a harvest festival to have some treats after the hard work of picking the crops and preserving them for the winter season.

“But don’t we get our produce from the supermarket? Those kids aren’t on the farm? Why do they get candy?” I asked. I decided this holiday would not be one celebrated in my future family. 

Of course, then I got to see the excesses of Purim in my own Jewish community, with Mishloach Manot as big as toddlers and kids in costumes lugging around equally large bags of candy and I realized that the problems of consumption were quite conspicuous in my own community as well and I had nothing to feel proud of. 

Perhaps I should cancel Purim as well?

After imagining how six-year-old me would take the idea of canceling Purim, I quickly realized I was being a killjoy. In Krav Maga, we don’t curse the world for not being what we want. We celebrate the world for what it is, and work to modify what we feel isn’t working to improve the world around us. If the world feels wrong, we strive to make it better and safe. 

There is a lot to like about holidays for children. The costumes are incredible and magical, especially the adorable little kids. The decorations are amazing to see. 

I realized the candy-fest can be modified to be much healthier. Here are some ideas to start you off. 

Idea: Teach the real meaning of holidays. 

  • On Purim, focus on the heroism of the Jews and the celebration of freedom from oppression, and courage in the face of cruelty. Find ways for kids to work on causes that teach about strength and building character. 

Idea: Get Healthy 

  • Cook together. Get your kids involved with the food preparation. Help them understand what is going on in their bodies and how it nourishes them. And to be honest, put them to work. They are part of the family and should contribute. 
  • Find ways to make your meals and your Mishloach Manot healthier. A few simple swaps can make a huge difference. Pair one more indulgent treat with one healthy snack to make a balanced combination. 
  • Host holiday fun events that are focused on movement, not munching. Play games, take walks together, focus on creating memories, and have conversations. 

Idea: Give Back 

  • Have your kids pre-write thank you notes to give to the houses when you know they’ll be getting sweets. It can be as simple as “Thank you for the candy,” so that the kids feel they have worked towards their goal. 
  • Make a deal with your kids that they can pick out an agreed-upon amount of candy, and the rest will be donated to a good cause. I linked an amazing charity   Operation Shoebox, which provides candy to service troops serving abroad. They will be happy to take the unopened candy.  Make your kids an active part of the donation. Talk to them about how they will be helping people and making their day. You can even include cards from the kids, wishing the soldiers safety. I’m a former combat soldier, so I can tell you how treasured those personal touches really are. Of course, if you really want to go above and beyond,  have your kids ask for people to forgo candy gifts and instead donate for care packages. The following items aren’t expensive and are desperately needed. 
    • For our Boots: Good socks and foot powder really make the endless time on our feet a lot easier and less smelly.
    • Bathing supplies: Soap, shampoo, body wash, face wash, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer help keep us clean.
    • Dental supplies: Toothpaste, toothbrush, and floss keeps us smiling.
    • Hygiene: Deodorant, sunscreen, and lip balm keeps us smelling and feeling our best.

    Seriously, we need that much more than candy. I can tell you from my own experience how much we love and treasure those cards and gift packages. They make our day and are so appreciated. 

    • Another amazing charity is Ronald McDonald House Charities, which work with severely sick children and their families and gives them care packages. Always a good cause. 

Idea: Use the skills

  • Practice talking to strangers. Which strangers are safe to approach if there is a danger? Those are the same strangers who are safe to get candy from.
  • Practice skills. For instance, let your kids guide you in directions. “How do we find our way to X house?” If they don’t know, have discussions on how to find their way. If they get lost, how should they find their way again?

Idea: Reduce Consumption

  • Make decorations and get presents that are ecologically friendly. As many holidays began as harvest festivals, go back to tradition by getting back to the land and working on reducing plastic and waste. Cut down on consumption. 
  • Go through the house and see what is no longer needed and can be donated. This is a time of giving. It’s right before Pesach, perfect for spring cleaning. 

So, Purim and other fun holidays can be saved, and we all still have fun. Happy holidays to all, and to all, a good night!

About the Author
Raz Chen is an expert in Krav Maga, teaching in New York City, with multiple certifications from the Sports Academy in Israel, and Wingate Institute. A former special operations infantry combatant and Senior military Krav Maga instructor, Raz taught over 10,000 soldiers, including top special forces counter-terrorism and US Marines. He currently teaches classes and seminars for the army, police, and civilians on topics like counter-terrorism, rape prevention, Krav Maga instructor certification, Krav Maga combat, and fitness. He is the creator of AVIIR, a company dedicated to functional training, protection, regeneration, and longevity. Credit and gratitude to his co-writer and senior student Elke Weiss, whose research, writing, and editing are instrumental to this column and all my other writings.
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