Jewish Journal

Our Chanukah gift guide for the <strike>weird</strike> <strike>odd</strike>

Posted on Nov. 22, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Chanukah is less than two weeks away and Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, is upon us. If you've been racking your brain trying to come up with gift ideas or putting off writing up your gift list, consider some suggestions from our inaugural gift guide.
For the. . . .

. . . Saba and Savta Who Have Everything

Not another T-shirt from Acapulco, my closet is already overflowing, I beg my children and grandchildren. Not another book, I have a dozen stacked up that I haven't gotten around to reading.

So what can you give saba and savta, grandpa and grandma, who've been living in the same place for 35 years, have a house full of tchotchkes and every conceivable kitchen gadget?

I don't want the latest iPhone, videogame or computer attachment. It takes me forever to figure these things out, and I'd rather spend the time swimming.

My wife and I have been trying for years to convince our descendants that we'd love them just as much -- maybe even more -- if they didn't bring any gift for Chanukah or, for that matter, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, Father's Day or Mexican Independence Day.

For a while, I got gift certificates for Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, until I dropped a hint that I enjoyed shopping almost as much as having a hip replacement.

And how much chocolate and marzipan can one man eat?

So if you absolutely must give us something, try a voucher for a nice neighborhood restaurant. We haven't given up eating and drinking.

Even better, pool all the kids' and grandkids' contributions and make a donation to a cause that means something to us. Try The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which aids gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, or the New Israel Fund, which supports progressive causes in Israel.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

--Tom Tugend

New Mother-in-Law

Buying a present for your new mother-in-law can be a daunting task. She gave you her child and, for some reason, reciprocating with a picture frame or coffee mug just doesn't seem right. There's also the message behind the gift. Too "homemade" and you might come across as cheap ("I macraméd this vest for you!"). You also don't want to make it seem that you gave little thought to selecting the gift. On the flip side, a gift that is too extravagant could look like you are sucking up -- or spending her child's hard-earned money.

The answer to the dilemma? Enter the day spa.

Manicures. Pedicures. Body wraps. Massages. A plethora of pampering is at your disposal, thanks to gift certificates from places like Burke-Williams ($75, 25 minutes of massage; $155, 80 minutes) and spafinder.com (whose $50-$1,000 gift certificates work at spas around the country). This way, even though she might not have had a say in who her child married, at least she gets to select her Chanukah present.

Ladies, if you want to make it a really enjoyable gift -- and do something nice for you, too -- book an appointment for yourself at the same time and make a bonding experience out of it.

Even if you aren't best buds with your new mom right now, don't worry. Getting a peppermint foot soak somehow manages to bring people closer together.

--Shoshana Lewin

Entitled Teens

What do you give an entitled teenager for Chanukah?

"Nothing," my own teen, Danny, 16, said. "What could you give someone who has everything?"

Not a cellphone, not a computer; not a DVD player, not a designer hoodie. They have it all. Besides, according to Chicago-based Teen Research Unlimited, what teenagers really want is money. And if that's not an option, gift cards. After all, how could we parents -- teens, roll your eyes here -- possibly know what's "sick" in the status-conscious world of teens?

So here's my list of ideal gifts for the overindulged adolescent:

A job. Yep, a job. And I'm not talking about one of those community service, resume-building boondoggles to Costa Rica. Nope, I'm talking about bussing dishes at Islands or scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. A job where the teen has to show up, suit up and shut up for an assigned shift -- with a smile.

Some practical life lessons. Help your teen learn how to iron, stack the dishwasher and make a matzah ball. This Chanukah, register him at www.eHow.com and be sure to bookmark "How to Clean Out From Under Your Bed" and "How to Get White Socks Clean."

Improved parenting. No, I don't mean buying a DriveCam or a CarChipE/X to video record your teen speeding down the freeway while chatting on a handheld. Or investing in surveillance software, such as WebWatcher, to make sure he's not IMing predators or placing offshore bets. No, I'm suggesting you give your adored adolescent more love and guidance -- the real stuff, in real time -- that leads to self-mastery and independence, that provides the proverbial roots and wings.

But here's the catch. How do we guarantee that our teen has the opportunity to take advantage of these gifts? That he doesn't sleep away all his discretionary time?
Easy. Give your teen the most important gift of all: the Flying Alarm Clock ($24.99). It not only wakes him up with a loud, annoying shriek, but it also sends the propeller top flying across the room. And the alarm doesn't stop screaming until your teen retrieves the top and replaces it. By then, he is wide awake (though not necessarily cheerful), as this informative video demonstrates.

And if those ideas won't kindle your entitled teenager's Chanukah candelabrum, there are always the gifts that were good enough for us -- pajamas, socks and furry slippers.

--Jane Ulman

Very Religious Relative lamp menorah
They eschew materialism, they shun commercialism, they have no clue about pop culture and they'd like to be spending most of their time learning Torah. Yes, it's the very religious relative (you know who I'm talking about). Great peeps, good values -- hard to buy gifts for.You can always go for Judaica, like Marilyn Davidson's Dreidl With Wood Stand ($65, Nambe), with a decorative saucer-shaped silver top (which is probably not for playing, since it's hard to see which letter falls where!). Or a silver-plated lamp menorah ($30), but chances are your religious relatives may have all the Judaica they need.

That's where technology comes in. How about a Shaspod?

Yup, an iPod loaded with the entire daf yomi -- daily teachings of the Talmud -- running for seven years. It's $399 for a 20-gigabyte iPod (preloaded with the daf yomi shiurim from Rabbi Dovid Grossman). Although it sounds expensive, the company likes to point out that compared to a full set of Artscroll Talmuds, which cost about $2,000, it's a steal. (Not literally. No one is stealing it. Don't worry.)

Of course, if daf yomi is too much of a commitment or Talmud's not your relative's thing, there's always a gift subscription to religious podcasts, like at Aish, where for $10 a month for 10 classes from 1,500 lectures to choose from, including from luminaries such as Rabbi Zelig Pliskin ("Gateway to Happiness.")

Of course, your best bet for a religious relative is -- what else? -- a book. The People of the Book love to read, and unlike technological gadgets, they can be used on Shabbat and holidays. Now the trick is what book to get....

--Amy Klein

Broke Post-Grad
If you have loved ones who have recently entered "the real world," its time to get them some "real" gifts -- something to help them survive in the jungle we call life. Pajamas and electronics, although thoughtful and entertaining, probably won't cut it. You need to get them gifts that will make their lives just a tad easier, gifts they actually need. As someone who fits that bill, let me go down the list of some things that could make my holiday experience a little more real.

A new toothbrush, a tank of gas, about 100 more square inches of living space, clean linens, any kind of food that isn't tuna or Kraft Easy Mac, holeless socks, holeless shoes, holeless boxers, holeless undershirts, holeless sweaters, holeless jeans and, I guess, maybe a sewing kit.

However, while all these things have the potential to lighten up my holiday, they're all only temporary fixes. If you want to make a "real" impact, there's nothing more "real" than cash.

So, Mom, Dad or any other family or friends who may be sending me gifts this Chanukah, please find it in your hearts to pool all your love and support together and send me a check (money order, preferably) for about $13,000.

I know that giving money doesn't seem like the most thoughtful or loving gift. But don't worry, the first gift is always the biggest -- you have seven more nights to make it up to me.

--Jay Firestone


Instead of buying yet another outfit to dress your dog up (admit it, you know she hates that), consider spoiling her instead with Three Dog Bakery's Good Golly Gracie Sampler ($16.95), a selection of indulgent treats, or enroll her in the Bone of the Month Club ($16.95).

The fur will fly when you open the Art-Casso Paint Kit for Cats ($24.99). This art project for cats features nontoxic acrylic paint, art paper, paw protectors and a picture frame to display your little Picasso's work for all time. And if teasing your cat with the laser pointer leaves you with a case of carpal tunnel syndrome moments later, the Bada Beam ($18.99) will do the work for you. Put the cone-shaped cat toy on the floor, open the lid and the laser moves and stops automatically, tapping your cat's hunter instincts for 15 minutes at a time.

If you believe in magnetism as a therapeutic treatment, Energetix features a line of magnetic jewelry ($37.50-$45) that you can add to your collars. The company also features a water magnet ($50.50) that can be added to your pet's water dish.

--Adam Wills

Woman in Your Life (A Guide for Bewildered Men)

Women love to be showered in gifts -- that is, if the gifts fit the girl. There's nothing enticing about returning a sweater that is too big or exchanging a top that is too small.

Clothes are not the only gift items to steer clear of this season. Chocolates and flowers have been the go-to choice for men buying holiday gifts or otherwise, but use some originality. We can get chocolates on our own, and we do.

Jewelry-related gifts can serve as a personalized, classy alternative. Women are just as mesmerized by shiny objects as men. A delicate silver or gold necklace from Banana Republic, where costume jewelry ranges from $14-$198, should do the trick.

Another idea is to buy a spa gift certificate. Most women would enjoy a deep-tissue massage, spa manicure or soothing facial. Amadeus Salon and Spa at The Grove is a good place to go for buying gift certificates.

--Celia Soudry

Man in Your Life (A Guide for Bewildered Women)

Men are easy to shop for. No really, we are. (OK, you can stop laughing now.)

What guys truly want is stuff that makes us feel like we're men. And more importantly, we want things that reflect our interests.

It can be Harmony 1000 Advanced Universal Remote ($499, Logitech) or the Weber Genesis S-320 Gas Barbecue ($850).

But it doesn't need to be fancy or expensive. It could be something as simple as a $11.99 box of Intech LIMBO balls if we're into golfing.

When you take an interest in our interests, it shows that you've accepted us for who we are.

And if you've suddenly realized you know little if anything about his interests, don't panic. Contrary to the aphorism, the fastest way to a man's heart is not through his stomach. It's with a generous gift card to Best Buy, Circuit City or Fry's Electronics.


The Not-Yet Boyfriend/Girlfriend

It's easy to figure out what you're going to get someone when you've been dating for more than three months -- at that point you've been dating long enough that you should get the call letting you know if you're not dating anymore. (One hopes). After the three-month mark, there are a hundred things to buy your newfound partner: The Shape Them! Fix Them! presents (new clothes, new shoes, new housewares), the Think of Me! presents (picture frame of the two of us, gift certificate to somewhere we can go together) or the I Spoil You present (anything expensive.)

But what do you get the I'm-not-sure-we're-going-to-be-dating-long-but-we're-together-now-so-I-should-get-you-a-present person? It's tricky, because you don't want to assume anything too serious (that's why makeover presents are out and ditto expensive gifts) but you don't want to insult the person with a bland or thoughtless gift (remember when Jerry Seinfeld gives Elaine cash for her birthday?).

Here's where the I Like You Anyway present comes in. It's where you get your partner something they are into -- even if it's unfashionable, quirky, unhealthy or just plain weird. This gift says, "Yes, I know you like [INSERT HIS OR HER ANNOYING HOBBY HERE], but that's one of the endearing things that makes you you, and I am so cool that I pay attention to this about you. So even though I haven't spent a lot of money, I am thinking of you, and it's the thought that counts, right?"

Ebay is the best place for this present.

  • Say she collects Swarovski crystal. A baroque candleholder goes for $51.01, and a 24-carat gold crystal horse and buggy for $21.99. Who knows what's so great about Swarovksi. But she collects them, so you buy 'em!

  • Maybe he's really into paintball. He's part of a league and everything. Try the Paintball Bundle for $67 or the Paintball Practice Jersey for $19. Fine, so it's a little puerile, but there are worse things he could be going off and doing with a bunch of guys.

Caveat: If you're really serious about this person, and their collectibles are so hideous that you can't live with them (something that takes up their entire house/all their time), do not, I repeat, do not buy your partner this gift. Also, consider ending the relationship, especially before Valentine's Day.

-- AK

Persian Jewish Friends (Nothing, But Save Your Money for Purim)

While giving gifts on all the eight nights of Chanukah has become one of the most common and popular norms for American Jews, the tradition is fairly new for local Iranian Jews. Not having to compete with Christmas like most Ashkenazim, Jews living in Iran do not give gifts for Chanukah. Only recently has the community that has resettled in the United States adopted the tradition.

"Chanukah is not a major holiday in Iran [for Jews]. We used to light candles, and maybe every family would have a special meal for only one night," said Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history. "Of course, we would light the candles for eight nights, but there was only one night of a feast."

The tradition of gift giving among Jews living in Iran is and has always been popular during Purim but has not been continued among Iranian Jews living in Southern California, Pirnazar said.

"For Norooz [Persian New Year], the Iranians have the tradition of receiving gifts from the elders," Pirnazar said. "Since this holiday normally coincides with Purim, the Jews in Iran also follow the same tradition and give gifts to those who are younger on this occasion."

Iranian Jewish parents living in Southern California have taken on the American Jewish tradition of giving gifts on Chanukah to their children but have only been doing so for the first night, Pirnazar said.

Iranian Jewish scholars said that while Iranian Jews today are using the Festival of Lights as a holiday to encourage community fundraising through events, within a few generations, the giving of gifts on Chanukah may become more commonplace.

--Karmel Melamed

Day School Teacher

Questionable scarves and kitschy apple tchotchkes are gifts of the past for day school teachers. Most schools have opted instead for a parental collection fund, which gets divided up among teachers, aides, maintenance staff, office personnel and the security team. That eliminates inequities in what parents give and what teachers get, and, especially when contributions to the fund are anonymous, might make it a little harder for your eighth-grader to get that A in math.

Most parents like this approach because someone else organizes the effort, and it's easier to write a $36 (per kid) check than to go shopping for nine teachers. And teachers like it because they don't get saddled with dozens of personalized tote bags and perfume that might smell really nice -- on someone else.

What teachers do get, in most cases, is a gift card to something massive, like Westfield shopping centers, Amazon.com or a Visa gift card. Now if they can get enough time off to go shopping, they won't end up like the 30 percent of Americans who let gift cards go unspent for more than a year, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports.

With the time parents save on shopping for all those teachers, they can put more effort into what underappreciated teachers really like to get -- personal, hand-written notes from students or parents, telling them what a great job they're doing. So put away those Lillian Vernon or Crate & Barrel catalogs, take out a pen and paper, and go do your homework.

-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Chanukah Party Host With the Most

You've been invited to a Chanukah party and need a host gift that says, "Let's rock this Festival of Lights!" DCI Gift's Menorah Cork ($12) might be just the thing. It's a Chanukiah, it's a cork, it's keeping your wine fresh and it's dripping wax everywhere. If soda is more your thing, consider the Happy Chanukah Pack ($12.99, Jones Soda Co.), which includes the flavors Chocolate Coins, Apple Sauce, Latke and Jelly Doughnut. Each kosher-certified bottle packs a whopping 47 grams of sugar, except for Latke, which features one gram. However, the oily effervescence of Latke should be blended with the Apple Sauce to be fully appreciated. At the very least it'll make a great party dare. The Box Girls are back with the Hanukkah Box of Questions ($19.95) -- think of it as Scruples the game with actual scruples (plus two bonus dreidels). And speaking of dreidels, consider this new spin on Texas Hold 'Em, No Limit Texas Dreidel ($18). The game comes with dreidels and shakers -- think Yahtzee -- as well as bags of chocolate gelt and temporary tattoos. It's a party up in here, y'all.



Your foodie friends spend hours in the kitchen making wine reductions and slow-cooked roasts. They devote days to crafting their own cheese and gravlax. But when it comes to jotting down a grocery list, they're much too busy. Who's got time for outmoded technology like a ballpoint pen?

With the SmartShopper Grocery List Assistant ($149.95, Brookstone), all you have to do is speak the words of your shopping list and -- faster than a stir-fry -- the wall-mounted, speech-recognizing device records, organizes and prints your grocery list.

Of course, speech-recognition technology is a work-in-progress, so it's possible if you say "lamb," it will print out, as well, "ham." And "tomatoes" and "beets" might print out as "potatoes" and "leeks." The true foodie will do something with the results.

And what they make will be that much better if they use the Grill Alert Talking Remote Thermometer ($75, Brookstone). Just insert a transmitter probe into the meat, strap on a wireless belt-clip monitor and feel free to mingle. The talking remote monitor will tell you in loud, clear English when your food is done. (Hopefully, it's lamb and not ham.)

Now, if your foodie friends end up with potatoes instead of tomatoes, they'll probably want to make Euro-style chips (french fries). But eating them from a conical newspaper holder gets their fingers full of unsanitary ink. No problem! With the porcelain French Fry Holder With Condiment Server ($16, Williams-Sonoma), decorated with vintage French newsprint and finished with a durable glaze, you can get the same feeling without the mess. Best of all, it comes with a small porcelain dish that mimics the paper condiment ramekin you get in fish-and-chips houses.

--Roberto Loiederman

Tree Hugger/Activist

Getting the perfect gift for an environmentalist/social-activist type isn't always easy, especially when they argue vehemently about how they don't really want a gift (when we all know full well they really do want one).

The best of both worlds could be a symbolic Sheep ($45, Oxfam America Unwrapped) in their honor. You give money to help raise the fleece animals, whose wool is fundamental for its local economy and gives women the opportunity to make their own income. If a sheep doesn't seem right for your activist mensch, maybe a camel, donkey, goat or even a crocodile is a better match. They're all available.

For the bookworm, two titles might be of interest. "The Way Into Judaism and the Environment" by Jeremy Benstein ($24.99, Jewish Lights Publishing) looks at what Jews have written and thought about environmental issues, while TorahTrek retreat founder Rabbi Mike Comins' paperback "A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism" ($16.99, Jewish Lights Publishing) offers 40 sensible exercises on how one could apply spirituality in the natural world.

And if your intended recipient really fights you on the gift thing, you can always get them a little irresistible something. An eco-friendly alternative to gelt, Dagoba Organic Chocolate ($1.99-$3.99, Whole Foods) is KSA certified, its label uses New Leaf recycled paper and the company practices full-circle sustainability with a focus on quality, ecology, equity and community. The product line includes classic bars, dark blends, fusions and milk blends.

--Sara Shereen Bakhshian

Geek (All Varieties) wifi shirt
Geeks come in various forms: computer, science, sci-fi, horror, comic book, gamer, film, theater and music, to name a few. But buying a present for these picky types is overloaded with backfire potential. They probably know their subject matter better than you do, and unless you're shopping from a recipient-approved list, you might as well slap a gift receipt on whatever you buy.

The one constant I've found among them all is a passion for laughter. But their sense of humor is nuanced and often falls outside of the mainstream, typically sustained by a steady comedy diet that might include Monty Python, "The Colbert Report," The Onion and Non Sequitur or Bizzaro comic strips.

I follow the three Ts when it comes to buying affordable geek gifts that never fail: T-shirts, toys and tech gifts.

T-shirts are a perennial favorite. For some reason, geeks can never seem to have enough of them. One of my favorite destinations is ThinkGeek.com, which features shirts for men, women and kids. While most of the choices are broken down by subject matter, their generic geek shirt selection is impressive: the Wi-Fi Detector Shirt ($29.99), which features glowing bars that change based on wi-fi signal strength; the Geek Inside Tee ($14.99-$15.99), which riffs on the Intel logo, or the simple yet elegant I'm Blogging This shirt ($14.99-$16.99).

Toys are usually welcome additions to any geek desk. Paizo.com carries a variety of plush Monty Python toys, including the Rabbit With Big Pointy Teeth ($17.96) and the Dead Parrot ($8.96). While Archie McPhee has everything for your sick-and-twisted geek, like Horrified B-Movie Victims ($14.95), Avenging Unicorn ($12.95) and Sky Diving Sigmund Freud ($14.50).

Tech gifts can be tricky, given issues of brand loyalty or hatred. For computer users, consider Mimobot designer flash drives (mimobot.com) that feature "Star Wars," "Halo," Domo and other fashionable approaches to quick data storage. ThinkGeek.com features a USB Rocket Launcher ($39.99) for office warfare, and for the geek grrrl in your life consider the Fuse Ladder Necklace ($32.99) or the glowing crystal Fuze Necklace ($24.99).

Couch Potato

It isn't easy for TV lovers to get to the gym these days. Sure there's TiVo and other DVR systems, but in order to stay up to date with the water-cooler gossip, the statute of limitations on viewing hot shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "CSI" is two days. After that, you might as well just go online for a recap. So in order to maintain couch potato status -- without actually looking like a potato -- the Mechanical Core Muscle Trainer ($1,499.95, Hammacher Schlemmer), might be just the thing.

In 20 minutes, this low-impact machine develops strength in your tush, upper thighs, abdomen and lower back -- all while sitting down. The only time you have to stand up is when you are moving from the couch to the machine and vice versa.

The saddle-like apparatus -- which just plugs into the wall -- comes with stirrups designed to simulate the riding of a horse but without the flies and height issues. So anyone who needs to maintain low-target heart rates can get a basic aerobic workout. Or try for something a little more intense by changing the speed (there are nine levels).

Sure it's not cheap, but consider the cost of gym membership, the rising gas prices, the stress of traffic and the hassle of buying the right workout clothes. Plus, this way you get to watch your shows, not what the gym dictates. And to the couch potato, that's critical.

-- SL

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