Chai Home is a style blog and sourcebook for elegant Jewish living. My aim is to inspire your observance by bringing you the best in Judaica, decor, and crafts available today. New ideas mixed with centuries old traditions will enliven your practice and stimulate yourself, your family, and friends.
I wanted to let you know that Chai & Home is going to be taking a hiatus in 2019 to refresh, recharge and possibly reimagine our entire publishing and product line. During this time I am going to be publishing very few blog posts, social media, and will only have a lean Etsy retail presence to deplete my remaining inventory.
This blog will stay open as an archive so you can come here and peruse the past posts when you need some inspiration. If you had your eye on anything in the Chai & Home Shop you better get it now. We will be shutting it and moving our inventory to the Chai & Home Shop on Etsy shortly.
I want to personally thank you for reading Chai & Home and sharing your support, thoughts, and tips with me on our journey of “Jewish Life, Beautifully Lived.”
I and my village…make that 3 villages! Believe it or not, I now have 3 snowy shtetls in my house…Hanukkah decorations are practically reproducing in my home! I still have the original one in my living room but now I have this, galvanized steel one in my dining room. My mom read my post the other day and couldn’t resist buying a variety of houses from Pottery Barn and Target. She surprised me by bringing them over and in addition to those, I surprised myself by finding a few I bought on clearance last year at Restoration Hardware, which I forgot about. This sideboard usually houses the three menorahs I have in my home but now I split up the menorahs – one in each village, since there isn’t much room for anything else! I crumpled up a white tablecloth to mimic some snow (not very well but it is really to protect my sideboard) and voila! The only thing is that now instead of lighting all the menorahs at once in one place, we now have to go room to room and light all the different ones, each in their own village. I must confess it is somewhat amusing.
Here are some loving pictures I shot of it. Hopefully I’ll have a moment to shoot the 3rd village before I have to take it down for my kiddie Hanukkah party on Saturday.
Long time Chai & Home readers are well familiar with my Snowy Shtetl Hanukkah decor. If you are a new reader, go check it out. Little did I know at the time, the Snowy Shtetl as a concept for Hanukkah decor has really captured the imagination of many of you. I think the idea of little houses at Hanukkah is popular is because it replicates our celebration tradition in miniature. The central mitzvah of Hanukkah is to light the menorah and place it in the window to publicize the miracle. A series of little illuminated houses creates a microcosm of that. Now that Crate and Barrel has discontinued their laser cut wooden village though, I’m getting a lot of email on what to use to create your very own Snowy Shtetl. Here are a few resources to look for if you are thinking of making your own.
Galvanized Steel & Metal Houses
I’m loving steel houses because their grey appearance really replicates the cold, dismal loneliness that the shtetl seems to convey in pictures. The great thing about metal houses is that you can place a teal light in side and illuminate them. My grandfather said they had a dirt floor in the shtetl so I really love how the ones below don’t have a bottom.
Pottery Barn’s Galvanized Village Houses are probably the best quality you can find. They come in 5 styles and start at $29.50.
Wood houses are a little harder to come by. The big craft stores have wooden bird houses for cheap, but they don’t really hit the right tone IMHO. If you are handy with wood, you can actually make your own wooden houses probably pretty easily. The benefit to that is you can paint or stain them any color you wish and with as much detail as you want. See “little wood houses” in Pinterest for inspiration. The drawback of wood is that they aren’t easy to illuminate because they are made of wood, which is highly flammable.
So, I hope the list above helps you get started on your own Snowy Shtetl. If you find other sources, tell us about them by sharing in the comments below.
The marquee event of my Hanukkah party each year is distributing the gelt and playing dreidel. Until that time, I like to have a few Hanukkah activities for the kids to do prior. Especially with boys, who don’t often feel that socializing is a thing to do in itself, having some planned activities helps alleviate boredom and prevents kids from nagging their parents at the party.
#1 – Crafts
I always like to have a crafts table set up in the back room. There are always some kids that are interested in crafts. Last year, I had a quilling project that was successful and the year before that I had plain paper bags the kids could decorate with cut outs from coloring pages. Whatever you choose, just make sure you have lots of nice crayons, pens, pencils, glitter glue, etc. that is required to finish the project.
#2 – Sing-a-long
If your kid goes to public school, you know how tedious the Winter performance is where you have to sit through 10 Christmas songs just to hear 1 Hanukkah song. This is your chance to create the Winter performance of your dreams. Set up is pretty easy – you just need to have the lyrics on hand and be ready to lead the singing.
#3 – Story time
This one is so easy, it almost doesn’t even need explanation. Collect together all of your Hanukkah books and have them on hand. Periodically during the party, get one of the parents to volunteer to read a story (or two). Calling out “Story time, story time!” to gather the kids together.
If you have a a lot of LEGO, blocks, Tinkertoys, etc. or a special kit like the one above, you can give the kids a building challenge. Tasks like making a functional menorah or dreidel should keep them plenty busy. I’ve found adding competitive requirements to the building challenge helps keep the big kids engaged, like who can build the dreidel that spins the longest. Award prizes for the competition if they need further incentive.
#5 – Dress up Photo Booth
This is fun for both boys and girls and kids of all ages. All you need is one of those indestructible kids cameras (you can use your phone too if you trust your kid with it) and a lot of dress up items…clothes, hats, jewelry, etc. You can go to a charity shop to get some great items. The kids self organize and dress up in different costumes and take their own pictures, with plenty of hamming. Bigger kids can even dress the little ones up and take pictures. The kids delight in their own pictures and you can send the pics to their parents afterwards.
#6 – Cards
My kid is really into cards right now. For little kids, War is doable but when they get a little older Crazy Eights (Hearts) is fun. Older kids can learn Gin. For added Math fun, teach them how to properly keep score. Playing cards really makes kids feel grown-up and they dig that.
Easy, easy, activity. There are always some kids that are interested in coloring. I think the trick to this activity being generally appealing is providing really fun coloring implements – pens, crayons, glitter glue, stickers, etc. Attractively display everything with lots and lots of coloring pages. I also like to provide an inspirational sample, as some kids need a little encouragement. I have more tips on how to successfully manage a Hanukkah coloring activity here.
#8 – Balloon Free-for-All
It doesn’t get easier than this. Have an assortment of balloons (round, long, bumpy) and let the kids do whatever they want with them. You can have ribbons to tie on and even a helium tank if you have older kids to monitor it. Then the real fun starts.
#9 – Shamash: The Game
Separate one child from the others and ask the group to come up with a noun (e.g. cat, car, tree.) The separated child returns and must ask a series of yes/no questions using “shamash” in place of the noun, to try and guess the secret word. For example, “Can you ride the shamash?” “Is the shamash big?” The other kids can answer with yes or no only. If the child correctly guesses the word, another child must take their place and the game starts over.
#10 – Forget #10…Let’s Play Dreidel!
What can I say? The dreidel competition was so fierce the other year and the chanting of “Shin, Shin, put one in!” was so ferocious, my kid felt he needed to wear his safety goggles. I couldn’t believe there was so much excitement over gelt so I needed to check to make sure they weren’t playing with real money!
Although Hanukkah is not normally thought of as a great dining occasion like Passover is, let’s face it, most of us do indeed sit down and have a special meal with friends and family. Give your guests the special treatment by creating an interesting Hanukkah place setting to sit down to. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
Martha’ Stewart’s Dreidel Place Card Craft Project pulls double-duty as a treat box and place card. Goes perfectly with your table when made with a coordinating paper.
Time for my annual wrap-up of new and unusual Hanukkah gifts that are smoking hot right now.
8 Hot Hanukkah Gifts for 2018
1 | Challah Shapes Tea Towel from Chai & Home. Yep, I’m putting one of my products in the mix this year. The Challah Shapes Tea Towel is selling like hotcakes and is perfect for the balaboosta in your life.
2 | Echo Dot by Amazon. If you have someone you want to usher into the 21st century, consider buying them an artificial intelligence device for the home. Expensive? Not really. This Amazon version costs under $50 and you can even get an older model for under $30.
4 | We Were the Lucky Ones is the hot Jewish book of the year. If your bookish friend hasn’t read it yet, it is the perfect gift this winter.
5 | DIY Chunky Knit Pillow from Ohhio Braid. If you have someone crafty to give to, there is nothing hotter right now than large-scale knitting without needles. If you love to craft yourself you can make it and give it after all the fun is over.
6 | Custom Address Stamp from The Stamp Press. What is more adorable than a custom address stamp with a drawing of the recipient’s home? Perfect for the house-proud or new home owner.
7 | Havdalah Set from Armadillo Judaica Lovers. This is one of my favorite new Judaica pieces to have launched this year. What is really clever about it is the besamim holder. You can use it as a bud vase for fresh herbs to smell or place the usual, dry spices inside.
8 | Aromatherapy Necklace from Charmante Bijoux. This is a great gift for the woman who spends a lot of time on public transportation. She can rub essential oils into the lava rock and have a lovely smell all day…even on Northern Line at rush hour.
I love that sufganiyot are gaining tracking in the U.S. as a celebratory food for Hanukkah. That said, I actually dislike jelly donuts! I love donuts, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t like jelly donuts. To think of sufganiyot only as something to enjoy as a donut though is very limiting. To that end, I decided to explore what a sufganiyah might look like as a cookie. Of course, we all have the Hanukkah cookie cutter set with the menorah, dreidel and Star of David, but here I am introducing one more cookie to that repertoire…sufganiyot iced cookies for Hanukkah!
I use Sweet Sugar Belle’s recipes because they are the best. As instructed, make the cookies one day before you decorate them. When ready to decorate, portion out the icing into two lots for the red and ivory colors. You will need more ivory than red. Place the nonpareils in a bowl so you can easily sprinkle them. I had much better control when I did this with my fingers instead of the sprinkle top on the jar.
You will want to outline and fill your cookie with the ivory color first. While it is still wet, sprinkle the nonpareils on half of the cookie. Wait until the cookie is completely dry before adding the jelly mouth. If you don’t wait until it is completely dry, the red will bleed into the ivory.
When adding the jelly mouth, aim for a jelly bean shape. If you just do a circle it will end up looking like a boob.
So there you have it…the first ever sufganiyot iced cookies for Hanukkah! In my opinion, they taste even better than the real thing.
Long time readers of Chai & Home know I love to recognize each night of Hanukkah with my kiddo in a way that is independent of lighting the candles. This is a project I’ve had on my list for years and I finally sat down the other day to figure it out. It is a LEGO Hanukkah Countdown House, for use each night of Hanukkah! Essentially, it is a bunch of little boxes with openings that allow you to put little treats or gelt inside.
First, you will want to make 8 little boxes. Use whatever ways you can to create the opening. Here I used door and window pieces. You will want to create your boxes big enough to fit your intended treat inside. I also restricted my colors to blue and white. You can use whatever colors you want, but I think a restricted number makes it look more attractive.
In addition to the boxes, you will want a base. You can make a base or just use any big, flat pieces you have. I also added a few little pieces just for bells and whistles…these are fence pieces and even smaller, little cabinet pieces. They are just for show and to add interest.
To assemble everything together, just use your imagination, fitting the boxes where they will. There is no right and wrong way as long as it stands up on its own. I find not having the boxes all flush adds and element of interest. Add the bells and whistles last and to your taste. Finally, insert the treats!
Call it my Brutalist phase. To make it even more of a house concept, you can use roof pieces to slope the roof of the various boxes that are on the top. That would cute.
Want an even easier way to make this? Ask your kid to do it. When you ask for a box to put a treat inside, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your kid will get on it.
It’s time for the annual roundup of what’s going on at the big stores for Hanukkah. We’ve come a long way from the fabulous year of 2014 but there are a few nice pieces here and there. Without further ado, here’s what you can find at the big retailers near you.
Pottery Barn has the same dreidel motif as last year but added a new items to go with it, like embroidered napkins and a table runner. There are also two new menorahs, including a mini, modern menorah made out of glass. The other is an attractive electric menorah with all kinds of settings, including flashing! I also quite fancied the set of votive lights below they merchandised with their Hanukkah line. Very festive. They restyled everything to be a lighter and brighter Hanukkah and I applaud the effort…albeit not the profane use of a menorah as table lighting, but they mean well. :P
All new designs from Crate & Barrel this year, which are better than last year, but that’s not saying a lot because I didn’t like last year either. The look hinges upon a modern menorah motif which appears on dinnerware, napkins, and napkin rings, and although I love the napkins rings, I don’t really fancy anything else. The menorah motif on the dinnerware pretty much looks like plain stripes and is just a tad boring.
Just one new menorah, imaginatively titled Gold Menorah. It looks cool but that’s it, folks. They still have their Hanukkah Blue Mosaic plates from previous years that I loved, but they are getting some bad reviews, so caveat emptor.
Pier 1’s Hanukkah is much less bombastic than previous years but I feel they’ve veered a little too much into Charlie Brown territory. The Hanukkah Gift Bag Garland and Decor Dreidels below just look so sad and lonely. There is a lot of great stuff at Pier 1 so I’m not sure why they couldn’t have used other products to zhush up the styling a little. Anyway, I find the beaded dreidels, available in many styles and sizes, compelling and I think they could be used in a lovely way (think vase filler or in bowls). I will definitely be checking them out in person.
If you think Hanukkah is that far off you’d be wrong…it is only on the other side of November…early this year starting on Dec 2! Anyway, I know giving gifts at Hanukkah is not everyone’s cup of tea but I was sorting through some Chai & Home product photos the other day and I realized what a cute display of Hanukkah gift wrapping they would make all collected together. Maybe it is a shameless plug, but over the years I’ve developed some of the most unique party supplies for Hanukkah celebrations. Check them out and how they can be used for Hanukkah gift wrapping:
These Hanukkah Sticker Sheets are new this year. They are intended to adorn packages or craft projects. They can even take plain old wrapping paper and make a cohesive, humorous theme.
Hanukkah Coloring Placemats
In addition to keeping little hands busy with coloring, you can use these Hanukkah Coloring Placemats for wrapping small gifts. Here I show them with the Hanukkah Stickers. You can leave them white to have your kid color them before wrapping.
Hanukkah Countdown Bags
I never tire of these Kraft Hanukkah Countdown Bags that and have a distinctive number and saying for each night of Hanukkah. Year after year, they are one of my best selling products.
I also developed Hanukkah Countdown Bags in White. I had to pull them off of the shop last year due to production problems, but I think I’ve sorted that all out and they are back big time this year.
Hanukkah Party Bags
These use to be white, but then I realized they were better in kraft to match the kraft countdown bags above, so they are new this year in that color. These Kraft Hanukkah Party Bags are great for party favors, gelt bags, or an easy wrapping solution for gifts when you have a large group of people you are giving to.
Kitchen Towel Wrap
What is better for wrapping a gift for your favorite balaboosta than to use a kitchen towel that she can also use? Here I used my Challah Kitchen Towel which goes great with the white items above for a Winter white theme.
Nothing in blue? Yeah, that’s been my modus operandi for the past 5 years. Hang onto your hats though…next year I think I might be doing a little blue.