Think like a kid &mdash playful gifts to accent tradition

Eight nights of Chanukah means eight opportunities to commemorate the Festival of Lights. Whether it’s retelling the story of the “dedication,” playing games, making crafts, practicing tzedakah or cooking a meal, Chanukah — which this year begins Friday night, Dec.19 — allows families and friends eight evenings to come together in celebration.

To help, Judaica shops around the Bay Area offer a range of children’s gifts so families can celebrate in many different ways.

“If a kid doesn’t have his or her own menorah, that is a perfect first night gift,” says Ellen Bob, co-owner of bob and bob in Palo Alto. “They feel so proud of themselves when they light their own menorah.” Stores sell chanukiot for every interest, taste and budget, so if you’ve got a young sports fan, musical prodigy, dog lover, crayon artist or fire fighter wannabe, chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for. Merchandise varies from store to store; prices start as low as $2.25 and go up to several hundred dollars for collectibles.

“Children and tzedakah belong hand in hand,” according to Aziza Mara, co-owner of L’Chaim! in Danville, so her store carries oodles of tzedakah boxes. Some have “artsy, serious” designs and others sport fun motifs like baseball, basketball or sneakers. (Sporty boxes are priced at $32.99.)

This year it seems that toy companies are doing more craft things, observes Myra Kaplan, jewelry buyer at Berkeley’s Afikomen. Like other stores, Afikomen is offering a variety of ways for children to glue, color, string, paint and decorate.

Children ages 4 through 7 can stage their own Chanukah play with figures from The Chanukah Puppet Kit. The package comes with a plastic needle to lace together five felt finger puppets along with googly eyes and glitter glue to complete the costuming. It’s available for $5.50 at Afikomen and also at other stores.

Young bakers (3 and up) can make their own holiday goodies with Roll-N-Bake Cookie Shapers, a colorful 13-piece set that comes with a plastic rolling pin, spoon, spreader, trimmer and eight interchangeable cookie cutters. The cutters, in shapes of various Chanukah symbols, a Jewish star and a Purim grogger can be used with play dough or real dough. It’s $9.50 at L’Chaim and also at other stores.

And because kids like having their own plates, why not serve these treats on My Little Dishes, a set of Chanukah-themed melamine dishes that includes a plate, bowl and cup? It’s $15 at Alef Bet Judaica in Los Gatos and available elsewhere.

Little hands may have trouble keeping track of their toys, but the Paint-it-Yourself Dreidel Kit ($3.50) and Deco-Dreidel Kit ($4.50) can avoid this confusion. Each kit contains two plain wooden oversized dreidels. One comes with paint, brushes and stencils and the other with decals, so each budding artist can keep tabs on original artwork. Available at bob and bob.

Making candles is a natural way to celebrate the Festival of Lights and The Chanukah Beeswax Candle Kit provides enough materials to bring a glow to all eight nights. Selling for $10.99 at L’Chaim.

All of the local Judaica stores have selections of other crafty ideas, including stickers, rubber stamps, window art, necklace kits, bead sets and paint-by-number kits. There’s a musical yo-yo ($4 at Afikomen) for kids who want to work on other dexterous skills.

To create more interesting discussions there’s The Chanukah Box of Questions. Pass around steaming mugs of hot chocolate and ask the group if they believe in miracles or “If you could celebrate Chanukah in another place or time where would you travel to?” $15 at Afikomen.

Mini Soft Shapes Chanukah’s Here! is a nice gift for infants and toddlers celebrating their first or second Chanukah. These pop-out play pieces (menorah, Jewish star, dreidel) are safe for small mouths and can go into the bathtub. $5.99 at bob and bob. For the baby’s room Afikomen is selling a porcelain panda mezuzah for $40.

Shopping for teens can be a bit more challenging, but gifts that fall in the goofy, cool or hysterical category are a good bet. Nurit Sabadosh, owner of Alef Bet, says that teenagers coming into her store frequently stop in front of the cool standing hologram cubes that depict three-dimensional Jewish symbols or biblical scenes. These crystal blocks come in different sizes and range from $40 to $60.

Harvey Magila — a noise-activated doll that “looks like a Blues Brother Chassid” — is “a goofy present but the kids really enjoy it,” according to Ellen Bob. Retailing for $16, he plays “Hava Nagilah” and as the music speeds up he dances faster and faster. For aspiring stage performers, Bob recommends a hilarious new release “Schlock Rock almost on Broadway.” The 14-song CD features parodies of Broadway show tunes (including “Succot Nights” from “Grease” and “Tekiah” from “West Side Story”), $18.98 at bob and bob.

Other CD ideas for teens include “Neshika Ladod” by Tea Packs, a modern Israeli pop group, and Surit Hadod’s “Child of Love” (both at Afikomen for $16.98 each).

Kids of all ages can carry around their own Jewish pen pal. These $4 pens at bob and bob are covered in a terrycloth material, with a dog or bear on top wearing a yarmulke. Bob’s 16-year-old daughter keeps one in her backpack as “a reminder of her Jewish identity as she makes her way through school each day.”

With Afikomen’s collection of baseball caps, you can wear them facing forward or backward, but still read the script from right to left. The caps have Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco stitched in Hebrew and sell for $18. Choose from forest green, burgundy, navy, black or khaki.

Of course, prices and merchandise vary from store to store so it’s a good idea to phone ahead if you’re looking for something specific. But why not stop in and browse? Remember, you can always seek without gelt.

Where to shop

The gift items featured on these pages are available at the stores below, and a number of the selections may be found at several of these shops. Many of them are also sold at local synagogue and Jewish community center gift shops and on Jewish Internet sites.

Afikomen Judaica, 3042 Claremont Ave., Berkeley; (510) 655-1977.

Alef Bet Judaica, 14103D Winchester Blvd., Los Gatos; (408) 370-1818.

bob and bob, 151 Forest Ave., Palo Alto; (650) 329-9050.

L'Chaim!, 179 Hartz Ave., Danville; (925) 743-8303.