Eight nights, eight quirky Jewish delights

When I was growing up, our family didn’t disperse presents on Chanukah. There may have been the occasional $5 bill handed down from parental units to us kids, but it always came with the following caveat: “This is not in any way, shape, or form, a Chanukah present. We don’t give presents on Chanukah.”

And we knew we were different. We knew we were societal pariahs. At school, it seemed my fellow classmates were flaunting their new watches, new clothes, and, I kid you not, one student actually brought his new bicycle to school.

But believe it or not, there is some traditional Jewish basis for gift-giving on Chanukah — and, surprisingly, it has nothing to do with its close proximity to Christmas. It has to do with re-educating the Jewish children during a time when the Greeks were trying desperately to make us forget who we were. Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish minds of the Middle Ages, explains that to educate, it’s important to use incentives, and thus an age-old tradition was born.

So jump ahead to the present day and I’ve come up with a list of eight fun, unique and quirky gifts you can give to your loved one this Chanukah — educational value notwithstanding.

The Jewish iPod

Yes, we know everyone and their bubbe has one of Apple’s sleek iPods, but do they have a Jewish one? Not to worry.

The educators over at Aish HaTorah have come up with a great new activity for you and your beloved iPod — learning about Judaism. The Israel-based organization is selling iPods loaded with more than 250 classes from today’s top Jewish minds. And if you already own an iPod, you can still partake in the mind-bending madness by giving a gift subscription to Aish’s audio channel, which boasts thousands of lectures on the Bible, Jewish holidays and more.

The cost is $429 for the Jewish iPod and $10 for the monthly subscription.

Both items are available at www.aishaudio.com .

Chosen voyages

Chosen Voyages, one of the world’s most posh kosher cruise companies, has announced its 2005 schedule, which includes a January trip to the Caribbean, a Passover trip to France, and a Jewish history cruise in Europe this summer.

The prices range from $1,299 to $4,099, available at www.chosenvoyage.com .

The new Rachael Sage CD

Wow. That’s the first word you’ll say when you hear the sweet sounds of this hard-working singer-songwriter. A hybrid of Ani DiFranco and Jewel, Sage’s voice is a pleasure to the senses. And from the very first track on her new album “Ballads and Burlesque,” you’ll be hooked. Winner of both the John Lennon songwriting contest and the Great American songwriting contest, Sage has also started her own record label and embraces the business side of the music industry as well. Not to mention that she is a founding member of the New York City artist collective UrbanMuse as well as WomanRock and Indiegrrl and is a resident composer for the American Jewish Ballet. If only we could clone her.

The CD is $12.99, available at www.rachaelsage.com.

The Jewish home menorah

This one of a kind ceramic menorah was handcrafted by Russian artist Noi Yolkov and will certainly be a conversation starter on whatever mantle you decide to place it. Just don’t actually use it; we’re not really sure it was meant to be lit.

It’s available for $250, at www.fragilegifts.com.

“Machers and Rockers: Chess Records and the Business of Rock & Roll”

In Chicago in the late 1940s, two men — one black, one Jewish — met and the music world would never be the same. By Rich Cohen, priced at www.amazon.com for $22.95.

“Yiddish with Dick and Jane”

This rather amusing parody on the old “Dick and Jane” books for kids has the duo all grown up and teaching us Yiddish in their always endearing way.

Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman put this together. The book is available at www.amazon.com for $14.95.

The Makkabees CD

The Makkabees is hard-rock band that covers your favorite Jewish songs. Imagine traditional Jewish lyrics backed up by screaming guitars and pounding bass and you’ll get the idea. They also give $1 from every CD sale to Mazon, helping to feed hungry people around the world. Aw … metalheads and charitable.

Priced at $10.95, available at www.makkabees.com.

The Seinfeld boxed gift set

Television’s greatest show has finally made its way to DVD. The first three seasons of “Seinfeld,” the ultimate show about nothing, are now available and if you purchase all three together, you’ll also receive a copy of the original script and Seinfeld salt-and-pepper shakers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The set costs $119.95 at www.amazon.com.