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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chanukah Gelt

I'm not sure how widespread the practice of giving Chanukah Gelt (cash gifts) to Rebbes is. The first time I heard about the custom was a number of years ago when I was a frequent guest of a family in a large community which a very wealthy block of families. These families were known to give very, very sizable gifts to their children's Rebbes on Chanukah. The discussion left me wondering about the practice.

This week, I caught this letter in the Yated, which brings forward numerous issues. Here is the letter below:

Dear Editor,
My husband and I have always felt that Chanukah is a great time to show our appreciation to our children’s teachers. How much is given and what is given are dependent on one’s financial situation. This year, we were not able to give as much as in past years.

When my daughter gave her teacher the envelope with the Chanukah gift, the teacher got up in class and told the students that this is the appropriate way for parents to show hakoras hatov to teachers. The comment rubbed me the wrong way completely. It made me think that there may be kids in the class whose parents contributed to the PTA gift, but could not afford to give more.

Why do teachers think it is their right and that we as parents are expected to give them gifts? As I recall, last year, the Yated printed letters going back and forth about it. The bottom line is that I don’t expect my boss to give me a gift when I make him/save him money, because that is what he hired me for. And if he does give me a gift, I have to show him my appreciation. The same applies here. We contract the teachers through the schools to give our children an education. The fact is that rabbeim’s and teachers’ salaries often don’t cover their expenses and they do deserve to earn more money. But parents do not owe them gifts and it is important for teachers to realize that.

Thank you.

I Tip When I Can

I like to write about "Orthonomic" issues that affect the lives of various sectors. Admittedly, Chanukah Gelt is not something we currently deal with. But, the public way that gifts are given from student to teacher directly strikes me as inappropriate (the letter writer was rubbed the wrong way by the teacher's comment. The teacher's comment does appear to be tasteless, but presenting a gift in class doesn't seem to classy either).

In the past, I have written about my distaste for involving children as the middle men when schools and/or teachers solicit additional money for a party or project. Here too I feel a similar distaste. I can only imagine that involving one's children in giving gifts to teachers in front of their peers makes for uncomfortable moments for other students (especially students who aren't presenting a gift, or are only presenting something "unrespectable"), as well as for the student presenting the gifts. G-d knows that we don't need to add to the material competition that many children, as well as adults, experience.

And, I'm sure many teachers experience discomfort too when they receive gifts directly. A teacher who receives less than others may feel slighted. A teacher who receives a ridiculous sum of money from a certain parents is sure to feel pressure. Knowing what parents gave what can feel like "too much information."

Now, I am not criticizing the practice of giving gifts to teachers, although if parents have not cleared their obligations to the school vis a vis tuition, I believe there would be a problem. But, I don't like the idea of students presenting gifts in front of other students and teachers receiving gifts directly. I think gifts of this manner are best presented discretely, although I'm sure teachers don't open them in front of the class.

And, of course, as an accountant, I can't help myself but to wonder about the tax issues surrounding these "gifts," especially where they are very sizable, as is the case at my friends' school. Being no expert in this area of tax law, I'll let the more experienced chime in.

Your comments?


mother in israel said...

My husband's grandfather wrote a book in which he told how the rebbe would paddle the kids whose parents didn't pay up. This was referring to the basic tuition, not extra gifts.

Dave in DC said...

In order to avoid the perception of favoritism (or just straight-out bribery) and potential humiliation for both child and teacher, wouldn't the wise policy be to direct *all* gifts through the class parent/PTA/designated administrator with the individual amounts anonymous?

SephardiLady said...

Dave-It most certainly would be the only appropriate way (just as doorman/women in apartment buildings are given their checks from a collection. Teachers should not know who gave what and students should not be humiliated in the process.

Bob Miller said...

There are several parts to this, such as:

1. What gifts are given

2. Why they are given

3. How they are given

4. When they are given

On the last point, are they given this time of year because non-Jews give gifts now, or for some genuine Jewish reason?

Tamiri said...

In Israel, workers are given gifts at Rosh HaShanna and/or Pesach. Anything from a bottle or wine or a gift certificate to elaborate pot sets, linens etc. It is not customary to get anything on Chanuka. Nor do (as far as I know)the teachers get anything except maybe an end-of-year gift.

Abbi said...

I will just emphasize what Tamiri said, also as a counterpoint to the comment in the ad that " I don’t expect my boss to give me a gift when I make him/save him money, because that is what he hired me for."

Gifts are a very important part of the working culture here in Israel,especially in large organizations, whether they are for or non-profit. They're just not given at Chanukah. RH and Pesach are the big times.

anonymous mom said...

As a veteran teacher in Yeshiva Day Schools with kids in Yeshiva Day school, I'll chime in with the following:
a. I think teachers should get Chanuka "Hakaras HaTov" gift. Customary over the years was about $5 per student.
b. It should be handled by the P.T.A. and collected by the class mother.
c. It would be difficult for a school to discourage additional, private gift-giving without sounding like Kefuyei Tova, so no one says anything about it and each year some children bring additional gifts for me. I quietly take the gift and quietly write a thank you note to the parents.
d. The reason this is done at Chanukah time is twofold: there is a Minhag to give Chanukah gelt (not presents, by the way) and the teachers do have their own Chanukah gelt expenses so it fits nicely.

Bottom line. It should be done. It is much appreciated. And teaching is a very different profession than any other besides Rabanus. Teachers do more and give more of themselves than people realize and as a parent of school age children, you better believe I'm going to show Hakaras HaTov to my children's teachers and pediatrician. Those are the only people aside from my husband with whom I share their care.

Lion of Zion said...


"It is not customary to get anything on Chanuka."

that's probably because you don't have the counterpoint of christmas

(in israel do kids expect gifts?)

queeniesmom said...

Shavoah Tov,
I'm class mother for 2 of my 3 kids. I called the parents and said that we are collecting for the teacher's present, the cost is ...., please give a check made out to the PTA to my child. Whatever I collected I turned into the PTA, they in turn decide on the gifts. Some parents opted out, others sent in checks. We do this in a nonjudgemental way; each class mother just says she's calling on behalf of the PTA. This way no one feels pressured to contibute. The other benefit is that all the teacher receive the same gift and no one feels slited.

At Purim time we will do the same thing, but on a smaller scale, for each teacher's Shalach Manot basket. Again the intention is to ensure that no child is made to feel that their gift/Shalach Manot isn't as nice, as good as....It also ensures that all the teachers receive the same gifts not just some.

Having been an elementary school teacher, I know how the children feel when in their eyes their gift is less than someone else's gift. No amount of thanks or reassurance can change this. The last thing any teacher wants to do is hurt a child's feelings.

Tamiri said...

Lion, amazingly enough, in the dati society (I don't know any other) gift giving is sort of... non existant. I imagine some parents give their kids this or that, maybe some gelt, maybe a little chotchke. Grandparents and uncles/aunts also give a little something. Maybe. But it's such a relief after the 8 day gift giving frenzy we were treated to in the U.S. to not HAVE to give anything. Ya know what.. it gets crazy expensive! I didn't get any of my kids anything this year, and didn't hear a peep out of them. I guess they are forgetting what it used to be like. I made a big chanuka party (not cheap), we went away to a Shabbat Bar mitzva on Chanuka (think $ gift), had store-bought sufganiot once, ate out once, and took a day trip. I think that sort of covered us, don't you think?
There were NO comparisons between kids "what did you get", "look what I got". No school on Chanuka helps keep competition down, even if there were such a thing. Hurray! Another good reason to live here.

Anonymous said...

I do chip in with the PTA gift- but this year it was $10 for three teachers, which made the gifts rather paltry. So I also gave an additional gift (gift cards, $36 apiece) to each teacher. Frankly, I think every parent who can afford to do so should have done the same. The parents who cannot afford to do so need not be embarrassed as they contributed (I hope) to the main gift, and also because they don't know about any additional private gifts.
I've never heard of doormen being tipped by an anonymous group. In my experience, anonymous gifts are much smaller- the point is that you want the person you are tipping to know that YOU appreciate them.
In general, I find that some of the posters on this blog are dead right, smart people. But some of them are just so cheap it astounds me.

SephardiLady said...

Anon above-In a former residence of mine, gifts were to be made out to the building for staff holiday gifts because of payroll issues. I'm not a payroll expert, but the money is really income and needs to be run through the payroll department.

Ahavah B. said...

I would presume the receiving teacher would be required by law to report this under "other income" or as "tips" because that's what it is. They're not "gifts" because people don't give gifts to strangers, they give true "gifts" to family and friends - which are still reportable, as I understand it, even when tax-free amounts are involved. I'm betting most teachers don't report this income at all - and it's certainly crass to actually tell kids they should bring it. It gives every appearance of being improper - if a kid's parents are "generous" and the kid is a lousy student, what then? Is a poor kid penalized, even though they are a good student? And if none of the above, then what's the point of soliciting gifts - because when you ask for a gift, that's solicitation. Someone who wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety should state clearly they only want anonymous gifts.

anonyous mom said...

"They're not "gifts" because people don't give gifts to strangers"

Ahava, your child's teacher is not a stranger. Oy. And there are crackpots in every profession. The guy who solicited is a crackpot. None of us really do that. We are grateful. My mother worked full-time as a single mom to support me and she never opted out of the Chanukah gift. It was a group gift given through the PTA. In those days, you could also make a teacher a batch of chocolate chip cookies and send it in from time to time. She would never have opted out of the gift. I am always saddened to hear other mothers complain about the teacher's Chanukah gelt and they are complaining, of all people!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of tips, how about tips for the cleaning lady and bus driver? It's so strange to be "supposed to" tip them more than the PTA tip for the teachers...

SephardiLady said...

I don't have a cleaning lady and was unaware they were supposed to be tipped. I've also never heard of anyone tipping their cleaning lady. Same goes for bus drivers.

I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn't hire the service of someone I am "supposed to" tip if I can't work that into my budget. But, schooling is a commodity that isn't particularly optional and gift giving should be done in a way that is sensitive to all involved (as anonymous mom laid out above).

SephardiLady said...

Ahavah B- I see where you are doing in trying to draw the distinction between income and gifts, but "strangers" probably wasn't the best word choice.

The distinction between a gift and income has to do with whether or not it was received in the course of employment.

When the maintenance staff receive "tips" during the holiday season, the payroll department should be processing this because it was received in the course of employment and is subject to SS and withholding.

I wouldn't sneeze at a small gift or even a small gift card. But, I've heard of Chanukah Gelt in the thousands and that certainly would be income.

another jewish accountant said...

It is customary (at least from what I know) to tip household employees (including cleaning ladys, housekeepers, gardeners, pool men, etc.) at year end. the standard amount I have always understood to be about 1 weeks pay for the service they provide. when i had a full time babysitter in my home each year we would give her a weeks salary as a year end bonus, and that was pretty standard based on others i had spoken to.

my kids school does a PTA collection of $25 per kid, so i was in for $75 this year. on years when i am able to i also will get each teacher an indivual gift, although this year we did not. hopefully we will get each teacher an end of year gift instead.

Ariella said...

My mother is a teacher who got lots of mugs, purses, scarves, wallets, and even perfume as gifts from students (or their parents)/ While it makes sense to present a collective gift (that I hope is money rather than some chotchke) the practices vary. In my daughters' school there are different suggested amounts for the collection -- based on grade (higher for preschool and junior high than for elementary). But in my son's school, they both collect and clarify that rebbes are to be given gifts on an individual basis. This allows one to be far more generous with the rebbe than the $20 collective for all the secular studies teachers. I have heard that some parents give in excess of $100 -- and not only rich parents. I suppose this is a way to make it up to some extent for a troublesome child. But then there is far more pressure on. You can't skip it or give only $5 or even $10 in these circumstances even if you are less than impressed with the rebbe's performance.

mommish said...

i would be grateful if someone could provide me with the halachic source for giving hanukah gelt. i was told once that it was a minhag b'Yerushalayim, but only at the actual time of the nes.

it's always bothered me that the "frum" schools encourage the practice of giving teachers hanukah gelt, davka. i'd be MUCH more impressed if we raised ma'ot chittim funds for our children's teachers and principals, making sure they each received wine (grape juice), matzos, and a generous gift card to cover the expense of some new clothing items. a similar gift could be provided just before the yomim nora'im.

regardless of the season, it is important to show extra concern and affection for our children's teachers. they are, in effect, doing our job for us - instructing our children in Torah. in this way, teaching is unlike most other professions (with, perhaps, the exception of mohel and midwife.) > as with all things that we jews do, the teacher-gift-giving must be done PRIVATELY and MODESTLY, totally b'tzniut. it's no one's business which teacher got what. it's not a contest. it's a gift. if the PTA wants to sponsor a contest among the teachers, with cash prizes, that's a different issue.

and frankly, i believe parents must be discouraged from sending in their own private gifts. this type of behavior smacks of bribery, and further separates the "haves" from the "have nots". in the short-term, this can cause a disruption in the classroom, as the teacher may feel obligated to treat the rich kids differently (better) than than the kids whose parents didn't give large gifts. further down the road, you can just imagine a poor rebbe discreetly encouraging the principal to alter the class roster, trying to get more rich kids into his classroom.

-- mommish