Charitable Jewish Group Takes Time to Celebrate Each Other This Chanukah

hanukkah dreidels

Editor’s Note: This Gift Exchange originally took place in 2015, but the Chanukah elves at Federation CJA are back again in 2018 for a fourth year of spreading joy and generosity.

It may be said that an elf’s favorite holiday is Christmas, but the elves at Elfster are just as happy to be spreading some Chanukah (Hanukkah) cheer this holiday season, too. The eight-day festival of light begins on Sunday evening at sundown, [December 2] this year, with the nightly lighting of the menorah to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness and spirituality over materiality.

One group of Canadian elves celebrating Chanukah this year with Elfster is Federation CJA,  the central funding and coordinating body of services for Montreal, Quebec, Canada’s approximately 90,000-member Jewish Community. The belief that “All Jews are responsible for one another” is, according to the organization’s website, “the core idea that guides all that we do at Federation CJA, is powerful, echoes spiritually and historically, is both simple and profound, and deeply rooted in Judaism. It reflects what we have done since our founding in 1917 and is the guiding principle that underlies our mission.”

Federation CJA logo

The mission of this philanthropic organization is to promote “a vibrant and caring Montreal Jewish community, one in which diversity is welcomed and Jewish life, education and values are nurtured and strengthened. Federation CJA embodies Jewish collective responsibility and advances communal interests locally, nationally, in Israel and beyond.”

The Federation has just completed its annual fundraising campaign and projects that is has raised an amazing $39.5 million to help those in need in their community, locally and internationally. How amazing!

And this charitable organization also has a clear and strong vision: “We strive for Montreal to be the city with the highest quality of Jewish life in North America. In our vision of the community, Montreal Jewry is cohesive, yet diverse and pluralistic. It allows every Jew, irrespective of ideology, lifestyle choices, and ethnic background, to find a Jewish option for him or herself. It is a community that creates and thrives; a community that produces Jewish knowledge and innovates in services and programs.”

To celebrate each other this holiday season, the Federation staff has turned to Elfster to help with their exchange of Chanukah gifts. Lead by self-proclaimed “Chief Chanukah Elf” Judith Leichter (who also serves as the organization’s Director of Technology Services in her spare time), has been busy “spamming our staff with reminders, gift giving tips, etc. It’s given me a great theme!”

“The Federation staff totals approximately 150 employees across the organization. Our Exchange group is specifically to have a gift exchange at our annual staff Chanukah party – this year on December 9,” explains Judith. “Some staff are on vacation at that time, or unavailable, but we have about 110 participating. Everyone has to drop their gifts off in my office in advance (it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in here!!!!) so that I can ensure that no one gets missed

gifts wrapped in silver paper with blue polkadots

“We display all the gifts in our party (conference) room for the event, and have the gift exchange at the end of our party, which includes music, food and entertainment, and the FedFun Committee (our social committee) serve as elves to hand out the gifts to staff,” she adds.

For the past several years, the group has hosted an online exchange, but this is the first time they have used Elfster. “Prior to that, we would do the gift exchange the old-fashioned way, by pulling names out of a hat,” Judith says. “We love the web-hosted method because it doesn’t allow people to cheat, which used to happen all the time with scraps of paper!” After a little online research, she found Elfster and we are so glad she did.

happy Hanukkah coasters

“We expect everyone to participate in the gift exchange,” Judith explains. “We encourage everyone to get to know their ‘Chanukah Buddies’ (as we call them) and buy them a meaningful gift. Our only die-hard rule is that dollar store gifts are unacceptable. The trend today for gift cards takes a lot of the personalization out of gift giving, but it does make it easier for people to participate.”

“As we are a charitable organization ourselves, we don’t encourage donations to charity for the Gift Exchange on the premise that we give of ourselves (financial and otherwise) throughout the year, and we want the Chanukah Exchange to be for ourselves,” she adds.

And how is Elfster working for this group of first-time users? “I think the wishlist and secret questions are a bit underused,” Judith says. “I had to coach some of our less tech literate staff on how to use some of the options on the site. Overall, however, I think that having the opportunity to post your ‘wishes’ means that you will get something you will value… I’ll let you know after we have the Exchange!”

The group does not have any other exchanges planned for the near-future, but we hope to see them back again soon! “I think Elfster could have uses beyond the holidays, such as pairing donors with recipients,” Judith says. “Definitely something we could look at as an organization.”

And Elfster is now pleased to offer the capability to do just that with our Charitable exchange option, in which each person is either giving or receiving. The givers will give a gift to one or more people. Gift recipients receive gifts from one person.

Thank you to Federation CJA for letting us be a part of your Chanukah celebration! For more information about Federation CJA, please visit its website at  Federation CJA is a member organization of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Are you looking for great ways to celebrate with family and friends? Elfster’s Hanukkah gift guide may have just what you are looking for this year’s festival of lights. Are you a part of a group with a passion for helping those in your community? We would love to hear how your group is using Elfster, too. You can reach us via Facebook here. Tweet us @elfster or catch us on Instagram at #elfster. Need help getting started with your own exchange? We can answer any questions you may have at

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photo credit:  Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Etsy

About Meghan L 212 Articles
Meghan L has been elfing it since she joined the team in 2009. She enjoys coordinating exchanges, talking to organizers, and all things Christmas. Join her for an eggnog latte anytime at