Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eight Greedy Nights

Well the eight days of Chanukah are over at sundown today.  It's been exhausting.

Because I had such a ludicrous Jewish upbringing, I've always tried to make my kids' Jewish holidays incredible, including Chanukah.

My Chanukah as a kid:  all the motley crew of cousins come over - there are the foolish cousins and the egghead cousins, the bucktoothed cousins and the Bryl creamed cousins.  Some of them are actually being raised Jewish and expect that there will be a lit menorah.  My mom is under pressure now.  She has to pretend she's raising us Jewish.  She has to find our menorah and candles. 

She snakes her arm into the cabinet above our stove and finds what passes for a menorah in our house:  a miserable, metal, tilting thing that Goodwill would throw out.  Then she snakes her arm up there again and finds a box of candles.  Since it's stored above the stove, the candles are melted together into one blob.  It's a candle brick now, and she has to snap off the candles that she needs, one by one. Broken candle shards.

My mother, being Old Country, is mystified by the idea of Hanukkah presents. When pressed, she enlists the aid of my grandfather.  He gets a great idea, laboriously rises on his diabetic legs and fishes around in a pocket so big it's like Mary Poppins' purse - I'm thinking he'll probably pull out a floor lamp. He comes up Eisenhower dollars all around. Chanukah gelt.

I go off to school very excited by this whole gigantic silver dollar thing, this whole Zayda as Mary Poppins thing, this whole mystery of the blessing over the candles thing. I'm confronted, however, by the children of non-immigrant families all showing up with presents identical to each others, like they had coordinated it or something.  They all have lovely Jewish stars on necklaces.

Flash forward to parenthood.  Flash forward to eight greedy nights.  The kids and I set up an elaborate eight-day calendar every year, Bar Mitzvahzilla on one line and Daughter on the other, the days of the week on the top. Then we assign themes. Not all are gift nights, one is tzedakah night, where we give to others, and another is menorah night, where we light just about every menorah in the house and start a veritable conflagration. Last night, the lighter not working, Husband helpfully lit a blow torch to help me light the menorahs.

Flash forward to a lifetime of lists now that are like a time capsule of my kids' lives:  Lego Day, Spiderman Day, Hello Kitty Day, High School Musical Day, and now, much to my chagrin, Xbox Day and Moshi Monster Day.
And flash forward to the thing I love the best:  my light up menorahs sitting on my front window sills lighting up our windows just a little, telling the world about the miracle of Chanukah.


  1. An awesome story Linda. I really loved this!!

  2. Hi linda,
    I loved the Eisenhower dollar thing.
    One year my aunt did that for us on july 4th when we were young.
    We didn't get it either, lol.
    I have been reading some books about the jewish roots of my christian faith (I have always been interested in it). I bought a Torah with the hebrew and the english translation....reading it backwards was a little confusing at first...but quite frankly...whereas before the proverbs all seemed to be seperate little quips. Now it seems to have much more flow. It translates differently.
    I've also been reading a book about Jewish mysticism and kabbalah (not the madonna kabbalah) and it talks extensively about tzedakah.
    How some rabbis say you should give a little to everyone who asks...
    The new testament is great, but is a bit general when it comes to practicalities.
    So I have been trying to practice tzedakah daily. It's amazing how many people don't ask for things.
    I thought I might go broke, but nope. lol.
    It's also giving time or patience and such.
    Your traditions sound cool. I was thinking Christmas is a bit commercial anymore. I want to change that up...still working on it. I am glad you had a good Hanukkah.
    Have a great rest of the year.

  3. some great tzedakah ideas:

    have fun and keep up the good work!

    arnie draiman

  4. Chris, you must have run across the idea that tzedaka is not charity in Judaism, that it's justice, evening out the scales? I explain it that since God doesn't handle money when he gives too much to one person the purpose is so that that person will give it away, let money do the good in the world it's intended to do. It's quite a beautiful concept.
    Believe it or not, some of the greatest books I've come across as introductory guides to Judaism are the "Idiots Guide" (not the Dummy guides). They are written by Rabbis and are readable. I'm reading one right now and learning things I never knew!
    Thanks for your thoughtful post!

  5. Arnie,
    Thanks so much for your comment. I'm going to look at your website later for more ideas on tzedaka. I love the idea of micro-tzedaka! Thank you for posting here,

    And Dreidel,
    Lovely items in your shop. I will try to get there later and browse around. We are always looking for more Judaica!