A Hanukkah Story
Guest blog by Leora Reinberg.
Hanukkah in Israel. There's nothing like it. Leora captures the feeling perfectly through her words.
“I want to have a Hanukkah party,” I repeat.”
“I mean, where?”
“Right here! I’ll invite Shira and Tess and Ruchie, ooh and we’ll have a gift exchange, and eat donuts, and light candles, and we’ll sing, of course.”
He laughs, his long, slender frame stretching across the linen sofa. A gust of nippy evening air slips in through the billowy curtains along with the smell of grease, probably from one of those cheap pizza joints that line the Shuk entrance. It was one of those early winter days in this country that is almost eerily benign; it’s not warm but not exactly cold, neither here nor there. Caught in-between seasons, just on the cusp of rainstorms.
“I’m serious! It’s my favorite holiday.”
“Every holiday is your favorite holiday.”
“Nope, just this one.”
“Next thing I know, you’ll want to say Kiddush on Shabbat.”
“I might, one day.”
“Come on babe. You know I’m not a fan of all these religious things. I don’t even think I know the blessings.”
“Wait. You’ve never lit candles before?”
“I mean, maybe at school...I can’t remember."
“Okay, then it’s decided. Think you can run to Max Stock after work tomorrow and see if they have a menorah?”
He groans in protest.
“Ok,” I reply. “How about we make it just the two of us?”
“That’s better. But can’t we just watch Fargo and look at a picture of a menorah?”
“I can make us a GIF. With flames and everything.”
I stare back at him unflinchingly until he lets out a sigh of defeat.
“I guess we can do it tomorrow. But no more donuts, okay? We already had those ones from Roladin yesterday.”
I set the festive pink bakery box down on the kitchen table and take off the lid. We hover over it, breathing in the sweet smell of fried oil, admiring the perfectly round donuts topped with little tufts of butterscotch, creme patisserie, and classic jelly. Our reverie is only broken by a fade of indistinct Mizrahi music blaring from a passing car on the street down below.
“I guess I should put a shirt on?”
“That would be great.” By the time I finish setting up the small silver-coated menorah, he’s back in the kitchen, dressed in his finest Asos t-shirt and a pair of boxers.
“Very festive,” I observe, holding the match to the striker strip.
“I think you need to light another one. It’s the second night. You need the middle one and two other ones.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I quickly grab a yellow candle from the box and hold it against the lighter flame before sticking it next to the first candle.
“Wow, your yeshiva education really came in handy,” he teases, wrapping his arms around me.
“Hey, it’s been a while.” I smile sheepishly, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks, though I’m not quite sure why. We light the candles, pausing between each one to make sure they're secure in their holders, and I lead us through the blessings, which I remember perfectly. Then, for a moment, we just linger there, admiring the sight of our simple, twenty-shekel menorah. We watch as its flames dance towards the ceiling in a tussle with the nighttime breeze, silent in the remarkable warmth of those tiny little fires.
“Maoz tzur yeshuasi….” I begin to sing in American-accented words, which I wouldn’t know how to sing any other way, even after thirteen years in this land. To my surprise, I hear him singing softly beside me, in barely a whisper, but he knows the words as well as I do. He holds me closer and I lean back into his chest. All the while, our menorah burns brightly beside us, droplets of wax falling from each candle into an accidental mosaic of yellow, red, and blue. We sing together in the firelight until we don’t remember any of the lyrics anymore, and all that’s left is an old, familiar, far-off melody.