“Lights! Lights! Lights!”
By Myra R. Promisel, WLCJ Vice President and Finance Committee Chair
Lights! Hanukkah has always been one of my favorite holidays. The “story,” true or not, seemed important to me as a child. I loved the Dreidel song and Rock of Ages (sung in English). Our family had a standard Hanukkah menorah until my sister and I bought my parents a fancy, sterling silver one for their 25th wedding anniversary. At the time, we did not realize that they liked modern, simple lines! For my parents, who worked in the retail business, it was a very busy time of year. However, lighting the candles was a special time for each of the eight days. We did receive gifts, one for each night of the holiday. The gifts were small and often practical items such as handkerchiefs, which were at that time a necessity. A few of them, embroidered with my name, survive to this day. Some of the presents were fun, all were carefully chosen, but few were extravagant.
Menorah by Steve Resnick, photo courtesy of Myra Promisel
Those traditions became those observed as we celebrated Hanukkah with our sons. In Hebrew school, they learned about the Maccabees, the miracle of oil, and the blessings for the candles. Several times, they crafted hanukkiot that we dutifully used. They were excited to receive a gift each night. Now, we are creating similar memories of the holiday with our grandchildren, who have brought us their school Hanukkah placemats and menorahs. The times that the family comes together to eat, light candles, sing songs, and exchange gifts mean so much. Even choosing and wrapping the gifts is important to me, just as it was to my mother, so there is a great deal of nostalgia associated with these days.
Menorah by Zachary Oxman, photo courtesy of Myra Promisel
Lights! Our family no longer has just one standard menorah. Over the last twenty-five years, my husband Larry and I have amassed a collection of hanukkiot which now includes approximately fifty unique pieces. Some of them have been designed by well-known Judaic artists. Others are whimsical – a moose with a bird on its tail, a line of beach chairs, a woman dancing. Still, others are beautiful, innovative creations by artists working in glass, metal, ceramics, and wood. The more family that gathers for the holiday, the more hanukkiot we use. We share the experience of having many lights shining in dark December.
In her column in the Adas Israel Congregation “Chronicle,” Rabbi Sarah Krinsky wrote the following:
“The Mishnah Berurah, a halakhic authority from the 19th century, was asked a question about lighting candles late at night. The question-asker seemed familiar with the idea that the purpose of the Hanukkah candles is ‘pirsumei nisa,’ to publicize the miracle. Therefore, he wondered, could one still fulfill the mitzvah if there was no one around? It’s the Hanukkah version of ‘if a tree falls in the woods’ – here, asking, ‘If Hanukkah candles are lit and no one is awake to see them, should they even still be lit?’ The Mishnah Berurah’s answer is to double down on his ruling that someone else must be awake to see the candles. In fact, he even goes so far as to write, ‘if everyone is sleeping, it is appropriate to wake a family member’ in order to say the blessing and light the candles.” The bright lights are to be shared.
Lights! The holiday was always made brighter by the special foods we ate. To this day, I believe my mother made the best, lightest, crispiest latkes and the most tender brisket I have ever eaten. Served along with homemade applesauce, these foods now constitute the Hanukkah meal my children and grandchildren expect to have when they visit.
Lights! Whether you believe in the miracle of the oil in the Book of Maccabees, like the idea of lighting those little candles one at a time for eight nights, want to give small gifts to those you love, brighten the world at the darkest time of the year, or eat as many latkes as you are able, Hanukkah can be a very special holiday that brings families and family traditions together. May you and yours enjoy all the aspects of light that the holiday allows.
Menorah collection photos courtesy of Myra Promisel