Happy Hanukkah! Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. Lighting the candles is a new tradition for me, as I ran from my "religion," even though I grew up in a very non-religious household, where we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas.
When I was 14, I experienced my first taste of anti-semitism while working at a local bakery. It left a pretty big stain on my psyche and truthfully it made me afraid to admit to anyone that I was Jewish for most of my life. Over the years in the most amazing ways, from the most surprising people, I have heard nasty, stereotypical, ignorant comments made about "Jewish people" in my presence. For many years, I sat cold as a stone, terrified inside, not speaking up and wishing I could disappear. As a Feisty Female™ attempting to live authentically, I now inform the people who make these absurdly ignorant comments in my presence, that I am Jewish. That is usually enough to stop them in their tracks, and hopefully invite them to be more sensitive and keep their ignorance to themselves in the future.
We are a family of mixed traditions. Neither my husband or I ever, practiced the faith we were born into, so we have created our own traditions over the years- for example…getting married at the courthouse during my lunch break and later that spring, planting a tree, while standing barefoot in his Aunt’ Annie’s family farm exchanging our vows, with our dog Feats as the ring bearer.
About 7 years ago, Hanukkah and Christmas fell during the same week, as they often do. My husbands entire family was coming to spend Christmas with us, they are quite the clan. I was so excited to have everyone with us that something extraordinary happened. I decided I wanted to light the Hanukkah candles during the visit, with them as my healing witnesses.
I did not know anything at all about Hanukkah, so I bought a book called The Story of Hanukkah by Norma Simon, (see on my night stand column), so I could attempt to educate myself and share this concept with his nice and nephew who were very young at the time. I also called my mom and asked her to please go and find me a menorah, as I did not have one of my own yet, and look at what she sent me! When I opened the box, I felt like someone had painted the menorah just for me! It represented everything in my life, music, horses, art, travel. I gasped as I pulled it out of the box. Honestly my mother was so excited that I asked, she was K’velen: To glow with pride and happiness, beam; be delighted (as they say in Yiddish); she ran to the store the same day!
To my surprise when my niece and nephew came that year, they came with Hanukkah Dreidal, pennies and a Hanukkah song in tow! As we lit the candles they sang the song they had learned in school. I was honored. It was truly a healing moment for me. I of course did not-and still do not know the song, although I wish I did.
I will not tell you that I am a practicing Jew. I am an what I call an ecletic pracitioner. I practice a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. It feels like a beautiful, wide path, and I enjoy sprinkling in a little bit of all traditions that capture my attention. After all, that is what makes our world go ’round…
This year I have decided that each night I light the candles, I will say a prayer of peace for our planet. Each candle will be symbolic of hope and transformation for our world.
Contribute: Do you have a special Hanukkah or holiday family tradition/celebration that you would like to share?