Every year, right around this time, I start to feel stirrings. All around me I begin to hear holiday (actually Christmas) music, decorative lights appear on the houses in my neighborhood and of course, there are the sales. It’s hard not to be drawn into the frivolity and cheer. My religious tradition however, has little, if any, public displays involving our winter holiday of Hanukah. Traditional Hanukah music runs to the minor key variety and, let’s face it, “The Dreidel Song,” just isn’t particularly sexy. Not to mention the home décor of the holiday is, well, let’s just say in order to stay away from the tacky, it’s crucial to use a LOT of imagination! The traditional foods might be the best part; anything cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight nights, rather than for just one, is on the menu. Jelly donuts and potato pancakes are a highlight. It’s enough to make any nice Jewish girl yell, “Oy!” and, “Bah, Chumbug!” (Imagine that in Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s voice and you’ll get the picture).
Every year I try to write something meaningful, spiritual and educational about my Jewish traditions. There are, after all, a lot of lessons to be learned about bravery, perseverance and hope in the Hanukah story. During the darkest days of the year the candles we light encourage us to look for the light in our hearts and our souls. But this year has felt like one long, dark night. Much has been lost to all of us. My usual sunny disposition has felt clouded by fear and sadness. Can eight little multi-colored candles really do much to lift my spirits? Can they do more than a 10-foot, pine smelling, Christmas tree filled with sparkly ornaments and blazing lights? (I’m not suggesting I’d get a tree lest my parents rise up from their graves in a hellish nightmare of a, “Goldie’s Dream,” from, “Fiddler on the Roof.”). It’s no wonder Jews of all ages sometimes feel a touch of envy at the glorious, festive and public spirit of Christmas.
But, and here’s the deal, the fried potatoes, the jelly donuts, the chintzy homemade decorations and the simple candles, are all part of MY tradition. They are the outward expression of thousands of years of suffering, courage and survival. This has been a year like no other in recent memory, for sure. But my people are no strangers to coping with tough times. Jews comprise less than one-quarter percent of the world’s population and yet, our numbers are increasing, albeit slowly. Perhaps this is due to better health outcomes and longer life spans. But perhaps it is also due to the observance of traditions like lighting Hanukah candles and singing in a minor key. In the midst of chaos, illness, death and fear, holding onto familiar rituals helps us all, regardless of religion, remain standing. Tacky paper decorations and greasy food marks the passage of time and serves to remind us that this, too, shall pass. My December holiday may not be flashy or glamorous, but the memories it evokes do lift my spirits and carry me both back in time to happier days and spin me forward into an unknown, but surely different, future.
I still sometimes feel like a kid looking in the window of a toy store, just able to look but not go inside. Thankfully I can appreciate the music, I can visit places with lights and a tree, and I can celebrate another year surviving the darkness that has surrounded mankind. I can also take comfort and pride in a jelly donut or a paper chain and know that I come from a people who survived the worst of times and still manages to celebrate eight crazy nights with some little colored candles.
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner. Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world. The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .
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