Sunday night was the first night of Chanukah. My daughters and I celebrated in the subdued way that teens and parents celebrate a holiday that has more meaning in the continuity, in the recognition, than anything else. There were no presents, just presence. For me, for us (I hope) that was more important.
I made applesauce in the morning, and if I may say so, it was the best applesauce that I have made in years. And I made far too many latkes right before the candle lighting ceremony, letting them stay warm in the oven as I fried pan after pan of latkes (I made four big potatoes worth of latkes for the three of us).
About two minutes after my younger daughter complained that she was not hungry, she said that she was ready; and my older daughter dutifully (yes, she apparently is able to be dutiful) came to the table immediately to observe the holiday, together.
My younger daughter put the candles in the chanukiyah (menorah): white for the first night and yellow for the shamash (helper candle). I had strewn chocolate gelt (coins) around the chanukiyah—my version of holiday decorations. No plants, no bows, no angels here, no, just chocolate covered in gold and silver foil to look like coins.
Younger daughter lit the candles, and I said the three blessings. The first praises God for commanding us to do the mitzvot (commandments) and instructing us to kindle the Chanukah lights; the second praises God for performing miracles about 2,000 years ago when our ancestors withstood the intense pressure (life or death kind of pressure) put upon them to worship Greek gods and then made the oil that was only to last for one day last for eight days, which was just enough time to get everything ready to resume proper prayer services in the great temple (wish I had that oil for my car); and lastly, praising God for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this day. This last one, the Shechiyanu is said when a person does something important—does a first, or when we return to a holiday after not having celebrated it for a year.
And I kissed both of them on their foreheads after they sat down. They didn’t want that kiss, but how can a mother recite three blessings and not give the one true blessing—a kiss—to her children?
And then we ate potato latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream. To make the table look fuller, I also put down pineapple chunks and Israeli pickles. I didn’t even bother to make brisket, another traditional holiday food, because we all just hone in on the latkes. Maybe another night.
And we talked for about ten minutes. Around a dining room table, as if it were a normal act and not something that we only do when there is a holiday. Praise God for holidays. There was no meanness, there was no tension, it was the three of us. (he was upstairs in the master suite.)
I am not religious, rather I identify with my religion more on a cultural and historic level than on a conversation with God level. But, I must say, if it weren’t for religion, and for the milestones it puts in our year I would feel even more lost as a parent, more untethered and swaying in whatever moods come upon me as I try to steer some kind of course through this divorce and its undeniably damaging aftermath. These holidays, and the Bat Mitzvah, and the classes that the girls took and take, and the classes I give at temple have helped to tether me, and helped to create a family that I was not able to create at home, or at least not feel like I was able to do alone. It has enabled me to found our lives on more than just ourselves, and for that I am thankful—I could light a candle for that.
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You can read my Chanukah story, “Lighting the Chanukah Lights with Emily,” at: +StoryRhyme.