Many years ago I married a friendly giant with a golden beard. There are many wonderful things that he has brought into my life- warm meals every night, a passion for Star Trek Next Generation, and a human ladder to access our household's upper atmosphere of nooks and crannies. Perhaps the most unexpected of these wonderful gifts are the traditions that he brought from the Jewish side of his family. I discovered the scrumptious glory of matza ball soup and kugel pudding; the kinship of singing together around passover dinner and, most of all, the lovely subtle magic of Hanukkah.
After the births of our children, my husband expressed a wish to celebrate Hanukkah in addition to Christmas. His parents gave us a menorah in the shape of a train and we purchased our first box of (so many!) Hanukkah candles. As it happens our daughter's preschool invited Jewish families to bring their menorahs in for a lighting ceremony. The first time we all lit candles together with our new train of lights was in that classroom. I will never forget the experience. The lights were turned out so we all sat in semi darkness. Then, as we lit the first candles of Hanukkah, a lovely warm glow stole over the room. An amber halo encircled each child's soft, round cheeks.
As tiny flames danced in the eyes of every child, all the stories of trials and perseverance that I had learned about the Jewish people clicked together into one magnificent puzzle within me. It suddenly occurred to me viscerally how painful it must have been to face so many centuries of persecution. Shylock the Jew, begging for his humanity to be recognized and regarded in Shakespeare's famous play. Families being forced to turn their backs on their religion and accept Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. The holocaust. The war that my grandparents waged in England against a regime that was actively practicing genocide against anyone who practiced or was born from the Jewish religion. So much horror and pain. So arbitrary and unnecessary. And yet still, every year, the candles are lit.
In that moment, the menorah lights flickering over my children's faces, I realized fully that they are part of that legacy. That story is their story and as their mother, it is now my story too. My heartstrings reach out across space and time, carried by these new creatures, innocent to the myriad ways our world chooses to be wicked. Without even realizing it, these 13 children of different ethnic backgrounds and faiths, not one of them taller than my hip, were rising above centuries of cruelty and oppression, all by lighting a tiny candle.
From that moment on, for me, Hanukkah has been a time of reflection.
A time of humility.
A time to reflect on the power of perseverance.
A time to be proud of belonging to the human race, where every generation we have the chance to start anew, to gather around the menorah in the name of tolerance, in honor of those who came before us and all those who sacrificed so we could have the freedom to light a little candle.