I’m not Jewish. But in a few days I’ll be lighting candles for eight nights. And if I felt normal — just kidding, I haven’t felt normal for a few decades – – but if I was in my normal MO, I would have an encouraging speech/pep talk/life lesson to give my kids before we lit the first candle.
As in past years I would remind them that Chanukah is a story about a group of underdogs fighting for a just cause. That it is a story about people fed up with oppression and finally doing something about it. That ultimately it is a story of triumph over evil, of light driving away darkness.
I would remind them that Chanukah represents much of what I want them to value and to stand for: The honor of God and religious freedom. And to always remember that even if they are the minority, they are still obligated to stand up for and if it comes to it, fight for truth.
With bravado I would remind them that the God Whom they believe in still performs miracles. And that if they serve the God of Light, they will never have to stay afraid of the dark.
And lastly, I would remind them that the candles are a symbol of our pledge of allegiance to the people of Israel and to the God of Israel. That the burning candles are a visual reminder to always have the courage to stand on Israel’s side.
But as of now, it feels like I’ve got nothing encouraging to say. No pep talks. No bravado speeches. No life lessons. Nope, if I told them what was really on my mind it would go something like this: “Kids, I’m depressed. In fact there’s a corner of my heart that’s been depressed since the night the three boys were kidnapped in Israel. Do you remember that night? We were there. As we walked down the ancient cobblestone streets of Tzfat with the full moon of Sivan guiding our way, they were kidnapped and murdered.”
“There’s a corner in my mind that still can’t believe it happened. That can’t believe God let it come to that. Was six million not enough? Why three more boys? Why does the count seem to increase each week, if not each day?”
I would plagiarize a prophet and tell them that I hoped for peace and for a time of healing, but instead terror comes and it makes my heart feel sick within me. The harvest is past, the summer is ended; and Israel was not saved. For the wound of the daughter of my people, I am wounded with grief; is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? O that my head were full of waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.
But, yeah, that would probably freak my kids out a little bit. And anyway, if you knew me, you would know that ultimately the optimistic, eternal cheerleader in me always wins out.
Therefore, I hope to tell them that lighting the candles is a prayer of hope and faith in itself. It is a remembrance of not just past Jews who fought and won, but Jews who fight now despite the odds and will absolutely, without a doubt win. These Jews would never ever consider the idea of giving up. So how stupid and odd that I would let myself feel like giving up.
And I will tell them that the candles represent a prayer, a hope, and a desire that was once recorded in the Psalms that we’ll borrow as our own, Remember us, O Lord, when You favor Your people; be mindful of us too. To see the goodness of Your chosen ones, to rejoice with the joy of Your nation, to boast with Your inheritance.
And lastly, I will plagiarize again and remind my children why I do what I do. And unabashedly tell them that I hope that they will follow in my footsteps and carry Israel in their hearts, and in fact never be without Israel in their hearts. I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart ) I am never without it (anywhere I go you go). Here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart I carry [Israel’s] heart (I carry it in my heart).
All of that just to light some candles.
(Inspired by Jeremiah 8:20-23, Psalm 106:4,5, & E.E. Cummings “I Carry Your Heart With Me”)