I remember the dark-hued blue and gold brass menorah that graced our home during Chanukah. It was a souvenir from someone’s trip to Israel, or perhaps it was purchased at a local Judaica store. But it had a distinct look that, in that day said, “Made in Israel.” Compact and curved, the menorah had a cutout of the iconic landscape of Jerusalem on its back, and on the front, small cup-like holders that hugged the multi-colored candles. Remnants of melted and hardened wax never seemed to quite disappear from that thing, even after repeated attempts at cleaning.
We used that menorah every year, lighting the candles, saying the blessings and marking the progression of the holiday each night. Our little menorah sat on the dining room table, its flames safely away from any hazard associated with curtains, drapes or any other window dressing.
The little menorah had a public counterpart. On the window ledge in the living room sat a big, white, plastic menorah. It was the necessary accessory to safely — according to my parents — display Chanukah to the world with its fireproof orange light bulbs; another one twisted to light up each night of the holiday. From the street outside, we could see the orange lights of several big, white, plastic menorahs inside the windows of other homes on our block, and feel proud of ourselves, and of our holiday.
Those were the sights. Then there were the smells.
The smell of fried potatoes and onions of the homemade latkes my mother whipped up would waft through the house, not long after the candles were lit. Potato latkes were a most important — and most delicious — Chanukah tradition, and my mother took no shortcuts.
She peeled pounds of potatoes, bathed them in water to keep them white, and one by one, hand grated them, along with the tear-inducing onion. Once we’d hear the sizzle from her special fry pan, we anticipated their arrival. But not too many actually made it to the table. My father would pick them off the brown paper bag that she used to absorb their oiliness, to “sample” one. And another. And then another one. It was fine, she said.
And now there are different sights and smells for a different generation.
In our home for Chanukah we have a collection of menorahs. There is the merging of menorahs — his (from Jeff), and hers (from me), and theirs (Yehuda and Shaina) to make ours.
We have a veritable family of menorahs. Among the myriad: the one with the movable silver arms, the chic and simple glass one, the green metal lovebird menorah (a wedding gift), and the “womanorah,” a ceramic sculpture of eight seated woman (and a ninth for the shamash) with baskets atop their heads that double as candleholders. The “womanorah” was a parting gift from a wonderful female editor-in-chief at one of my newspapers.
Then there are the children’s menorahs, the ones that they made in preschool and are more precious to me than a diamond-studded one (as if!). There is the primary-color painted plaster of Paris menorah, the wooden block one, the one made of bits and pieces and nuts and bolts, and of course, all the crayoned paper ones that came home right before the holiday.
Our smells are different, too.
As enticing — maybe not, but enticing enough — are the smells from the fry pan of our latkes. But our latkes come out of a box, cooked by my friend, Tina. Call it an act of convenience coupled with no patience or desire for hand grating, along with no food processor, and these are the closest I come to homemade latkes. Don’t worry. They also don’t make it to the table, enthusiastically sampled while they drain on a paper-toweled plate.
Perhaps the details associated with the holiday have changed. There are more menorahs. There is less sweat over the latkes. But the tradition has stayed the same: To celebrate the Festival of Lights with our family and with our friends, and through that celebration, to always try and bring light into our lives and to the lives of others.
Wishing all a happy Chanukah.