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A Canary in a Coal Mine—A Hanukkah Story

As a seventh grader, I learned why coal miners carried caged canaries into their mine shafts.

And what I learned made me feel sorry for these poor, little, beautiful, yellow song birds. It was bad enough that they were caged but housed in a cold, dusty, pitch-black coal mine seemed a bit much.

For I once owned a yellow canary and I loved listening to her sing.

So I asked my teacher, “Do canaries stop singing while they’re in mines?”

And my teacher admitted, “I really don’t know but logically the miners must listen to them when they chirp and when they stop chirping it sets off an alarm.”

Then she explained, “Canaries are early warning signs of danger. These little finches protect the lives of the coal miners because their lungs are more sensitive to carbon monoxide than our human lungs. If the canary looks sick, it’s an indication that deadly, odorless, carbon monoxide gas is present. I bet you kids didn’t know that some miners even invented a resuscitation cage with an oxygen cylinder to revive the canary after they fell ill. This act of resuscitation allowed the bird to be used multiple times.”

Even with oxygen cylinders, I still felt sorry for those poor canaries being stuck in noisy, dark, man-made caves filled with coal dust. It sounded like hell to me.

Then I asked myself, “Are there Jewish canaries in our American mineshaft?

No, not those FBI or ADL statistics on anti-Semitic acts in the USA.

Those numbers are often skewed by several handfuls of racists and bigots.

Then it hit me.

Our canaries were menorahs.

Yes, our menorahs displayed in stores or painted on shop windows, or beaming on large screens in NBA arenas or at halftime shows in NFL stadiums.

So I decided to conduct a menorah study, acting as if I were a bird watcher at Hyde Park, I’d tour my town looking for, counting and recording every time I spotted a menorah.

And here are my finding:

I spotted three seven-foot high, white Chabad menorahs planted in the soil of my town;

In my 7-Eleven,  I observed a small blue and white menorah with nine blue bulbs resting above a display case of rolling papers;

In Tark’s, my favorite redneck seafood and chicken wing dive, an old, sun burnt, yellowish-white plastic menorah with red light bulbs stared me in the face;

In Taste of the City, my breakfast hideaway, as I munched on: rye toast covered in sweet, Smuckers strawberry jam; a Swiss cheese omelet; a cup of salty grits, I observed painted on their front window latkes, dreidels and menorahs singing “I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay”;

At Sonny’s, my favorite Philly cheesesteak eatery, I saw a copper menorah resting on a shelf above their grill.

I smiled.

Menorahs seemed to be everywhere.

Our canaries were healthy and singing.

I scratched my head and wondered:

Had I wasted too much ink on the likes of our modern-day Antiochus’ —Kanye, Marjorie or the Donald?

Was I giving to much of my time to these belchers of carbon monoxide?

Was the picture of hate painted on our electronic screens too dour?

Had I focused too much of my energy on the negative and not enough on the positive?

For our temple had plenty of sacred oil.

And our Jewish canaries sang loudly and clearly, perched on the shelves of  gas stations, painted on the windows of restaurants and dug deep into Chabad’s soil.

So as I lit the candles on my hanukkiah, my family listened as I added a new prayer:

Thanks America for your loving kindness.

You continue to restore our sense of security in this land of miracles.

And for that, we are very grateful.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. Mort was a correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal. He has recently taken on the post of president of the South Florida Writers Association.
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