By the Light of the Hanukkah Menorah
Can our hanukkiahs’ lives be divided into eras? That is, can we divide Hanukkah’s most important symbol into childhood memories, adult compromises and familyhood responsibilities? Sharing the spotlight with latkes, dreidels and sufganiyot, I think those candelabras can.
As a child, when it came to Hanukkah menorahs, my mother was the guiding force for all things bright. She once told me that she had my dad find and buy the electric hanukkiah that sat on our upright piano each year in our one-bedroom apartment. You know the type – white plastic, orange bulbs — the hanukkiah that was dutifully stored for the next year on the shelf in the coat closet.
Though there were fancier shapes and sizes of these electric hanukkiah that were available as I got older, that same Hanukkah menorah with the orange bulbs still lights up the night in our home, just like it did in the 1960s and 1970s.
Even when there was no Judaica store to shop, no Internet to surf, when my brother told Mom that his Hebrew School teacher said he couldn’t say prayers over bulbs, she found the simplest, albeit tiniest, hanukkiah I had ever seen. We had to shave the wax off the bottom of every candle we used before setting it in the petite holes.
And when my elementary school art project included a Star of David on my carefully designed Hanukkah menorah picture, the teacher had to put a gold circle sticker over the star because no religious symbols could be expressed in school.
As a single adult, I didn’t have a hanukkiah of my own and do not recall lighting one in a studio apartment with my Jewish roommate. Instead, I ended up spreading light at the advice of a Jewish matchmaker who recommended I light Shabbat candles each week in hopes of finding a husband.
He actually came soon after, with a few hanukkiahs of his own. I always gave him the “first pick” when it came to the holiday and the one that was lovingly selected was a minimalistic brass version coated in wax drops from year to year — like strata.
When our family grew to include my daughter and son, the Hanukkah menorahs grew up alongside them. There was a fabric one with Velcro “flames” and candles for toddlers. The Hadassah “Training Wheels” version for preschoolers in which handprints and their fingers formed the branches. The Hadassah “Wheeling On” version for elementary school students which used a plank of wood, shellac, drawings and stickers. The placeholders for candles were nuts (as in nuts and bolts) we purchased at the local hardware store.
But joining a temple community changed the Hanukkah menorah dynamic. More times than not, there were wood or ceramic hanukkiahs that were carefully designed and created by our young children at Hebrew school. There were Hanukkah menorahs generously given at their Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies.
Volunteering at the temple Hanukkah celebration meant an annual fest watching the tens of hanukkiahs brought in by families as their candles burned low at the back of the sanctuary.
And through all of it, every single season of light, every era of light there was tradition and there was unity celebrated with every strike of a match.
Hadassah stands for Jewish values and traditions. Hadassah also stands up for women’s empowerment and leadership, and therefore strongly supports the role of Jewish woman as keepers of the flame of Jewish values, traditions and beliefs. I am proud to be a leader and member of a national organization with such a noble purpose.