The first night of Hanukkah, I sit at the dining room table admiring my family, smelling the latkes, and staring at the menorah—
A silver menorah with a six-branched star centered within its stem.
A menorah sans candles.
My thumb and index finger rub two Hanukkah candles—one blue and one white.
Instead of listening to, “I Have A Little Dreidel” the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” fills the air.
I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good, good night
But I got a gut feeling that tonight’s not gonna be a good night.
I insert blue candle in its holding cup.
I strike the match, smell the sulfur and light the white shamash (The servant).
I announce, “By obeying one of G-d’s commandments, I am his servant. I chase away the forces of darkness. I kindle kosher candles as the Maccabees lit the temple oil thousand of years ago.”
My children recite the blessings.
I think, “This is going to be a good year— no wax lands on my fingers.”
But something is different.
Something is wrong.
The candle flames flutter faster than usual.
I raise my voice, “These candles will not last for the required thirty minutes. We’ll be lucky if they last for five. We will not have thirty minutes to bask in the glow of these festival lights. We will not have time to linger and contemplate their meaning.”
The flames fly off the wick as if they are being chased by a dybbuk.
The wax melts faster than a mouth full of hot latkes.
Since no air conditioner fans these flames, I ask, “Are their interiors hollow? Are they made of a cheap paraffin?”
Heads nod in agreement with my analysis.
I grab the box that once contained 44 candles.
Affixed to the lid, a small white sticker reads, “99¢.”
I scream, “99¢! Who made these fast-burning, cheap demonic candles?”
A photo of a silver menorah covers of the front of the box and I search for clues.
On each side of the shamash the candles are lined up: red, green, yellow, and blue.
Noting that my two candles have burnt past their mid-point, I curse,” What a shonda! A total disgrace!
Serious nods of agreement follow my words.
“Who designed this box? Look at the bottom of the box. Hidden next to the bar code, it says, ‘Caution! Never leave burning candles unattended.’
This is a warning that will never be read. These fast burners are fire hazards.
They’re 44 demons waiting to burn down an innocent Jewish home.”
Looks of concern surround the table.
My eyes follow the train tracks painted on the bottom front panel of the box.
The tracks lead to the words, “Chanukah Express.”
I study the train.
A dreidel-shaped, white-capped engineer smiles and waves at me.
The train engine billows a cloud of blue smoke from the flame of one candle.
Three attached box cars follow— holding dreidels, gelt and a menorah.
The caboose possesses a red dreidel, wearing a black hat who also waves at me.
Is this black hat the dybbuk of the candle box? Is this Express headed to the gates of Hell?
“Were these candles purchased at Bed, Bath and Beyond?—for 99¢ less 20% with the coupon?
No wonder they won’t last longer than a few minutes.
Look what it says at the bottom of the box, ‘Made in China.’
What do the Chinese know about manufacturing Hanukkah candles?
Kreplach pretty good—Hanukkah candles nothing!”
Within another minute the candles are gone.
Wisps of black smoke rises toward the ceiling.
My eyes follow the smoke.
“Dad, aren’t you taking this candle-lighting tradition a bit too seriously?”
Pointing at the menorah, I say, “Son, this menorah represents a tree.
A tree with a sturdy stem at its center.
A tree with four branches on the right and four branches on the left.
A tree with a ninth branch which holds the shamash.
This candelabra represents our tree of life.
A Jewish tree of life that has burned so much longer than expected.
Just like the miracle of the little lamp which also burned so much longer than expected.
So have the people of Zion.
My ears meet with loving silence.
Having made my point, I smile and focus on the background music.
I stand, raise my wine cup and join the Black Eyed Peas,
“Fill up my cup
Cause I gotta a feeling that tonight is gonna be a good night.”
Special thanks to some of the words and thoughts of Theodore Herzl—“The Menorah”(1897) and the Black Eyed Peas.