Of Candles, Coincidences and the Cocoa Classic

This 24th day of Kislev coincides with the 2nd day of December and so while the weather is wet, grey and gloomy, the temperature is mild. With Hanukkah beginning tonight, our winter solstice holiday falls several weeks before the actual solstice, signaling the need for the corrective of a Jewish leap year. And so it is that Mom’s 12th yartzeit is in early December this year, beginning last night upon the conclusion of Shabbat and ending this evening with the lighting of the 1st Hanukkah candle. Literally keeping a flame alive, I lit her yartzeit candle from the havdalah candle and tonight, will light the shamash from the flickering flame of her memory. As is the case every year, I think of her yartzeit candle as the “overture” to Hanukkah, delighting in knowing that her memory literally lights up the darkest night of the Jewish year.

Once again, I am struck by a coincidence that connects my personal story to a larger narrative. In these days of intense Mom memory, our nation is mourning President George H.W. Bush, “Poppy.” I had a Poppy, my mother’s father, who was the larger than life figure in my childhood. Pop was born in Jerusalem, and as a result, I was compelled to return to his birthplace, our Homeland, and buy an apartment. Because of my love for Poppy and his story, my children and grandchildren are deeply connected to the Jewish People, to Israel and to their communities.

Now that I am a grandparent, I know that one of our primarily roles is to provide comfort, love and support to our children and grandchildren. On a national level, we look to our leadership to play that “senior” role, taking responsibility for ensuring that our society functions for the benefit of all. With our national Poppy dying at this moment in our history, when we in the US are so desperate for leadership, we are given the gift of reflecting on the characteristics that make one a leader, that creates a “Comforter-in-Chief.”  May the reasonable Republicans finally wake up from this nightmare and help rid our democracy of this fraudulent demagogue that our broken political system elevated to the highest office in our land.

As Sammy and I walked to Riverside Park, we encountered the runners who had just completed a cold season run called “The Cocoa Classic.” The athletes were soaked  yet they all looked so happy (I’m sure they appreciated the mild temperature) as they began to dry off and wait for rides home. I smiled, understanding that runners find comfort and joy in their community, sharing a common goal of running a race, together. While I was never a runner, I have always sought community.

As I reflect on the path I’ve been on these past 12 years, I am grateful for the meaningful communities I have found, especially upon building a home in New York. My synagogue community of Ansche Chesed feel more like home every Shabbat; to have a place to chant Haftarah in Mom’s memory matters. To feel so at home as we gathered to mourn the Tree of Life victims matters. To have a place to pursue my passion for singing Jewish music with the Zamir Chorale, matters. Through song, I am able to join with others to express profound love and pride in our Jewish/Zionist story. And, I get to share a stage with my daughter Sarah, who shares that love. That matters. To have a community of singers that love to make music together, that are taught by the master teachers known as The Western Wind, matters. Even being on the Board of my coop matters.

Tonight, Bill, Hayato and I will take the subway down to the Museum of Jewish Heritage to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah with Lab/Shul and the cast of the Yiddish Fiddler. There is no doubt that Mom would love knowing that the night after her 12th yartzeit, I am celebrating the first night of Hanukkah with dear friends who have become like family, in the shadow of The Statue of Liberty. Close to where our family story began, when my Poppy got off the boat and set foot on an Ellis Island lit by Lady Liberty’s light.

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.