Hanukkah inspires warm memories, the candles bursting into flame and the glow of our kids’ faces as they marked the holiday, and, yes, anticipated its gifts. The moment, of course, had been preceded by a mad dash to the local Walgreen’s or Target to make sure that we had a little something to bring smiles to those sweet, expectant faces. Even a pair of slipper socks, a pot of lip gloss, a wind-up dreidel to parade across the table could evoke joy. But, of course, those times are as fleeting as those smiles even as those precious memories of days gone by remain.
So, too, does the holiday stir remembrances of my own mom and dad, gathering my sisters and me around the menorah, and trying to imbue the holiday with its own magic, even as our friends awaited Santa and our neighbors decked their halls with boughs of holly and twinkling lights.
My parents, new to Reform Judaism, fully embraced its mission to imbue Jewish ritual and practice with heightened relevance, enlivening the age-old traditions with creative innovation. They understood then what I later came to know, that preserving and transmitting Judaism to our children is hard work, especially in a secular world. Key is making meaningful Jewish experiences for our kids, just as my parents had done for me, with shiny strands of blue and silver beads strung over our mantle and hand made dreidel bags filled with treats, to add to our memory banks.
There is a return on the investment, for sure, when my message feed on the first night of Hanukkah fills with photos of home made latkes in my now grown children’s kitchens, including the littlest granddaughter mixing up the requisite grated potato and onion in a bowl almost as big as she is. Now the smile is on my face, as I savor the gifts of kids and grands.
And yet, looking backward is sentimental, as the candles teach us. One for each night, they increase in number and light, with a message that reminds us to look ahead as well, to increase the light we add to the world within and beyond our own families, and to increase the light within ourselves by increasing our own understanding and appreciation of our rich Jewish tradition.
Particularly at this stage of our lives, as we watch our children and theirs grow and further develop into the people they are meant to be, as we gratefully remember our parents and grandparents and what they taught us, we need to reconsider our own Judaism, to re-invest in the development of our own religious and spiritual selves, to make our own memories.
Light the candles and recall all those Hanukkahs past, yes, but we also need to light the candles for Hanukkah present and pledge to learn more, do more, for ourselves.
The sages teach that we should place our menorahs in the window facing outward to remind the world of the miracle of the Maccabees and the small vial of oil that lasted for eight days.
Yes, let the world know.
But first, as the holiday teaches, we need to know ourselves.