Rivy Poupko Kletenik

There’s No Place Like Home for Chanukah

Home is a word that warms the heart. So much of our growth and life is grounded in our childhood home. I was blessed with a magical childhood. A home infused with Jewish tradition. Warm memories of weekly majestic Sabbath dinners. The thrill of the promise of the Passover table set with precious heirlooms and adornments that would see the light of day but once a year. The window we stood round as we lit our Chanukah Menorahs, recited the blessings, and sang the traditional melodies. I can still hear the notes and nuances of my father’s grand voice and feel the graciousness of my mother’s devotion.

Tradition considers a Jewish home sacred, referring to it as a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature sanctuary.  Its doorpost bedecked with a Mezuzah, a small scroll of verses ensconced within a slim case, that at once signals entrée into a holy space and as we kiss it upon departure, it reminds of how we must walk in the world with Torah, our law, guiding each step and movement through the day.

Shabbat morning, October 7, 2023, will mark for Jewish history one of the most brutal violations of the Jewish home. A fierce attack reminiscent of pogroms, lootings, and violence that many of us had deeply believed was an instrument long outdated and shelved on the stage of our history. A thing of the past. A phenomenon that we would teach in history class to our young students. Now? Think again.

A memory from Chanukah 2003. I together with my husband, Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, had been invited to the White House for the annual Chanukah Party. What an honor. As we walk up the grand red carpeted marble staircase we hear and then see the Marine Band. The notes sounded familiar. I slowly recognize it – a Chanukah song, Sivivon Sov Sov Sov – a children’s song about the Chanukah Dreidel, a four-sided top that is played with on the Chanukah.

I am overwhelmed and find myself crying. I am really taken aback – I am not of the weepy ones. Going through my head at that moment though was a deep feeling of inadequacy. I could not fathom the injustice of life. Why am I, privileged to be attending this lavish affair, about to meet the President of the United States? Why is this my life, while my grandfather’s life was to be assaulted in his home, brutally stabbed in his back, left for dead, after witnessing the violent murder of his wife and two of his children? Why has history placed me here, December 2003, in this grandeur and my grandfather was left for dead in a puddle of blood on the floor of his ransacked, looted home in Felshtin on February 18, 1919? Why was I receiving honor at the White House while my grandfather, Rabbi David Novoseller was so viciously violated in his home?

Sometimes there are no words, no answers. Just tears. We’ve watched the news and seen the vandalized and ravished Israeli homes.

A poignant photo shows a Menorah found in a home on Kibbutz Be’eri, discolored, tarnished, scorched, covered but propped up epitomizing Jewish survival. It recalls the famous photo of the Menorah in the window of a Jewish home in Kiel Germany, 1931, with a Nazi flag hanging in the background.

The brutality of October 7 is haunting. The world’s response to it continues to baffle. The toll of the losses is still being calculated, and antisemitic attacks increase every day – even here in Seattle. As we gather this year in our homes to celebrate Chanukah this week, is it reasonable to ask, when will the Jewish home be safe?

About the Author
Rivy Poupko Kletenik, a 2002 Exceptional Jewish Educator Covenant Award Winner, just completed sixteen years as Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. Rivy is an enthusiastic writer and devotee of poetry and literature. Her column “What’s Your JQ” appeared for years in the JT News and then “Jewish in Seattle Magazine” and she is thrilled and proud to be awarded the Simon Rockower American Jewish Press Association Excellence in Commentary.