Hanukkah has come again, bringing with it rituals of candles, endless gifts (at least for my children), donuts I shouldn’t be eating, and family gatherings, where I continue to eat donuts I shouldn’t be eating. Once again this year, as in the past, my family and I dressed in layers, forgot our gloves, argued about hats, and finally braved our way in frigid temperatures to our local public menorah lighting, organized by the irreplaceable Chabad of North Fulton.
This has become our annual exercise. Every December, we follow our Chabad house to wherever they may go, to participate in their menorah lighting. This has become a ritual I love. But why? As my children were freezing and I couldn’t quite feel the tips of my fingers, I wondered, “Why do I want to come here, when I can light our menorah in the comfortable 74 degrees of my house?” The only answer I can come up with is – community.
I love public menorah lightings because of the sense of community they offer. In the crowd of other public menorah lighting lovers, we often meet friends, old summer camp buddies, former Sunday school teachers, a middle school principal, the guy who puts Nutella on my bagel every weekend, and a myriad of other familiar faces. Community. A feeling of not being the only one. A feeling of not being alone. A sense of knowing that even in our Christmas-adoring culture, there are others who celebrate what I celebrate; others who have a background similar to mine; others who yearn for this feeling of togetherness. For me, this is worth the cold and the parking inconvenience. It’s worth it to be there with hundreds of other North Fulton Jews, Atlanta Jews, world Jews, to nod while listening to the rabbi, to watch children pick up Hanukkah gelt, to inhale deeply for all the ancestors who aren’t here anymore, to smile for the kids who will hopefully continue to come here in the future.