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Chanukkah 3-When the Power's Out, close your eyes to find the light

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Published by Don Goldberg, 2019-12-10 23:49:40

Chanukkah 3-When the Power's Out, close your eyes to find the light

Chanukkah 3-When the Power's Out, close your eyes to find the light

Back to the Rabbi.

“But enough with the history lesson” how’s it goin’ for you right
now? Looks like you’re really coming along with your Jewish
recipes.I take it the turkey was your father’s idea so we won’t count
that one. If you publish a recipe book, I’ll be the first in line to buy it.

Alan snaps back, “If she doesn’t clean up after she makes a mess in
the kitchen we could all die of ’shabbatulism.’”

“Not funny, dad.”

Jacob, Alan’s brother-in-law, previously silent, taking in the
conversation and gobbling (and I use that word tongue-in-cheek this
Thanksgiving) the fixin’s but between earfuls and forkfuls he found
time to engage his niece. “How about the mitzvah commitment,
Maddie? Are you volunteering anywhere?”

“No, not yet, Uncle Jacob but you can, y’know, count on me.
Father Devine, our principal told me Friday, that detention doesn’t
really work anymore, so he’s going to assign me to do public service.

“That’s our girl,” says May, “even when she’s bad she’s doing

Rebecca gets the last word. “Just keep her safe, May, she’s my only
granddaughter. I worry about her.”

“You worry about everything, Gran.”

“It’s my job bubbelah. Somebody in this ferkaktah family has to
do it.”

Now, Zev had counseled May to come up with a plan to avoid
conflict at family events such as these. Her: take charge and just keep
things moving along. Jump cuts, not segues he advised. Now’s the
time to put it to work.

“Mads, it’s going to get dark soon and we’ll start Chanukkah.
Get the latkes out of the freezer to warm them up. Don’t let your dad
within 10 feet of the frying pan. I’ll clear the table and then come in
to help you.”

“Mambo, go help her, she shouldn’t scratch her nail polish,”
that’s Rebecca, overprotective and sarcaustic to the end.

“It’s always the black girl that be doin’ da cleanin’. Ain’t that
right, Ms. Rebecca? I’m just your schvartz?”

Bella comes to her defense. “Mambo, you know better than that. It’s
not a racial thing. It’s a sexist thing. Like what John Lennon sang,
‘Woman is the nigger of the world.”

“Yeah? Well I don’t see you liftin’ no finger. You jus sit around
readin’ palms. Just yankin’ yo chain. Vemen barestu.”

“Very good your Yiddish, Mambo,” says Rebecca. Your accent
could use a bissel help.”

Reader: May here.

Thanksgiving? I believe my journal entry
read ‘Black Turkey today, Black Friday
tomorrow.’ And Chanukkah all on the
same day? Ms. Tickle said the stars were all
in alignment but it felt like they they were
all lined up against us. The Rabbi says
Mazel Tov means literally, “Good Planets”
— like thank your lucky stars. Ha. Good
luck with that. Mom’s her usual mission
hypercritical self. Alan keps trying to cut
the tension with a joke and I’m doing my
best by staying out of the picture, between
the fire and the fireworks always with half
a glass of the ritual sweet wine close at
hand. Is the glass half empty or half full
you may ask. comme ci comme ça. It’ll get
me through.

Maddie here:

Bella’s, ‘air quotes’: famous latke recipe
was the easiest yet. She did’t want me to
mess with any oil without adult
supervision so she made them in advance
and all I had to do was, air quotes: heat
‘em up and eat ‘em up.” For the Jelly
doughnuts — that’s a sefart tradition —I
went to Top Pot, that’s like the best place
ever. Like, I mean the stuff at Krisky
Kreme tastes like the cardboard box they
put the Top Pots in by comparison, if you
know what I mean, so to speak. So
anyway, I like saw this guy at the Puyallup
Fair and he was…he had this deep fryer

and he coated the doughnuts with like a
fried chicken coating and it looked pretty
cool but, yeah, you guessed it. “Your father
can go to the thrift store and get any
appliance he wants — except.” Yep
”except a second-hand deep fryer. We’re
not burning the house down.”

Thanks, Mom, I’m still including it among
the 36 recipes. Oh and as for the Latkes…

In addition to the three strong women Jacob had brought with him
that Thankgivingah was a package from Israel that had arrived just
the day before. As it turns out the timing couldn’t have been more

“Careful,” said Jacob handing his sister the package. It wasn’t
light. 10 pounds, maybe. She wasn’t expecting that and managed to
gently place it on the coffee table. “Open it up, May, It’s not a
Chanukkah gift for for you to keep but it’s special for tonight.”

The return address was in Hebrew and English as well.


66102 TEL AVIV

She’s unwrapping the package as her brother speaks. “Got it at the
Macabee Games in Tel Aviv this summer. Took ‘em this long to get it
together to send it. And not a moment too soon.”

The treasure inside the box lay buried in bubble wrap, peanuts, foam
and for good measure a crumpled page from Haaretz, the daily
newspaper, English edition.

“Hmm. Wonder how old this paper is,” says May.

Alan takes it from her. He reads the headline aloud. “‘Peace Talks on
Hold.’ Hard to tell. They’ve been recycling the same front page every
few years since at least 1967.”

A chorus of oohs and aahs deems the contents praiseworthy. Not idol
worship, mind you — that’s a no-no for my chosen people. This
sounds more like a group kvellabration. The light from the setting
sun bounces off the lake right through the picture window it’s beam
focused upon an exquisitely crafted crystal, a Baccarat Chanukiah
inscribed by the Israeli artist who made it.

May’s visibly impressed with her brother’s taste. Sure it’s an
ostentatious display of his wealth, nevertheless it’s a stunning piece of
art. “Oh Jacob it’s too beautiful to burn candles in.”

“May, if I intended it to be a museum piece, I’d have donated it
to the shul and have them put in the display case beside their
Holocaust scroll.”

Just then, Maddie comes back from the kitchen. She looks

“Mom, I know I turned the oven on but it’s not working. Sorry
Bella, your latkes are a toast, ‘cept they’re not. Dad. I’m serious, I
turned it on, but the burner won’t glow.” Her attention flits to the
menorah. “Wow! Did Uncle Jacob give us that for Chanukkah? It’s
super cool. God. How much did it cost? I’ll bet you spent a ton of
money.” She runs to her uncle and gives him a giant hug. “Thanks a
lot. I can’t wait to take this into school and show ‘em what a real
Jewish Christmas present looks like.”

Jacob looks at his sister. She’ll set her child straight, right?

“Oh yes, Mads, it really is beautiful. Your uncle is so generous.
Go ahead. Give him a big smooch.”

She kisses him on his lips just as he was about to speak. Maddie looks
around. Everyone’s grinning but not laughing. Such family unanimity
invites suspicion but before she can inquire further comes a knock on
the door. Alan answers it.

It ‘s Captain Fireman, out of uniform with two covered dishes in his
hands. Alan welcoms him and takes the dishes, setting them down on
the dining room table.

“I brought you brisket and latkes,” says the visitor, “eat ‘em now
before they get too cold.”

“This is the firefighter who came today and saved Alan’s ass.”
says May. She introduces him to everyone. “What a surprise.”

“You may have noticed that the power’s out in the
neighborhood…” he says.

“See, dad. I told you,” says Maddie. “What happened?”

“Funny, really, well maybe not. Anyway, This kid got one of
those hover drones— you know what…”

Maddie waves her hands excitedly. “Oh yeah. Totally rad. Lucky kid”

He continues with the story. “Not really. He took it outside and got it
stuck between some power lines, so then his father tries to knock it
down with some rocks and…”

“Oh no. Don’t tell me he broke it.” Maddie feigns surprise.

“No, the drone’s intact, but the stone hit the transformer
knocking power out all over the neighborhood and that caused all
kinds of havoc in the house…”

“Oh, like my dad says. ‘Chanukkah oh Chanukkah festival of

Gulp! May looks at Alan through a wine glass emptied of Loganberry

Captain Fireman pretends to ignore it. “Well, I figured what
with your turkey fiasco, maybe you could use some Jew food to get
you through.”

“You saved the day,” says Alan. “Now you’re a hero twice over.
Please, sit and join us. Maddie bring in a chair from the kitchen…and
some sour cream.”

She fetches the chair and asks, “So there’s another Jewish family in
the hood? Who’s the kid? Maybe I know him.”

“Just moved in. Seth Fireman.”

“Fireman? Hey! That’s your last name. I read it on your tag,

“Tell me about it.”

May takes charge; has her daughter round up all the candles she
could find, hoping there’s be a size among them bound to fit the the
new treasure. Meanwhile Alan scours the premisis in search of
flashlights with workable batteries.

“They’re not in the utility drawer, May. Your daughter was the
last one to use them for some stupid game with her girlfriend, Cathy.

Please, dad. Call her by her nickname, ‘deCath Grande.”

“Oy, and I don’t like it that she calls you “the heebster.”

May diffuses the two. “Look in the closet in the hall, Alan.”

Captain Fireman entertains the guests with adventurous tales of
daring rescues…of cats in trees in Greenlake while pointing out
extension cords as potential hazards. When Alan returns he’s

“They’re all dead. She could have told us. You could have told us
Maddie. And we’re out of double-As.”

Maddie comes up with a box filled with candles: tea lights, Half worn
Shabbos candlesticks, A braided havdalah candle, several votives and
a half-dozen memorial candles. Oh, and a motley assortment of 36
leftover Chanukkah candles culled from several 44-packs used hit-
and-miss over the years.

“Let there be light,” she saya. Everyone looks at one another.

Rebecca breaks the silence, “Oy. Nobody’s got a match? Jacob, I
should have never insisted you give up smoking those cigars. Now
look what you’ve done. And no matches. Vaysmere.”

Rabbi Bishop pulls out an engraved inlaid cigaret case from his
pocket. It gets Maddie’s attention right away.

“Wow! Like, that’s an awesome smartphone case. Can I see it?”

Rabbi Bishop reaches to hand it to Maddie, but her grandmother
beats her to it snatching it right out of the girl’s hands. It was 60 years
old if it were a day and Rebecca fondles it as if it were a family

“It’s a Ronson tuxedo. My first husband, rest his soul, had one
just like this.”

“Mom?” says her children in synchronized surprise.

“Oh please,” Rebecca assures them, “Your father was my only
husband but I’m not dead just yet, y’know. And you, Rabbi, a
smoker? shod aoyf ir. You should be ashamed.”

“Tobacco? No Rebecca, don’t touch the stuff. Open the case.
That was my grandfather’s lighter, been through two wars but I
always carry it with me because it seems wherever I go, I’m always
kindling lights for a holiday or lifecycle event. Always prepared.” The
spark of the flint kissed the wick of the Ronson and the resulting
flame is fanned by applause. “Join in as you wish,” said the Rabbi, “It’s
the standard blessing but it ends with ‘Bo-ray, mi-oray ha-aish:’ who
creates a radiant fire. Captain Fireman, it’s only appropriate that you
begin the blessing…’Baruch atah…”

As the blessing is said, he lights a single candle which they used to
light the others. Gaby and Bella, both having a thing for sacred
paraffin move into the mystic. Bella follows Gaby sensing vortices of
cosmic energy in the air and placing the appropriate candles around
the room. A flickering ambience of warmth acts as a prelude to the
festival of lights. The senses awakened, the atmosphere becomes
suffused in the essence of vanilla, no doubt from the candle Maddie
had lifted from the powder room normally lit as “poo-pourri” when
guests came to visit. In the glow, the Rabbi starts explaining why “our
people” traditionally set the Chanukkiah by the window. The
firefighter nixes that and so it sits on a sheet of Reynolds Wrap on the

Alan here:

Chanukkah? Well, every year it’s the same.
We always forget whether we load the
menorah from the left and light from the
right or vice versa. Who gives a shit? Is
God going to punish me?

God to Alan:

Don’t flatter me. It takes a lot more to get
my punishment. Not so much with your

Alan here:

It would have been less chaotic if Judah
Macabre, himself burst in and ransacked
the place. One night of mishigas and the
next 7 to recover. My daughter took the
blackout as an excuse to fully load the
menorah and kindle all 8 candles at once.
Her grandmother insisted she stick to the
rule and light just one candle for the
night. The Rabbi interjected with the
story of how first century rabbis Hillel
and Shamai had the same disagreement,
concluding they were both right. It ended
with both Maddie and Rebecca coming to
an agreement of their own: Rabbi Bishop
was wrong.

Eight Jews. Nine opinions. The ninth was the Santerian Gaby Bissou
so they left the final decision to the gentile who had no vested
interest in maintaining a particular Jewish tradition..

“Hmmmm now,” Gaby lights a brown candle, shuts her eyes,
raising her head toward the heavens. “I be callin’ on you Holy St.
Anthony gentlest of saints. Miracles waited on your word, which you
were ever ready to speak for those in trouble. I implore you to obtain
for me peace in dis family. The answer to my prayer may require a
miracle. Even so, you are da saint of miracles. Please grant my

She goes into a trance, no more than a half-minute until her hands
are shaking. This finds a sympathetic vibration in the ring alan took
from his father’s dying hand and now wears on his finger. Woah. She
holds her breath, then opens her eyes while exhaling, blowing out
the candle imploring everyone to follow the trail left by the smoke as
if her prayer was lifted to the saint as it rose.

“Nu?,” says Rebecca.

“Saint Anthony is hungry. Says to donate a can of food to the

Bella cannot contain herself. “Well tell Saint Tony we’re all a little
hungry right now. What’s he got to say about the candles, Mambo?”

“Oooooh, he sayin’ there be 8 candles and eight of you and
heaven knows we need all the light we can get.

Zev recites the blessings and fires up the crystal Chanukiah full of
pagan light in all its glory. He explains how pagan agricultural
celebrations become transformed over the years into mystical
traditions. He’s ready for the big reveal: the myth and the meaning of
a small band of Macabees defeating the Syrians, relating it to modern
times in the region including control over oil. “One of my better
drashes,” he thinks to himself. Best laid plans and all, after years of

Yom Kippur services, the Rabbi was acutely aware of when he was
losing his audience to hunger so he cuts it short.

“So, since we all are familiar with the Chanukkah story, the
battle for the temple, the oil and so forth…”

Jacob knows the spiel. “They tried to defeat us. We won. Let’s eat.”

“Exactly, Jacob,” says Zev, “but I wanted to have a clean break
between Thanksgiving and Chanukkah. That’s why we have so many
prayers during the day to mark the time. So that life is not lived as a
blur but a series of unique moments. Let’s everyone close their eyes
for a few minutes and we’ll have a guided meditation.”

Alan and May join the Rabbi in chanting the word “sha-a-a-a-a-lo-o-
o-o-m” on a single breath. Gaby follows on the second repetition and
Bella adds her voice. The others sit awkwardly sharing the silence
like uninvolved observers at a seance.

“Relax, now and follow your breath…”

The Rabbi transforms his voice, with the smoky tone of a late night
radio DJ. He marks his pace like a jazz musician, “channelling”
phrases hypnotically putting the trance in transcendental meditation.
He leads with the familiar “organ recital.” You know, relaxing every
part of the body from head to toe, following the kabalistic tree of life,
one organ at a time. At this point he hypnotically could have chosen
to make everyone cluck like a chicken but chose instead to go for the

“Breathe in the light and as you exhale, let go of your
resentments and restrictions. Let the light of the season fill the places
in need of healing and be still a moment. Open your heart to the

abundance of blessings. Open your mind to the gratitude of receiving
the blessings. And journey to a time - a place around a Thanksgiving
table where you are fully present. And in this sacred and safe space,
everything is exactly as it’s meant to be.” He pauses, allowing time for
the thoughts behind his words to sink in. And continues.

“Now, I want you to engage all your senses. Feel the tablecloth,
Taste the stuffing…the cranberry sauce…the sweet wine…and the
savory gravy. ”

Somebody farted. Nobody says a word.

“Smell the turkey coming out of the oven.”

Although the Rabbi lets scarcely a minute pass in silence it seemes
like an eternity, interrupted by a choir of assorted stomach
grumblings in stereo from both sides of the table.

“Take another breath. Life is full. We are here and we are

Now, Midway through his guided meditations Zev has this habit of
opening his eyes momentarily so sneak a peek to determine who was
still engaged or -- staring back at him. It’s his litmus test whether to
continue or wrap it up. So, in the blink of an eye he decides to wrap it
up, chant another three shaloms and return to present time and space.

“Oh good!” said Rebecca. “The Rabbi woke up.”

“How was it for you, Rebecca?” he asks.

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but since you asked, the turkey
was a little dry, the tsimmes could’ve used a bissel more honey and
the stuffing? Feh. But you tried, May.”

“Don’t blame me, mom,” came her daughter’s retort, “In my
meditation I was using all of your recipes.

“I’ve had it with you two,” says Alan, “Let’s just eat this
gorgeous Fireman brisket and enjoy ourselves. I’m sure if anyone
knows how to barbecue, it’s a firefighter.”

“OK, dad,” says Maddie, “but I still think we should take your
turkey out of the trash. It tasted even better in Rabbi Bishop’s
meditation,” said Maddie.

“Don’t you dare!” scolded her mother.

“Listen to your mother, bubbelah,” Rebecca backs up her

May’s almost taken by surprise “Mom, I’ll handle this if you don’t

And just then, a knock on the door.

“Tell Elijah he’s early. He’s not due till Pesach,” says Rebecca.

“Your grandmother made a funny, Mads,” Alan says, heading for
the door.

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