Dec 22 2019

The Chanukah lights

Now, I am going to say something that if someone else said it or I saw it written that someone else said it, I would think to myself, “Boy that is so corny.” But I am going to say it anyway. “My heart is filled with love.”

Tonight was the first night of Chanukah. The last Chanukah to be celebrated in this decade. My group of J.A.P.S.* gathered together this afternoon at the apartment of my friend Marina and her family. Between 3 and 4 pm people arrived carrying pans of latkes, cheese pancakes, sugar-coated stars of fried dough, fruit salads, cookies and cake. The homemade donuts were already there awaiting our arrival. People filled the kitchen, organizing the reheating of the latkes. Others were centered around the large oval table in the living room, arranging a multitude of hanukkiahs, the nine-armed candelabra used at Chanukah, with a bit of aluminum foil placed under each one to catch the drips from the colored candles. I spread boxes of matches between the silvery candlesticks and placed the Holiday Bag on the coffee table, ready to be filled with small presents as each new group of people came in.

Once everyone had arrived, we dimmed the room lights and gathered around the large table to light the shames candle which was then used to light the remaining other candle, symbolizing the first night of Chanukah.

Together we said the prayer over the candles.
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.”
Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light”

As we waited for the colored lights to burn down, I went over to the coffee table and picked up the Holiday Bag. One at a time I took out a small gift and calling out the name written on the package, handed our young people their presents. Young people I must call them for they are no longer the small children they were when I first met so many of them long ago.

With most of the candles now burned down to ash, we moved them all to the center of the table as people gathered around a counter top filled with trays of different kinds of Latkes and choices of apple sauce, sour cream and lingonsylt to eat them with and cheese pancakes sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and fruit salads and all the rest of the delicious and oily treats everyone had brought. We filled our plates and went to find a place to sit and gorge and talk to friends we hadn’t seen in a while. The apartment was large enough so that groups could form: the young people sat together around the coffee table and eventually started playing a board game my son had brought. The oldsters divided up into several groups and I circulated between them dropping in to the various conversations, all of them interesting. Finding something to talk about with these long time friends has never been a problem.

And then the first of two remarkable things happened. As my friend Barbara was making her way around, about to leave, she stopped and said she had something to say to the whole group. Now, because of my inability to remember conversations verbatim, I am just going to paraphrase what she said. She started off by telling us that she wanted to express her gratitude for this group, that we exist. That because of this group she has been able to stay in touch with her sense of Jewishness and the group has helped to contribute to her children’s sense of being Jewish too and she was very grateful for that. Then she turned to me, who was standing beside her, and said she wanted to thank me for forming this group and organizing all the gatherings and keeping it going and she wanted me to know how much she appreciated all my work and effort. She said a bit more in that line and then everyone clapped. Now I have to admit that I don’t mind making myself the center of attention but…when someone else makes me the center… hmmm…that’s different. I also have to admit that my first reaction to her words was to feel embarrassed. But then, slowly, as Barbara continued talking, this warm glow started to come over me and I found myself feeling so happy and yes…I will even use this very cliché word, joyful. And all I could say then was thank you.

On the way home with my son, as we sat on the bus together, I asked him if he had heard what Barbara had said about me. He responds by saying, “Oh, you mean when we all had to clap?”
“Yes”
“Yeah, I sort of heard what she said. But don’t let it go to your head.”

Later that evening, after Bevin and I had come home and decanted all our stuff, Håkan asks Bevin if he had a good time at the Chanukah party. He answers, “Yes. And by the way, I have Chanukah presents for both of you.”

As Bevin goes into his room, Håkan and I look at each other, practically in shock! Our son has bought Chanukah presents for us??!! He comes out and hands a beautifully wrapped present to each of us.

“When did you do this?” I ask him.

“Last Tuesday, when you went out with your friends. That’s why I wanted to know if you were going out that evening.”

I stare in shock at the present in my hands and then at him. I undo the wrapping and there is a book entitled Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life by Marshall B Rosenberg. Håkan got a game for his Nintendo Switch.

“Pappa can read the book after you do.” Bevin says to me, with a big smile on his face.

So two remarkable things happened today: the people who I have been shepherding for the past 22 years said thank you and my son bought me a Chanukah present.

Truly the lights on the menorah are shining so very brightly on me tonight and I am filled with love.

*Jewish American Parents in Stockholm

Dec 16 2014

One light at a time

Tonight is the first night of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Chanukah is not one of the major Jewish holidays but because of its closeness to Christmas it has taken on much larger importance in the Jewish calander.

The holiday actually has nothing at all to do with Christmas. It celebrates an event that took place approximately 165 years before Jesus was even born. The name Chanukah comes from the hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate” and that is what the holiday commemorates: the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated by the local Greek-Syrian rulers. Jewish forces led by Judah Maccabee (Judah the hammar) revolted against these rulers and eventually won the war against them and restored the Temple. The story goes that there was only found in the Temple enough oil for the holy lamp to be lit for one day but a miracle happened and the oil lasted for 8 days, enough time to make more oil. So today we light candles for 8 days to remember the miracle of the oil. And eat oily foods like latkes and fried donuts.

But the real story, the back story, was probably not so wonderful. Judea, the Jewish kingdom that Jerusalem was the capital of, was a conquered kingdom, ruled by the Greek-Syrian Selucid Empire, the local remains of what had once been Alexander the Great’s empire. During the time when the events of the story happened the lure of the hellenic culture was very strong, even in the Jewish kingdom. The hellenized, secular Jewish faction was in conflict with the Jews who were much more consevative and felt Jews should live strict Jewish lives and not follow the Greek hellenistic way. When Antiochus Epiphanes, the Selucid Emperor, sided with the hellenized Jewish faction, the conservative Maccabees revolted and cast out him and his forces. The whole thing was in effect a civil war, Jew against Jew, with the help of some outside forces. But the religious leaders who came after the war didn’t want to commemorate and keep remembering a civil war, Jews fighting against Jews, so they came up with the miracle of the oil in the Temple and Jews once again being able to be Jews. They felt it was better to remember the positive and put aside what was evil. So to this day, when we celebrate Chanukah we celebrate by remembering the miracle of light. A much better thing to remember as I see it. And when we light the candles on our Chanukias we always add one more candle each night. Each night we add more light!

menorahs

I now own 3 chanukiah, as the special 9-armed menorah is actually named. The largest is a silver and gilt one that my mother bought for me sometime after the birth of my son – for us to use as a family. The smallest one, on the right, is a gift given to me by my cousin Karel when I moved here to Stockholm so that I could remember my family back in New Jersey while I celebrated the holiday here in my new homeland. The third one, the middle-sized one in the front, is actually my newest yet my oldest. It is the one that my family lit thoughout my childhood and which I only brought back with me to Stockholm after the death of my mother three years ago. The two larger chanukiahs use the customary chanukah candles one buys in any judaica shop. The small one uses birthday candles.

Tonight, the first night, my son Bevin and I will light all three and Bevin will be given a small gift. The holiday is about the lighting of the candles and presents are not really relevant. The giving of gifts on each night of Chanukah is more a response to the gifts children get for Christmas. The more important thing is to light the candles.

In these dark days, when a member of the Swedish parlament says that Jews can never be considered real Swedes, when Islamists and Palestinians claim that the Jewish people have no right to be in Jerusalem, when synogogues are once again being burned, and Rabbis are attached, I am glad I can light my Chanukah lights together with my son, in freedom, in my home, in the land I live in. The candles remind me that Jews lived in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago, before Christianity existed, before Islam existed. Now we live in many countries. We know how to live as Swedes and as Jews. As Americans and as Jews. Being Jewish is a plus situation. It isn’t an either/or proposition. We can be both a true citizen of the country we live in and a Jew at the same time. We know how to integrate without losing our identity. We have been doing it for over 2 thousand years. In this cross-cultural world we live in, this is something we can teach the world.


Dec 22 2011

Chanukah

Tuesday, December 20 – the 12th day I am here with my mom and the first night of Chanukah. And I am not with my son or husband this year to take out the candles and organize the celebration or even to make latkes. But my husband called me on SKYPE and asked where the menorah was and if there were any candles. I told him where the menorah was kept and that candles were in the same place. So after about 15 minutes he SKYPED me again and I could join them for the Chanukah candle lighting and watch Bevin say the prayer. Its a Star Trek world and videophone is alive and well. But as far as latkes are concerned they will probably have to wait till I get back home.

Last night I met with my mom’s doctor. I want him to tell me how my mom is. Actually, I want him to play God – to know how long she has left, to tell me for certain. But he isn’t God – just an ordinary, geriatric specialist type of doctor and he doesn’t know. I asked him if we could take a few blood tests to see how her body chemistry is but he said if we do that and discover how badly she is doing then he would have to do something to try to fix it. Because he is a doctor. So we will just let her be, let her body do what it has to do.

So I wait. I sit in her room, sometimes next to her bed, sometimes in front of my computer. I help to feed her. She is given puréed food now. She would at least open her mouth when she felt the spoon near her lips. But now she is hard to wake up for meals. She sleeps. Peacefully. Seemingly without pain. And I wait.

December 30th keeps coming closer. That’s the date on my return ticket. Whenever I think about it I get very anxious. Worried. Scared. What will I do if she keeps continuing this way? I can change my ticket but not for too much longer than that – I have a job I need to get back to. A life. Do I leave, only to have to return a week later? Do I stay longer but its still not long enough? I can feel the anxiety building. So once again, I tell myself “One day at a time, just take it one day at a time.”

And tonight has become Wednesday already, the second night of Chanukah, commemorating God’s miracle of light.


Jan 6 2010

Other Worlds

When I was 10 years old I was in love with Peter Pan. But, I don’t mean in the way that young girls have crushes on pop stars today. I was in love with the island of Neverland and Peter, and his adventures with all the creatures there.

Around that time period, Mary Martin’s performance as Peter Pan was shown on TV. While my memories of my childhood experiences are subjective and full of gaps, the Internet helps fill in the holes. According to IMDB, Peter Pan, with Mary Martin, was telecast the first time in 1955 and again in 1956. A videotaped version from 1960 was televised again in 1966 and even in 1973. I’m not certain if I saw the 1955 and 56 versions, I was only 4 and 5 years old at the time, but we had a TV so it was possible. I definitely saw it in 1960 and 1966. I probably also saw the earlier versions since by the time I was 9 in 1960, it seemed to be familiar already to me. I loved it.

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Dec 9 2009

Chanukah in Swedish

In just a few days, Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, will start. I wrote this piece sometime in 2004 but since its that time again I thought I would put it up now. A few things have changed since I wrote it. My son is no longer in 1st grade but in his last year of school before going on to college next fall. We eventually did do a presentation of Passover when he was in 4th or 5th grade, which was a big success. The Swedish Church has now been separated from the state and is trying to figure out how to survive in this very secular country. In the spring, Bevin will have a course called “Religion”. We’ll see just how multi-cultural the class will be. Maybe Bevin will have to give a talk about his religion once again.

Moving from the United States to a land like Sweden is often fraught with surprises. Of course one expects to find differences – the language for instance, or foods like Falukorv and Tunbrödsrullar, and Lutfisk. Clothing and shoe sizes are different and so are the measuring cups. Remember the metric system that the states spent 30 years trying to introduce and failed? Well it’s here, in use every day. And don’t forget the price of gasoline – 4 dollars a gallon! And how about liqueur stores open on Saturday night so you can buy a last minute bottle of wine for the dinner party you just got invited too? Well, forget it! But overall, there are a lot of similarities too. Cars drive on the right side of the road. Traffic lights are red, yellow, and green. The Big Macs taste the same. So do the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. TV shows from the States are all in English as long as they are for people over the age of 7 or 8. You can watch British Masterpiece Theater programs (often before they arrive in the States) though they are not called Masterpiece Theater here. The clothes people wear are often produced in the Far East and lots of the toys are made in China. Barbie is easily available and so are potato chips and microwave popcorn. Its when you find differences in areas you didn’t expect that you get surprised.

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