I never had a Jewish friend growing up. I don’t have one now. But I have appreciated learning a little about Jewish holidays.
As an elementary teacher I tried to give my students nuggets from cultures different from their own. One year, I invited our Jewish assistant principal to come to the class and talk about her heritage. She described how she’d felt as a child being “different” because she didn’t go to church, but synagogue. How she hadn’t celebrated Christmas, but Chanukah.
As part of our lesson, I shared the history behind Chanukah. How the Romans persecuted the Jews in their own land, forbidding them to worship and maintain their laws. The Romans slaughtered Jews who refused to worship the Roman idols.
An army of loyal Jews, called the Maccabees, finally liberated Jerusalem and cleaned out the Temple. When it was time to light the ceremonial lamps which burned nonstop they realized there was only enough purified oil to keep them burning for a day. But God intervened, and the oil lasted for eight days while a new batch was prepared.
Chanukah commemorates the miracle, the victory, and God’s care.
I found a tender contemporary story about the holiday, The Tie Man's Miracle by Steven Schnur. The Tie Man (who sells ties door to door) is an old, lonely Jewish man. A family invites him to share the candle lighting with them and in the course of the evening the family’s young son asks him awkward questions. The boy’s father briefly explains that many Jewish people were killed during a big war, including the Tie Man's family.
To lighten the mood, the old man recounts a childhood tradition. If, on the last night of lighting, one watches the candles burn out, and all nine burn out at the same time, “those nine little columns of smoke would rise as one up to heaven, carrying our wishes straight to the ear of God.”
The old man heads home. The young boy stays up to see if the candles will all burn out simultaneously. As they do the room brightens. The boy sees shadows of feet running across the floor, voices shouting “Papa!” and for a moment before the room darkens--he hears laughter.
I cry every time I read this story.
As it happened, I was sick the day I intended to read it to my class. I left it with a note for the substitute teacher that I hoped she could get through it without choking up.
When I returned I found a reply. She appreciated the opportunity to read the book to the children because she lost family during the Holocaust.
Chanukah begins next week, on December 8. You have just enough time to find this book and share it with a young person you love.