There’s No Such Thing As a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein

December 5, 2010

I wasn’t a particularly  rebellious kid, not even as a teenager — sure, my attitude sucked, but I still graduated high school drug-free, with a 4.0, an impressive record of community service, and a modest number of piercings.  (I held off on the tongue ring and tattoo until college.)

Religion was my one place for push-back.  My parents are observant, Conservative Jews (Conservative as in the branch of Judaism,  not straight-laced or politically right-wing) and raised my brother and me as such.  We lived in a house less than half a mile from our synagogue, where I attended  Hebrew School three times a week between the ages of 5 and 12.   Judaism was the defining feature of our family’s  identity, and I wasn’t always comfortable with that.

In fact, the night before my bat mitzvah, I had my first public nervous breakdown.  I threw myself on the living room floor in front of a small group of friends and relatives, howling, “WHY are you FORCING me to DO this?  I don’t even know WHAT I believe ANYMOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!”  (Ah, the drama of adolescence.)

My parents talked me down the same way I handle truly tragic tantrums with my children:  all-out bribery.  I was excused from all post-bat mitzvah Hebrew School and attendant Jewish activities, and I ran with my new secular freedom.  I refused to join Jewish youth groups, date Jewish boys, fast on Yom Kippur, and every time I made an appearance at Temple Beth El, I made sure to wear my surliest expression (and cute shoes.  Synagogue is no place for the less-than-fashionably dressed.)

Like most rebellions, this one was eventually quelled, and now I’m back on board the Jewish ship, a happy latke-making Yiddishe mama in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah* with her family.  It’s a tricky holiday, this Festival of Lights plucked from relative obscurity in the Hebrew calendar and elevated due to its proximity to Christmas in Western one.  Modern Hanukkah celebrations tend to elicit groans and admonishments from our elders:  “When I was a boy, we were lucky if we got ONE piece of candy to last the whole eight days of Hanukkah.  There was none of this eight days of presents nonsense.  And we had to carve our own dreidels with our teeth!”

Usually, I’m all for a little suffering in the name of faith, but there’s a certain loneliness that comes with being a non-Christmas kid that I want to start combating as soon as possible.  (That’s where the title of this post comes from — it’s an amazing young adult book about being Jewish around Christmastime.)  Plus, my kids were all born to Christmas-celebrating  moms, and I’ve got adoptive mama inferiority complex, and want to make sure they don’t feel cheated.  So, it’s eight nights of presents for us, lots of potato pancakes, and maybe, just maybe, on the first night, donuts for dinner.  (We were stuck in the snow driving to Lansing to pick up the eldest, and I’d been promising Hanukkah all day.  It had to be done.)

Treats and presents aside, the real magic of Hanukkah is in its ability to bring my whole family together at dinner for eight nights in a row.  Yesterday, I heard my eldest say into his cell phone “Nah, son**, I can’t.  Gotta be home for Hanukkah.”   To me, that’s as much of a miracle as a tiny bit of oil keeping the Temple menorah lit for eight days.

-Meryl at the Goose

*You may notice that I’ve spelled Hanukkah two different ways in this one post.  That is the beauty of transliteration, my friend — you can’t go wrong taking a word from Hebrew to English.  Toss a silent “J” in there.  Go wild.

**Just in case you don’t have a teenage gangsta living in your house, “son” is an affectionate term young men use to refer to their friends, and does not indicate any actual parental relationship.  (Thank goodness.   No way am I going to be a 28-year-old grandma.)


3 Responses to “There’s No Such Thing As a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein”

  1. Naomi Says:

    Meryl, this post cracked me up (maybe its all too familiar). This morning in Hebrew School at Tikkun v’Or I asked the 4th graders how they prefer to spell Chanukah (my preference) — their favorite — either use as few letters as possible “Han’ka”or double all of them — “CCHHAANNUUKKAAHH”

    • Naomi,

      You’ll appreciate this then — when I was in 3rd grade, we had Chanukkah on our weekly spelling test and I, the only Jew in my class and the school-wide spelling bee champion, got the answer “wrong.” My mother wrote a note explaining the concept of transliteration to my teacher, and my perfect spelling record was restored.

      I love the super short Han’ka, though! That’s new to me, and I think I’m going to start using it.


  2. JoAnne Miner Says:

    This was wonderful, Meryl. It brought great joy to my heart! And the photos are fabulous; what a beautiful family!


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