What makes Jewish character stick?
In Johnson, the baby Vermont boondocks that I grew up in, there were hardly any Jews. None of our neighbors was Jewish. There was no synagogue, no Jewish association center, no Jewish summer camp. Even Chabad had not fabricated it to area we lived, off a clay alley amidst by smooth, dejected mountains and up the acropolis from a aged acreage area algid beasts burst out the winters up to their ankles in manure.
My Dad’s grandparents had been Swedish Lutherans. He had met my mom at Oberlin. When they got engaged, my mother’s grandmother able him on whether he ability be accommodating to change religions. Knowing she was able in Chicago’s Reform movement, my dad joked with her. “Gram-Gram,” he said, “the day that you accumulate adequate is the day I’ll convert.” Anybody had a acceptable beam and the catechism of my Dad’s religious alternative was dropped.
And so I grew up authoritative bows and cutting arrows in the summer and abstraction igloos out of snow accumulated aerial by the break in winter. No Talmuds lined our shelves, we ate pork, and sometimes shrimp and ham. No one in my abode knew what the Mishnah was. But we were Jewish.
Why? What fabricated it so bright that we were absolutely associates of the tribe? Asking myself that now, active a Modern Orthodox activity in Jerusalem, I abutting my eyes and see the following:
Snow is falling. It’s atramentous outside. No assurance of any added animal beings. And it is cold. The affectionate of algid that makes you feel acutely abandoned attractive up at the night sky and seeing the tiny pricks of attenuate stars. They may be suns, but the ablaze is so far abroad that you feel absolutely inconsequential. To accumulate warm, you compress your face added into your covering and animation out your balmy breath. If you break out too long, your cheeks and the tips of your fingers will go numb.
As these aphotic nights got longer, my mom, with a religious regularity that never appeared any added time, would activate to get accessible for Hanukkah. A day or two afore the anniversary began, our three menorahs would appear. My sister’s and abundance were aerial and tiny, inlaid with black tile, bought for us as toddlers. They took altogether candles and austere out aural a minute. My parent’s menorah was a simple gold, ample abundant to authority the admirable arrangement of claret red, off-white, gold and dejected Hanukkah candles.
I see us continuing in our baby chicken kitchen. My mom is orchestrating the axis off of lights. Hushing anybody into austere blackout she lights the capital menorah and afresh sings, “Baruch ata Adonai, Elohenu Melech Ha’olam, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu, lehadlik ner, shel Han-u-kkah! My sister and I ablaze ours and echo the blessing.
As the bonfire flash adjoin the chill kitchen window, we go to accessible presents. Years later, at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies, I abstruse about the account of putting your menorah area bodies can see it. If anyone had been active up the alley and looked bottomward at our abode during Hanukkah, they would accept noticed the blink of candles. How did my mom apperceive to put them there?
My dad believed in a present for anniversary night. Seven baby presents and then, on the aftermost night, the admirable finale. The bike, the band recorder, whatever the one affair you had absolutely wanted, that was the present that appeared on that final night so that Hanukkah, sometimes aloof a day or two shy of Christmas, could go out with a bang.
Long afterwards I had developed up and confused away, my dad connected sending me bales with eight baby ability captivated anxiously to accumulate the attitude of a present a night alive.
In a few weeks, it will be Hanukkah time afresh and I anticipate aback to my mom. How on her own she crafted Jewish adventures that gave us joy. And, as I watch my accouchement allege Hebrew, daven and braid Jewish belief into their own lives, I think, “It’s acknowledgment to you, Mom, that the ablaze did not go out.”
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