Sunday, December 21, 2008
Yes Dianne, There Is a Chanukah Claus
Chanukah begins tonight and I’m thinking of Nana.
I would visit Nana every day. I can still picture the journey to Nana’s house – several long blocks, across the park through the hole in the fence and then cross the BIG street.
One day, right before Chanukah, I went with Nana to help her and the Rabbi’s wife decorate for the holiday. After many warnings to be careful what I touched and to watch my language Nana finally relaxed and laughed and did what she always did – grab my hand in hers and whisper – “you’re a good girl”.
I wandered around while the ladies polished and fussed and came upon a portrait of a very large man with a fluffy white beard. I believe he was the father of the founding rabbi. I ran back to the main room and arrived to announce – in my usual decibel defying voice …
“Jewish kids do have a Santa! I found his picture”
Out of the dead silence came Nana’s voice. “Yes Dianne, there IS a Chanukah Claus”.
The ladies laughed and vowed to tell the story at lunch. I guess I get my talent for defusing bombs from Nana.
I love ritual and ceremony. I adore theater and tradition.
So the lighting of The Menorah is one of my most favorite memories.When I was older I was allowed to light the Shamash candle – the candle that sits a bit higher than the others and is used to light each of the nightly candles. Nana would sometimes call me Shamash – meaning helper.
Nana had these wooden matches in a box that said kitchen matches. They had tiny spindly stick bodies with huge heads (much like the Olsen twins) and when you struck them across the box they would split and the head would fly off.
Nana: You’re going to burn the house down.
Me: The matches are no good. How old are these matches?
Nana: If you burn the house down I’ll kill you.
I never burned the house down.
Nana: Do you want to say the blessing?
Me: I never say it right.
Nana: laughing – yes - it is not - baruch and adenoids
Me: I wasn’t being a smart ass.
Nana: I know. I can always tell.
She slips her hand in mine. She is wearing the shawl I bought for her at the Christmas bazaar back at grammar school. It is hideous. She always wears it. I wear my mantilla on my head.
Nana: you don’t need to wear that.
Me: it makes me feel holy.
Nana: good enough reason.
She says the blessing without a single falter. In everyday conversation Nana speaks very quietly. Her English is not so good and her accent was often ridiculed by the ladies at the senior center. During the blessing her voice is - Full. Rich. Melodic.
Me: I love the way you sound
Nana: I am sure of the words.
Me: You should talk that way all the time. You talk to me that way.
Nana: I am sure of you.
After reading from her prayer book and watching the lights for an hour Nana worries that I have to walk home in the dark.
Me: No one will bother me.
Nana: You are a tough cookie.
Me: As tough as you.
Nana laughs. Nana loved to laugh …
In the spirit of Nana’s laughter and to welcome the start of Chanukah …
I give you …
May you always have light in your life and may your light burn longer than you ever expected.