I have given (clothing to a woman going through a divorce and low on cash; wigs to a woman beginning chemo, when I no longer needed them after my own chemo); and I have received (a sewing machine! lovely vintage housewares!). When I saw, just prior to Hanukkah last year, that a woman was offering a few menorahs she had inherited, I emailed her immediately.
The menorahs I grew up with are still at my dad’s home; I’m not sure what happened to other ones used in my family. What I had for years in my apartment was a nondescript and not especially sturdy menorah that I’d always meant to replace with something else. This woman on Freecycle said she’d ended up with more menorahs than she needed from her grandmother’s home; I hoped I’d be the first menorah-needy person to reach her.
And I was. We set a time for me to pick hers up at her home in Park Slope; she mentioned that we should arrange it between dinnertime and her young daughter’s bedtime. Happy to be getting “real” menorahs, and coasting on the happy spirit of giving, I scooped up a pair of hot pink mittens at a shop down the street, for her daughter as a Hanukkah gift, before I headed over.
When I arrived, I met the whole family—the woman passing on the menorahs, her wife, and their little girl. I handed the mitten package to the child; and the three greeted them with more excitement than I’d thought mittens would warrant. They showed me a winter jacket the girl had just gotten. Its lining was the exact shade of pink that her new mittens were. The four of us smiled giddily as we stood in their hallway; it was a small coincidence, but it was a sweet one. The whole exchange would not exactly change the world, but it would lift our hearts.
This year, I am using the two gorgeous menorahs I received—in fact, I’m bringing them to a friend’s Hanukkah party tonight. I hope the woman who gave them to me knows how much I love them (and I think she does). I wonder if her daughter still fits into those mittens (probably not!). I wonder if I should dig up the emails from last year and write to say happy Hanukkah. No—I don’t wonder about that last one. That’s definitely something I want to do.
Reading this morning about the meaning of Hanukkah, I was reminded that on this holiday, we celebrate the reclamation and purification of the ancient temple, not a victory in battle—Judaism does not glorify or celebrate war. And regarding the traditional lighting of the menorah candles, I found this quote from Rabbi Shai Held:
“‘The soul of man is the lamp of God,’ the Book of Proverbs tells us (20:27). What this means is that, ultimately, our task is not to light candles but to be candles.”
This was a quote I needed now, in the midst of dark winter and with political darkness threatening too. Give freely; connect with strangers. Resist glorifying violence or warfare, even if they bring “victory.” Celebrate, reflect, and shine light in dark corners.
Be the candles.
Brooklyn-based journalist and essayist Pamela Rafalow Grossman has written for outlets such as the “Village Voice,” “Ms.,” and Salon.com. @Brooklynpam.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.