Hanukkah, a personal favorite holiday, begins tonight.

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Tonight is the first night of the Festival of Lights.

A lot of Jewish holidays are about forgiveness, atonement, new beginnings and remembering how our ancestors suffered. We starve ourselves, we lay off bread, we remind ourselves of the bad things that we’ve done in the last year and we look forward to new years and new opportunities. No matter what the holiday is, you do the same ritual every year.

Hanukkah is the only holiday where we celebrate our families and how they change; we glow in the flickering candle light and share the joy of being around one another. We enjoy it as kids, opening presents and drinking hot cocoa and playing dreidel (some of us did, anyway). We get older and enjoy the company of our siblings, seeing our parents as equals and drinking wine with one another. We get older and enjoy it as parents and seeing our children open their presents. And so on and so forth.

This will be my first year celebrating it without my dad, who passed away in early October.

As a family, we’re very tight. My sister and her husband live in Glendale, near my mom, and the four of us have dinner together more often than not. My brother, who lives in New York, is on the phone often and plans on moving home with his wife shortly. They’ll be flying in for Hanukkah.

My dad was a devout Jew. I wasn’t so much growing up. His brother died when my dad was in his mid-40s, of cancer. Some years later, when I was about 16, my dad pulled me aside before Yom Kippur and told me the following.

“I don’t think I’ve raised you Jewish well. I think I did a bad job at that. … I miss my brother sometimes. I think about him a lot. But when I’m in temple, I feel like he’s still with me.”

We talked every once in a while about the joys of Judaism after that, in the potato pancakes and kugels, in the presents, in the way we break fasts on Yom Kippur and Passover.

Hanukkah was no doubt the most stressful time of the year for him—he owned Billy’s Boardshop in Montrose for years and retired about four years ago. But when he got off those 12-hour days, he came home to us and we sat around the chanukiah (candelabra) and we talked and laughed and drank wine and opened presents … those were the best days.

That’s what I’m looking forward to this Hanukkah. For the next eight days, his light, his love for family and life, will burn.

Tonight is the first night of the Festival of Lights. For non-historians Hanukkah goes back to the second century, BCE, after a battle that the Maccabees, a Jewish tribe, had won over Anthoichus, a Hellenistic emperor who forbade Jews from practicing in his empire.
The Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem afterward but only had enough oil to last one day. The oil miraculously lasted eight days and Bob’s your uncle.
The origins are virtually lost from the modern celebration, with the exception of the eight days and candles, but what remains is the spirit of the holiday.
A lot of Jewish holidays are about forgiveness, atonement, new beginnings and remembering how our ancestors suffered. We starve ourselves, we lay off bread, we remind ourselves of the bad things that we’ve done in the last year and we look forward to new years and new opportunities. No matter what the holiday is, you do the same ritual every year.
Hanukkah is the only holiday where we celebrate our families and how they change; we glow in the flickering candle light and share the joy of being around one another. We enjoy it as kids, opening presents and drinking hot cocoa and playing dreidel (some of us did, anyway). We get older and enjoy the company of our siblings, seeing our parents as equals and drinking wine with one another. We get older and enjoy it as parents and seeing our children open their presents. And so on and so forth.
This will be my first year celebrating it without my dad, who passed away in early October.
As a family, we’re very tight. My sister and her husband live in Glendale, near my mom, and the four of us have dinner together more often than not. My brother, who lives in New York, is on the phone often and plans on moving home with his wife shortly. They’ll be flying in for Hanukkah.
Our family has changed, but we remain together.
My dad was a devout Jew. I wasn’t so much growing up. His brother died when my dad was in his mid-40s, of cancer. Some years later, when I was about 16, my dad pulled me aside before Yom Kippur and told me the following.
“I don’t think I’ve raised you Jewish well. I think I did a bad job at that. … I miss my brother sometimes. I think about him a lot. But when I’m in temple, I feel like he’s still with me.”
We talked every once in a while about the joys of Judaism after that, in the potato pancakes and kugels, in the presents, in the way we break fasts on Yom Kippur and Passover.
Hanukkah was no doubt the most stressful time of the year for him—he owned Billy’s Boardshop in Montrose for years and retired about four years ago. But when he got off those 12-hour days, he came home to us and we sat around the chanukiah (candelabra) and we talked and laughed and drank wine and opened presents … those were the best days.
That’s why I’m so looking forward to this Hanukkah. For the next eight days, his light, his love for family and life, will burn.
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Written by Seth Amitin

December 11, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Posted in la cañada, thoughts

Tagged with ,

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