Hanukkah Deja Vu

Wick touches wick,  flame passes.

They step back.

Four year old girl, past memories fuzzy, sees it as if for the first time. This is Hanukkah, she confirms in her mind,  school conversations congealing into physical reality. Then, quickly unsettled: Where is the gelt?

Two year old sister can’t comprehend what she’s seeing. Shiny lights on long sticks. She keeps fighting the urge to crawl up the windowsill from a chair inanely placed right near the lights. The battle of tiny person inner will is forgotten and lost many times, but her parents are quicker than she.

Husband turns his back to the scene, satisfied.

Wife walks away, too, there is so much to put away, but finds herself immobilized,, looking back at the comfortable scene; candles flickering  white in contrast to the darkened outdoors,  Maoz Tzur, that irresistible, heart wrenching melody encompassing and explaining their world, children hustling with each other on the couches, dancing around the floor.

She notices the couches appear awfully comfortable, incredibly so. Why did I feel this place was incomplete? Wife finds herself wondering,  sinking into the cushions that squeeze around her, enveloping her body. As her mind shapes that word, home, she sees it. She sees the yellow light covering everything.

The light she saw at that couples home in Jerusalem that random Friday evening. At an awkward Shabbos meal in which she could offer little to the conversation besides judgment towards her hosts. Despite her tension, she noticed the yellow light covering the walls, lighting up in the corner. It wasn’t some trick of the eye or older bulbs, she knew that.

It was that yellow light that comes into our homes if we’re lucky, on those precious moments when we feel beauty and spirituality and calm combine. Despite her discomfort, despite not enjoying the meal, she knew this: Herein lives in a holy couple. Herein dwells a holy union.

It’s lights that are bringing her back recently, to times of safety, when everything was known and nothing bad could happen.

The headlights of a car rolling past her city apartment outside suddenly transport her to the Midwestern suburbs; Dad pulling into the driveway. Headlights swerving in. The predictable chain of a garage door rolling up. The whir of the car moving slowly forward. The back door swinging open.  Protection walking in.

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For a moment, in her New York City apartment, she feels the world become small again. She feels what a home feels like, in the way she knew it when she was a child: safe, predictable, unchanging. She wonders if the scarcity of that feeling is an indication of living in the hectic heat of a fast-paced metropolis, or rather if it’s the inevitable conclusion of becoming an adult; how seldom we find ourselves wrapped up in shielded reality. She looks over her shoulder on the street, praying every time she lets her children go.

But in this moment, emboldened by the yellow light that is saturating everything, she has returned to the safety of walls that protect, locks that work, and everything will be okay certainty. She has returned to the same mental place where everything is slow, small, and saturated with attention. She is home.

Later that night, she watches the Chabad Hanukkah celebration in Paris. She finds her body, wrapped in the yellow light, surrounded by soft couch cushions, jolted to awake.

She watches Parisian after Parisian Jew spout in French and Hebrew, proclaiming We Are Not Afraid at the Eiffel Tower, mere weeks after a devastating terrorist attack, antisemitism mounting to an unbearable pitch. She wonders if she would have the guts to do the same, to not cower, knowing at any moment that some new psycho could come to blow her up.

The lines blur in her memory between the past Maccabees and these men. Fighters for the same fight, she reasons.

She understands in an adult, sobering way that the yellow haze of protection and memory will lift; tonight, tomorrow, soon. She will forget what it feels like to have familiarity and a sense of home. She will walk the streets scurrying around corners and looking over her shoulder and tensing with every siren, wondering if this really is the last generation before Moshiach, and did every previous generation think that too, is the sky falling in on us, and will it be too little too late?


She sees these Parisian Jews burst with joy,  their feet lifting before their intellect can stop them,  their hearts knowing and their breath not caring, invigorated by some boundless passion stirring them to action, and she too, knows then:

Here is the immortal self. Here is the protection we crave. Here is where the yellow light originates.

This, she remembers, this is Hanukkah.