Friday, December 23, 2011

Anniversaries

This week we Jews celebrate an anniversary of a victory “of the weak over the strong, the few over the many, and the righteous over the arrogant.” (Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayerbook, p. 642)


On the first night of this celebration we pray:

Blessed art thou, O Lord our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old, at this season.

and

Blessed art thou, O Lord our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who gives us life, sustains us, and enables us to reach this season.

Then we light candles for eight nights in remembrance of this anniversary.

This Chanukkah also coincides with the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth (no longer his “birthday” as he died two years ago), and of significance to me, the thirtieth anniversary of my official conversion to Judaism. This means that starting now, I have been a Jew for more than half of my life.

I’d known that I wanted to be a Jew from the time I was about fifteen, but did not act upon that desire until I turned thirty. With my thirtieth birthday it seemed like it was time to make some changes, so I began studying with the Reform congregation’s Rabbi in Lexington, Kentucky in February 1981, attending services and becoming part of the Adaith Israel Congregation. In November 1981, I stood before the congregation during Shabbat evening services and spoke the words that made me officially bat Israel (daughter of Israel).

From a distance, in California, my father had shown in interest and expressed support in my transformation. So I asked him to make a Chanukkah menorah for me for my first official Jewish holiday observance. I drew a sketch of what I wanted, which involved simply drilling holes in a solid rectangular block of wood, a task that would be easy for my dad with his well equipped woodworking shop.

I made two mistakes. First, I asked for the holes to be sized to fit regular candles. Little did I know that proper Jewish observance requires fresh candles for each night of Chanukkah, and that adds up to 44 candles – and most Jewish families use Chanukkah menorahs sized for candles not much larger than those that go on a birthday cake. Second, I did not explain to my father that my little sketch of a block of wood with eight candles at the same height and only one elevated, was based on proper Jewish observance – only the shammus (servant) candle is traditionally at a different height.

My father, intent on doing an extra special job in creating this menorah for me, pulled out all his woodworking tricks. He built a graduated platform, and then with his lathe, turned individual wooden cups for each candle. He lined the bottom of it with green felt and burned the date into the base.

For thirty years, I’ve considered, replacing my father’s not very Jewish beautiful candelabra, with a small, more appropriately Jewish menorah. But I always end up rejecting the idea, and going out once again in search of 44 large candles to light my eight nights of Chanukkah.

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