Embracing the magic of Chanukah: The writer, on right, lights candles with her parents, Yocheved and Yehuda Daphna. Courtesy of Moshe Daphna.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2015.
Magic. A frosty, December evening in the city that never sleeps. Huddled next to my mother, my eyes shining as I gazed at the menorah as tall as the skyscrapers around it, is how I remember the wonder of Chanukah. The memory is almost comical: A cherry picker transporting a man from candle to candle. It was as if the menorah lighter were an angel of God lighting a candelabra on construction equipment to reach his Master. But the scene was far from mundane. The rabbi who recited the blessings sang them in a Sephardic melody; his Israeli lilt seemed to fill the city of millions; the warm latkes handed out contrasted with the cold air around them, and even the free, fire-alarm batteries contributed to the enchantment of the evening.
The magic faded somehow. An annual Chabad lighting ceremony still takes place in New York City. A man still sings the blessings on the candles, spreading the miracle, and the holiday is used to promote fire safety. But I changed. I matured. The world around me became different. My siblings grew up. No longer did the family gather together in the wee hours of the morning to spin dreidels surrounded by the scents of powdered sugar and fried potatoes. No longer did my brother Abie collect old pennies, my brother Moshe, compete viciously and I, look for more chocolate gelt. No longer did we all tear open fancy wrapping paper in heightened anticipation only to be greeted with gloves and laugh good-naturedly over the predictable disappointment. School became harder. No longer were classes canceled, evenings free and homework eliminated. No longer did my life contribute to the magic.
But the funny thing about magic is that as you change so does your perspective. Maturity is about incorporating the lack of family unity, the mountain of homework and the SAT into the spirit of the holiday. Maturity is about creating new traditions. Maturity is a transition. I’m no longer in elementary school. My teachers understand that specialness doesn’t need to be explained for me to internalize it. I need to experience it. I need to experience the magic in the change.
My siblings grew up. Two are married now. While I doubt they’d be eager to pull an all-nighter to spin an archaic toy, they bring two more people through our doorway. While now they are eager to receive winter accessories, my older siblings and I still scoff and chuckle in unison at the predictability. School is harder. While taking an SAT certainly is not a magical experience, the juxtaposition between the routine and the holiness of the Jewish tradition shows an unrivaled uniqueness. Although life gets complicated and imposes hurdles that compete with the remembrance of an ancient miracle, Chanukah remains special, and that shows the maturity of the Jewish nation. (Photo: The writer and her extended family celebrate Chanukah together. Courtesy of Moshe Daphna)
I grew up and retained my appreciation for Chanukah, the holiday still fills me with wonder. To me, it’s when my siblings, their significant others and I gather together to appreciate the miracle of Jewish survival. To me, Chanukah is going to synagogue, sitting with the children in my community and singing songs to commemorate the holiday. To me, Chanukah is finding the miracle and magic in everything that I do. The miracle that although Jews in Paris are urged not to light public menorahs, I am not afraid in America. The miracle that I live in a Jewish neighborhood that celebrates Chanukah with communal festivities. The miracle that I go to a Jewish school that hosts a Chanukah raffle to add fun and to ease our heavy workload. The miracle that with each passing year Chanukah becomes more magical as I understand and apply its meaning to my everyday life.