Third night, eleven years in

•December 1, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I was home well after nightfall tonight. In a case like this we light the candles but don’t say the blessings.

Spent the whole afternoon with dad’s attorney and HL. Exhaustive and exhausting discussions. Got home much later than usual.

Most of my writing on the third night has circled around the event of my doctoral adviser’s death / yorzeit, eleven years ago, in 2010, 2011 and 2012 (on the road, with joke).

The holiday spree continues

•November 30, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Guylty’s fixed price item fundraiser is now open. Here.

Second night, eleven years on

•November 30, 2021 • 2 Comments

Not sure if it’s entirely clear from this photo, but it snowed about two inches today.

My ambivalent relationship with the snow is once again changing — for the first time I’m in a house on my own with a shovel and a snowblower. However, this driveway is only a fifth as long as the old one. We’ll see how it goes. Odds I could get snowed in here are a lot lower (unless there’s a really catastrophic snowstorm, in which case everyone will be snowed in, not just me).

The winter weather brings up one of my favorite retro Chanukkah songs. If you’re not familiar with Tom Lehrer, he is a US musical satirist known for songs such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “The Masochism Tango.”



I’m definitely not moving to California, though.

In honor of Steven Spielberg, here’s this year’s holiday video from Six13. You will probably find this amusing only if you are familiar with “West Side Story.”



Sticking this here, as an arrangement I like of probably my favorite liturgical song for the holiday. I sing this every night when I light the candles, after the blessings.


And one more from the Maccabeats (a BTS cover from last year, but it seems equally applicable to this year):


In case this post seems aimless, it is. I’m wrestling with two things.

First, I have frequently had the feeling that Chanukkah is the holiday I crash into — due to the academic schedule I am usually unprepared for the holiday. That is less true this year, but other things are on my mind. I’m definitely still crying when I light the candles, if for other reasons.

Second, I’ve arrived more quickly than usual at my ambivalence about the holiday. I wrote more about the history of the holiday on the second night in my first year of blogging, here. The train of thought goes like this: the Jews were purifying the Temple. Why did it have to be purified? Because it had been taken over by the Seleucids, which were a Greek “Hellenizing” dynasty, i.e., as the successor of Alexander settled into position, they imposed Greek values on the lands they occupied. Most Jews in the age of the Maccabees (2nd century BCE) were heavily assimilated. The extent to which the assimilation was forced is of some debate; in fact, probably there wasn’t a lot of resistance. The rhetoric of the holiday, though, celebrates liberation from the Greek yoke.

In point of fact, given that I have never been fully orthodox in practice even at the most serious of moments, I have always been assimilated. With a handful of exceptions, all of my close Jewish friends are assimilated. In general, the whole ethos of the center of American Jewry is one that praises assimilation (we have religious freedom — we can be fully American and fully Jewish). So I’d probably have been one of those assimilated Jews the Maccabees were beating up on. This insight is hardly unique to me. And weirdly, Chanukkah is probably the most popular holiday to celebrate among assimilated Jews (for reasons apart from religion — because the assimilated desperately need a holiday to compete with Christmas).

So we, the assimilated, either have to really twist our relationship with the historical origins of the holiday, or we have to redefine the meaning. I’ve never really succeeded in that.

Today’s Chanukkah “miracle” — the repairs to my care were only $47.78. I did not need new tires. That’s like a $700 present, at least.


I also wrote on the second night in 2011, when I was enthusing about the Hobbit trailer.  Other than that I have not specifically written on the second night in any other year.

First night, eleven years on

•November 29, 2021 • 11 Comments

My new menorah, first night, halachic time (five minutes before Tzet Hakochavim). The candles burned the required 30 minutes after nightfall. This is one of those handmade, “art” menorahs. The traditional menorah designs common among Ashkenazim have never really appealed to me.


Chanukkah means “dedication.” I won’t get into the whole backstory or its merits (I did that in previous years, I think), but the basic story is that when the Maccabees took back the (Second) Temple from the Seleucids, there was only enough oil to burn for one night to carry out the purification ritual, but it miraculously burned the required eight days.  So we burn candles (or oil) for eight days in memory of the event.

I had my own minor “miracle” this morning: I didn’t think I had any matches. We had to toss all of them back in 2018, because dad would start a fire and then forget about it and it made us both nervous. But after some scrounging through boxes, I found an old matchbook. My parents must have gotten them on a trip to Las Vegas more than twenty years ago. But they still lit! Amazing that they survived the journey here. I really thought I had been merciless in my discarding process.

Amazing, and frustrating. Because I did realize about a month ago that although I am certain my old menorah moved here with me, I had no idea where it is and no energy to search through boxes to find it. So I got my act together and bought a new one (see above) and ordered candles (important here because there’s no place to just walk into a store and buy them). So finding the matches and them still working after I’d ignored weeks of time to get them and forgetting about it was indeed sort of miraculous. This was good, because my car is going in for repairs tomorrow morning and I have been avoiding using it except for very necessary journeys the last ten days or so. I didn’t want to go out to get them, and I haven’t been in the mood to visit the neighbors.

So here I am, in my own home, lighting Chanukkah candles for the first time. A sort of dedication. (I am still working on mezuzot.) Grief has been unabated — I’ve been surprised at how much I’m grieving — and it feels like this huge, sticky trampoline that’s throwing me around. So I’m not going to wait until I’m in the right mood — I’m just doing the mitzvah. Trying to dedicate, and trying to figure out what to do next.

This is, incidentally, where the Rebbe’s mind is, too. Chabad’s “guide to the holidays” this year for the first night points out the relative “weakness” of lighting only one candle on the first night, and compares it to the small steps that people take in becoming observant. It doesn’t seem like much at first.

I’ve promised myself so many times to resume regularly blogging, and failed (at times because of events, at times because I couldn’t figure out how to get in the mental place to write). For this reason I am not going to promise myself or you anything other than to try to keep taking small steps. There may be more writing about grief and the questions I have in the short term.

I will say: I am really pleased with the menorah.


Some other first nights: 2010 (in the wake of the good news about the Hobbit); 2011 (the night the world saw the first Hobbit trailer and #richardarmitage trended the first time); 2012 (you can see the exciting sing along Chanukkah video here, if you haven’t); 2013 (nothing special; this was the holiday after my mother died, so there was a lot of other writing around then); in 2014 I made no reference to the holiday at all (although I saw the first screening of BOTFA on the first night, with some special guests); in 2015, I was praying for light on the night before; 2016 was a Chrismukkah, and you can tell from my writing; in 2017, I was sobbing for joy over Doug Jones’ victory over Roy Moore; and between dad’s stroke and now (2018, 2019, 2020) I didn’t find the energy or the peace to think about the holiday at all beyond posting the sing along vid.

Guylty’s auctions are live

•November 27, 2021 • Leave a Comment


Top of the Spanish Steps?

•November 27, 2021 • 4 Comments

Zuma rooftop bar?

Stephen Sondheim זכרונו לברכה

•November 27, 2021 • 3 Comments

Have yourself a merry little

•November 24, 2021 • 11 Comments

Waukesha is about 100 miles away from us up here: a place that people mark as your quintessential American small city — although for those who still associate it with “Happy Days,” it was never quite that, either. It’s not the kind of place that makes the national, let alone the internal, news. Most of Wisconsin likes it that way and the number of times we’ve been part of broader news coverage in the last year is truly disturbing to a lot of people. “We” prefer to be quiet and get on with things.

By which I mean that we prefer not to sit in our cars and cry when the radio gives us the latest count of casualties in the children’s hospital ICU.

The editorial pages are full of anger, the air thick with it, the conversations in the lines at the coffee shop and the movies and the grocery store bristle with outrage. Wisconsin needs a death penalty. Lock him up and throw away the key. Everyone speaking and everyone silent knows precisely how four dancing grannies, a bank teller about my age, and an eight-year-old spectator could still be alive.  We need real legal penalties. We need a functioning bail system. We need better mental health care. We need better schools, better families, a better president, a better governor. The apocalypse is coming. Marana tha.

Outrage is easy but answers are hard. We have always already rejected every solution.

Our prisons are old and decaying and jammed full and nowadays, coursing with COVID-19. With no political will to renovate or build new, we literally can’t pay people enough to staff the facilities we have. Not only can’t we pay people enough to work in the mental health area, between the people who fear the mental health system as a locus of false imprisonment and those who see it as a shield for every sort of lying malefactor, its future is not hopeful. We want to be tough on crime and we don’t want to hire more judges or court clerks or public defenders. We want dangerous offenders to be kept off the streets and we are increasingly critical of the cash bail system. We want inner city families to be strong without jobs or public transportation to take people to them or housing protections and we want people to reject certain categories of addictive substances on force of will alone even as the rest of the state drinks itself–legally–into oblivion.

I don’t know the solution either. I do know that ideology predicts the crime and the outcome and ideology also feeds the outrage that keeps us predicting the crime and the outcome.

It seems to me, though, that what we can’t look in the face is the increasingly destructive fantasy of individual well-being as potentially separated from the whole. It’s easier to look away from everything that’s wrong on the margins of the picture than to acknowledge that while a large group of people is happily cheering the approach of the holidays and dancing in the street, a man with a history of domestic violence can leave the scene of a disturbance and destroy not just lives, but our convictions that we deserve a certain kind of life untouched by destruction, whatever the cause of it.

It’s the increasing apparent lesson of the last two decades at least. As long as one of us is not okay, all of us live at risk. There is no “we,” only we.

Gotta love N&S fanfiction

•November 22, 2021 • Leave a Comment

It’s the ten year anniversary of the appearance of the first self-published ones, and the authors are celebrating with a giveaway bundle. Details here.

A friend is blogging

•November 21, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Radaghast, who has been commenting here and elsewhere in the Armitage fandom for the last several years, has finally opened her own blog, Radaghast’s World. She is writing in French (and not about Richard Armitage for the most part), but for non-Francophones, I recommend reading the blog with Google translate. If you leave an English comment, she will understand. Allons-y!

%d bloggers like this: