First night, eleven years on

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.

~ by Servetus on November 29, 2021.

19 Responses to “First night, eleven years on”

  1. My dad passed away in January as I was 17 years old and the first Christmas without him was strange although 11 month between. So I can imagine that your first holidays have also a touch of loneliness. But nevertheless keep the good memories and I wish you all the best.
    Your handmade menorah is really nice and looks very friendly. I like handmade things with a personal touch and they are also sometimes not so perfect.


  2. Chag sameach, Servetus!

    That’s a beautiful thought, a first candle being a first step to becoming whole. And being more forgiving of yourself is important too! I’m saying that because you mention not blogging as a failure and it isn’t and you don’t need to find an excuse for it. Someimes other things take priority in life (like grieiving!) and that’s OK. If it is important to you it will come back to you, just take it one step at a time, just as you say. (((Hugs)))

    Oh, and I love your Chanukkiah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like it (see comments above about style decisions). I also didn’t want a joky one. The joke trend in the US is a dinosaur “menorahsaurus” and I just couldn’t see spending money on something like that.

      re: blogging — I think the issue for me is that I really, really want to be writing. It’s a hobby, yes, but it’s a pretty serious one as well as a creative outlet (I was thinking this spring that cooking could maybe be that for me, but i think I’ve realized it’s not after this summer — i.e., I still want to cook and cook well, but it will never be anything more than that). It’s a bit like me saying “I want to be a concert musician” and then never practicing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, joky ones wouldn’t be for me either unless it’s a really really good joke. My sister has a few unconventional menorahs as well, I like a wooden one that she has with a painted overview of Jerusalem best.

        Even concert musicians have lean times. You love writing, I’m sure it will come back to you, even if only in drafts for your own eyes (which could be a good start to get back into the swing of things). Small steps.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the menorah. First steps are important. ((hugs))


  4. Happy Hannukah, Servetus, and thank you for the explanation. Despite a Jewish family background, I know so little about the traditions surrounding the Jewish festivities.
    As for blogging – hopefully, as the thoughts sort themselves out and your life settles into a new routine, you’ll get back into it.


    • I used to write these ridiculously long explanations (back in 2010) but my faith in the power of explanation is waning. Thanks for the good wishes!


  5. It’s those baby steps we take really do lead to bigger steps as we go. Happy Hanukkah. I found out this year from a cousin and my aunt who has taken a DNA test that my mom’s side of the family is part Jewish, more than likely from the Polish side of the family. Thank you for explaining the Jewish holidays for us your readers. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and to those who grieve not always in the way you thought. ((Hugs)) and prayers.


    • I always think “what’s the alternative?” but I really thought even if I just posted a picture, it would be an improvement on the last few months. Interesting about your mom’s family. There was a lot more intermarriage in eastern Europe than people realize, I suspect. Thanks for your understanding. I feel like there’s a separate post on grief coming.


  6. What a beautiful menorah and a great miracle. I hope there will be much more light now for you. {{Hugs}}

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Chanukka sameach!
    Despite everything

    Liked by 1 person

  8. chag Chanukah sameach S! i really really like the tree theme of the menorah, i was thinking maybe apples? Strange how grief links to holidays and how we celebrate or what we feel like celebrating with. Thought about you as i drove through town last Sat and there was a biiig menorah in Trafalgar square, my only chance to see anything in town, just the quick view from traffic through taxi window but maybe i’ll find a pics online to show you. In any case, this also came via email, in case you do fancy a taste


    • Pomegranates (a big Jewish symbol generally, but definitely the current trend in menorah art).

      Thanks for the good wishes. Trafalgar Square is a good place to put a Chanukkiah!


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