23: The Hanukkah Parade

23: The Hanukkah Parade

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Hanukkah Parade

May love and light fill your home and heart at Hanukkah.

~Author Unknown

Originally from Austria, my sweet grandmother was a small woman, barely five feet tall. Her two-foot-tall candelabrum was more than just a candleholder. It was a family symbol, a magnet that brought us all together. On Shabbat evenings, Baba (Jewish for grandmother) would don a special Shabbat kerchief, a white linen square with a border of delicate lace. With great fanfare she would light each candle. Once she had finished lighting the last candle she would stand in front of the candelabrum and close her eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks. She prayed for her husband, her married children and for us, her grandchildren. She spoke in Yiddish, “Her mein tier tata, hiet oif mein man, kinder un di eyniklach.” (My Dear Father, watch over my husband, my children and my grandchildren.)

We all stood by the Shabbat table in awe. Baba looked like a queen speaking to the King of Kings, to Almighty God himself. When she finished her prayer, we began our Shabbat.

As our family grew, my grandmother spent more time with her candles. By the time she reached her ninetieth birthday she had many married grandchildren with children of their own. There were now five generations in my baba’s family. Before every Shabbat, Baba would shine her silver candelabrum and pray, “May my mazel (luck) always shine!” When lighting the candles, she prayed for each family member, never omitting any of us.

Her candelabrum was made of solid silver with a heavy silver base. All year it had three branches, each with two candlesticks. In the middle was a stem for another candle. The traditional custom for Shabbat is to light one candle each for the father, mother and children. As each child is born, another candle is added to the Shabbat lighting. For most of the year Baba’s candelabrum was fitted for six candles.

But during the week of Hanukkah, she would add another branch of two candlesticks each, making a total of ten candles. Her candelabrum was built in such a way that the candleholders could be removed so that oil cups could be inserted for the special lighting on Hanukkah. Our Shabbat candelabrum was thus transformed into a beautiful Hanukkah menorah.

During the eight days of Hanukkah, she turned over her prized menorah to my Zaida (Jewish for grandfather) to light the candles for the holiday. Hanukkah was our happiest time. All of us children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Baba and Zaida to receive Hanukkah gelt (a small gift of money, usually a fifty-cent-piece or two) and join in the lighting of the menorah.

Imagine the two-foot menorah with ten candles shining in all its glory. Zaida stood proudly like a Kohain, the high priest in the temple, when he lit the candles.

When my Zaida died, Baba sold their two-story house in Winnipeg’s north end to move to a tiny, one-bedroom apartment not far away. Although she couldn’t take all of her cherished things, of course she packed her precious candelabrum. First she wrapped it in a large piece of worn, cotton flannel and then again in tissue paper. Then she placed it gently into the box she had made a special trip to get from California Fruit on Main Street.

But when the van drove away from her new apartment that day, after the movers had piled all the cardboard boxes containing her possessions in the middle of the living-room floor she was horrified to discover her treasured menorah was not there. Her first thought was it had accidentally been left in the back of the truck, or perhaps it was still at the old house. But after a call to the moving company and a visit back to the old house, it was clear that someone had stolen her menorah.

My baba was livid. Her small body shook like a willow in a storm as she spoke about her most prized possession. How could anyone take it? How would she light her candles?

But Baba believed her menorah would return. “I have prayed that the menorah would protect us, and I’m sure the menorah has done just that. Now I pray that the menorah protect itself and be returned to me.” With silent determination she prayed and prayed. The family did not know what to do. The weather was growing colder and Hanukkah was fast approaching.

Then, one day in November, a childhood friend from Austria unexpectedly came to visit her. They had been friends for years, both here in Winnipeg after they married, and before that, as young girls in the old country. Upon arrival Mrs. Stern announced, “I never saw another menorah like yours until today. My mouth fell wide open when I saw a menorah exactly the same, in the window of the pawn shop I passed on Main Street, while walking here.”

Baba immediately called my mother and her siblings. We were dumbfounded. Could it be that Baba’s friend had actually seen the stolen menorah? Baba was now geared up and ready for action. “Let’s get my menorah!” she declared. “It soon will be Hanukkah — and I need it back!”

Then she hastily pulled on her winter coat. Once we were all gathered, Baba, my parents and I, Aunty Tzeril and Uncle Simcha, Mrs. Stern, and our friendly neighbourhood policeman from the North-central Precinct made our way to the pawn shop. Baba was so excited she forgot to put on her headscarf, her gloves and her overshoes.

Her eyes sparkling, and with a shout of confirmation and sheer joy, when we arrived at the shop Baba pointed to her beloved menorah standing in the window just as Mrs. Stern had reported. With a quick movement, she bent her head toward it and spoke softly to it like an old and trusted friend. In Yiddish she whispered, “Yes, you have done well. You have protected us and now you have protected yourself. Kim a haim mit mere.” (Come home with me.)

Before anyone could say anything, Baba grabbed the menorah off the shelf and held it close to her heart. Nobody could stop her.

“Baba,” I protested, “you can’t just take it. That’s stealing! It’s against the law!” Much to my confusion, my mother clamped her hand over my mouth and imperiously marched me out of the store. Meanwhile, Aunty Tzeril stayed behind with the policeman and pawn shop owner “to do the paperwork.”

By this time, the commotion had attracted quite a crowd. Neighbours, both Jewish and non-Jewish, joined my grandmother in her triumphant walk home. Along the way, the closer we got to her apartment building, more and more people joined us. My diminutive baba, still wearing her apron and house-slippers, marched proudly home, the menorah she was carrying almost as big as she was. She was followed by our ragtag procession of excited family, neighbours and friends. What a sight to see! It truly was a grand Hanukkah parade!

Today my baba’s cherished menorah sits on my own mantle, right in the center, holding the position of honour. I polish it daily, making sure that it gleams, like she so lovingly did all those years ago.

~Sharon Melnicer

Winnipeg, Manitoba

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