It used to be about the presents. Hanukkah, that is. When I was a kid, the promise of a really good Hanukkah present held a certain magic. Maybe it was a new game or a special book or a cuddly, plush Glow Worm, that long, squiggle of a thing whose head emitted a soft, comforting light when its body was gently squeezed. Yes, we lit the menorah, and said the traditional prayers, but back in my youth I honestly don’t recall raucous gatherings filled with crispy latkes, endless dreidel games or mesh bags pregnant with gold-foiled, chocolaty gelt.
And yet, that has all since changed. This weekend, my husband and I will host our havurah’s annual Hanukkah party, a rambunctious affair where latkes rule, dreidels twirl, menorahs twinkle and 22 kids from nine families run amok like crazed monkeys until they all peter out and return to their respective homes, ready to crash in a sweaty, potato-fueled coma.
The term havurah refers to a group of Jews affiliated with the same congregation who gather for religious or social purposes (or both) outside the formal confines of a synagogue. My havurah has been my Jewish holiday posse since my husband and I moved to California with our young sons in 2004. Together, we’ve rung in six Rosh Hashanahs, broken six Yom Kippur fasts, celebrated six Passover Seders and, yes, gorged on latkes at six Hanukkah parties with these friends and their gaggle of children.
Tonight, food will be served, dreidels will spin, candles will wink and my home will be filled with energy, with laughter and with an abundance of light.
We’ve also shared life’s ups and downs, and witnessed the circle of life in its most intimate forms. Two couples have given birth, two men have lost their fathers and one boy has led the pack in celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. (A queue of children is poised to follow, including my own sons in the next few years.) Members have weathered job loss and enjoyed new professional success, children have grown from infants to first graders, and friendships, once tender and nascent, have solidified into true, lifelong bonds, ready to withstand whatever curves life throws our way.
This Hanukkah, Julia and Alison will come to my house early, armed with potatoes and onions, skillets and spatulas, eager to help fry stacks of latkes for the hungry hordes, including their own spouses and children, who will soon arrive. The rest will then trickle in, bearing gifts, gelt and menorahs in all shapes and sizes. Food will be served, dreidels will spin, candles will wink and my home will be filled with energy, with laughter and with an abundance of light.
And when you get right down to it, the miracle of light–how a flame with only enough oil to burn for one night burned instead for eight–is the prevailing theme of this very holiday.
May your own home be filled with light this holiday season, and may you be surrounded by those who bring you nourishment, comfort and joy.