Chanukah is 8 nights of fried food, 8 nights of lighting candles and debating which order you put them in and which order you light them. It’s also 8 nights of whatever presents you and your ex-husband decide to give or not give, and it’s truly 8 nights of hope and faith and finding miracles all around us.
My father was born 73 years ago on Chanukah. The second candle brought Binyomin Yidl into the world. He was my father, and half of my DNA is his. My father was born on Chanukah. (The Jewish calendar is lunar which means our holidays bounce around. Celebrating one’s Hebrew birthdate means that if you were born on a holiday, every year, that holiday is your birthday no matter what day of the Gregorian calendar that falls on.) So the second candle of Chanukah will always be my father’s birthday.
This year, 73 years later, my birthday falls on Chanukah.
I have 50% custody of my children, which means during nights and days I work, they are with their dad, and on nights and days I don’t work, they are with me. On Chanukah, we try to be together for the first night and the last night if possible. The other nights, it’s me and whatever Jews are around me.
I miss my kids when we are not together, but especially on holidays it’s hard. And especially on the holiday that would have been my father’s birthday it’s hard. Grief is like that. Grief takes normal things and makes them not normal. Grief steals a person from you and then Grief steals a relationship and the Grief steals normalcy and Grief takes away your ability to make small talk and Grief steals your ability to feel pleasure and Grief takes and takes and takes and doesn’t ever seem to give more than more of itself. Grief just gives Grief.
So now it is Chanukah. And there are people in far worse situations, I know that. But I can still be unhappy and I can still feel stuck and I can still be sad sometimes. And it is my job to say to Grief, “Grief! I see you. I feel you. I know you are there. But I have to make sofganiyot right now and they are going to be delicious. This might even be the year that I figure out how to get jelly into the middle of those donuts without also getting jelly on the ceiling and in my hair. Grief, you don’t seem to want to go away but right now we have to light candles. And we have to be in the moment because as you have shown everyone everywhere in the world, no one knows when you will be present due to death or suffering or acts of terror or anything like that. We have to be in this moment. I’m going to do that now, Grief.”
I thank God and the Universe that my ex-husband and I have had the strength and courage and resources to help us work our butts off to be part of each other’s lives for our children. Our boundaries are clear and it’s healthy for our kids. Do I cry when he sends me pictures of them lighting Chanukah candles while I am at work? Absolutely. Every working mom probably does, and working dads too.
The times we are together are precious. The time we have with each other is precious. The nights my father’s mother celebrated her Chanukah baby are precious. And this year, my mother will celebrate me – her Chanukah baby – alone, without my father.
As Matisyahu’s “Miracle” song says:
“Bound to stumble and fall but my strength comes not from man at all
Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearing you? Am I seeing you?
Eight nights eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle. “
May this Chanukah bring you strength and freedom and blessings and miracles that you can recognize, because they are all around us.
Chag Chanukah Sameach (happy Chanukah). And happy birthday to the Chanukah babies out there: past, present, and future.