Me in the Menorah| December 20, 2022
How nice it would be to know — with complete certainty — what lies ahead
“Are you ready to light?” my father asks.
I’m standing at the counter, elbow-deep in a bowl of shredded potatoes.
I nod, rinse my hands, and join them at the candles.
Once upon a time, our menorah table was crowded. There was my father’s menorah, my brothers’ menorahs, and whatever the rest of us had crafted that year. Now there’s just my father’s. The boys are lighting theirs on their own menorah tables, in their own apartments, and I’m too old for crafts.
My father strikes a match. The little flame flickers, so tiny we can barely see it in the bright room. “Let me get the lights,” Malkie says as she reaches for the light switch. With a soft click, the room turns dark and the glow of the candle grows.
I exhale. No one will see — and I don’t want them to. Because the shamesh hasn’t even met the wick yet and I’m already crying.
A few minutes earlier, when my father called Malkie to join us, she danced into the room. “Next year I’m in seminary. This is my last Chanukah home.”
I wish I could say the same. How nice it would be to know — with complete certainty — what lies ahead. But I’ve been there before, staring at the candles and imagining how next year my husband would light them for me as I’d listen to him sing, the soft lull of “Haneiros Halalu” surrounding us as I planned our future. Maybe I’d even feel the flickerings of a new life inside me.
Instead I stare at my father’s menorah, grateful to hear his niggun for one more year — and wishing I didn’t need to.
“It’s so nice in the dark,” Malkie says. My mother nods and goes to turn off the rest of the lights. In the blackness, my tears change from a trickle to a storm.
I steady my voice, just enough to get out a few words. “I’m going to fry latkes.” Malkie must have heard the crack, because she takes my hand and squeezes it. I wanted to continue crying, to lean on her shoulder and let it all out, but it’s not fair. She’s young, she’s naive. This will never be her life, so she doesn’t need to prepare for — or know — about it.
She tilts her head and raises her eyebrows as though to ask…. “I’m fine,” I tell her with a smile, then I pull away and steal out of the room.
In the kitchen, I turn on the burner, pour in the oil. My father’s voice drifts in from the dining room. “V’ein lanu reshus — this life is still off limits.” I pour some batter in — too hard — the oil splatters, leaving tracks of painful spots up my arms.
Malkie pokes around the kitchen door.
“Are you okay?” she asks. I tell her that I am.
I turn on the cold water to soothe my burn.
My father is still singing. “Al nisecha, v’al nifle’osecha, v’al yeshuasecha — for Your miracles, for Your wonder, and for Your salvation.”
Can You send all three?
The silver sparkles under fluorescent lights.
“Any catch your eye?” I ask my chassan. He’s fingering an ornate menorah with a tall silver back.
“I like that one, too,” I nod. “It reminds me of the one my father has.”
I look at the mirrors behind the rows of menorahs, and laugh at the glow in my eyes. I was never going to be that person.
In my reflection on the menorah, though, the image fractures. There’s only so much smooth surface between the careful designs. On the curves of silver, I can make out, the color of my hair, see a flash of my smile.
I think back to the girl who cried at l’chayims, who hid in the kitchen during menorah lighting, and I wish I could talk to her, reassure her. Yes, you waited, but it happened. Later than you hoped, better than you ever imagined.
I stare at the me in the menorah.
You didn’t know it would all come around. How it would feel, the moment he comes to pick you up for your l’chayim, the flutter in your chest when you realize — it’s really happening — and to him. You don’t understand how redemption can heal years of pain.
You thought you’d never be able to move past the hurt, that it would always be part of you. You’d walk into the light, but the shadows would follow.
Yet here you stand — here I stand — shopping for a new silver menorah. You’re rushing because you have a gown appointment; your phone is pinging with messages from work. And you’re deciding which beautiful piece to choose for your chassan.
Every once in a while, the flashbacks startle you. Not because you forgot the ache — all it takes is one word, one memory, and you are transported right back — but because they remind me that you forgot.
You can feel the pain so viscerally; you can be consumed by longing. And then one year, you find yourself standing in the silver store, shopping for a menorah. You are so surrounded by light that you’ve completely forgotten it was ever dark.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 823)
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