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One Tiny Spark 

“It might be a free country, Jacob, but you don’t want to rub your religion in their faces”


iss Kohn said to light at the window.”  Ten-year-old Jacob stamped his feet.

“But we’ve always done it at the dining room table.” His mother sighed. She sensed the beginning of a tantrum. She turned to Jacob, trying to keep her tone even. “Y’know, when I was a girl, I remember riding the bus one day right after World War II…. There were two old ladies there, sitting and knitting. ‘Did ya hear what they did in Europe?’ one of them said. ‘Killed them Jews, millions of ’em.’ And the other one said, ‘Yeah, too bad he didn’t get over here to finish the job.’

“It might be a free country, Jacob, but you don’t want to rub your religion in their faces.”

“But maybe we gotta stand up for our rights, not just run and hide. Y’know, like my friend Jason. He’s always talking about Black Power, like, ‘Black is beautiful, man.’”

“Yeah, and you’re too young to remember the protests. You were only a baby when Martin Luther King was killed. It all comes at a price.”

“Well, we got pride, too. Miss Kohn told me about the Jewish Maccabees. They fought for their rights to be Jews.”

“Rose, he just wants to light by the window,” Hymie interceded, “and those candles don’t last more than half an hour. What could happen already?”

Jacob gave his father a thumbs-up, and Rose shrugged, hovering nearby as Jacob dragged the coffee table to the window and eased the colored candles into the shiny tin menorah.

Hymie and Jacob found the silk yarmulkes they kept in the china cabinet, unfolded them carefully, and placed them gingerly on their heads. Rose pinned on the doily she used when she lit candles on Friday nights.

The three of them stood together by the window as Jacob lit the candles. He carefully read the words on the card his Hebrew school teacher provided. “Our son, the scholar.” Jacob’s parents grinned.

Baruch grabbed his coat and keys and headed for the door. “Baruch, you’re going out now?” his wife asked skeptically. “Aren’t you giving a class in half an hour?”

“Yeah, but now is when people get home, and they light….”

“But what could you possibly accomplish in just a half hour?”

“Hey, you never know… that pintele Yid….”

Baruch fastened his coat tightly and headed out into the cold night. The young rabbi cruised slowly through the quiet suburban streets. A few blocks away from his home, he struck gold or, rather, bright yellow.

Candles in the window.

The dog barked. “Sounds like someone’s at the door.”

Rose grimaced. “I told you this wasn’t a good idea!”

“Want me to get it?” Jacob piped up, hopefully.

At the door was a young man, dressed in a black trench coat, clean-shaven, and sporting a large black yarmulke. Baruch smiled at the ten-year-old with the dimpled smile and the long hair.

“I saw your menorah,” the rabbi spoke quickly. “My wife put together this gift box for Chanukah. Are your parents at home?”

“Yeah, sure.” Jacob opened the door wide. The dog barked again, and the rabbi flinched.

“Ah, don’t worry, he’s an old man… couldn’t hurt you if he tried,” Hymie said, coming to the door. “Bark is worse than his bite… if ya know what I mean.”

Baruch didn’t know much about dogs, but he did know a thing or two about people.

He reached out and shook Hymie’s hand. “I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m the new rabbi over at Beth Jacob, and my wife asked me to bring you this Chanukah box.

Rose came to the door. “Wow! Thank you. I’m so… touched. None of the rabbis did that back in Brooklyn. Would you like to come in, have a cup of tea?”

It was just 30 minutes, but a relationship was born. It took a while, but the young rabbi encouraged Jacob to switch to a day school, and he helped pay for it, too. After high school, Jacob spent a year in Israel before college. The year stretched to two, and then to four years.

Today the little boy has three sons in BMG. And the rabbi, no longer clean-shaven — older now — still makes his rounds through the quiet, suburban streets each Chanukah night.

“You never know, Rivka,” he tells his wife, “which pintele Yid is just waiting for that spark.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 871)

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