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Never Too Many Chanukah Parties

I am the child of a BT. Many baalei teshuvah say they sometimes feel like they’re at the periphery of frum life. Well, I think sometimes their children do, too.

Growing up, I loved my Grandma in pants and a polka dot shirt, and I learned to avoid asking invasive questions. I knew my siblings and I represented Orthodox Judaism to our aunts, uncles, and cousins. We learned from our mother and father what it means to strive and grow and change even as a grownup.

Growing up, extended family meant Thanksgiving parties and bar mitzvahs with airplane-style, double-wrapped food entrees in the Basketball Hall of Fame. We bought our Shabbos clothes in department stores, and even though we lived but an hour’s drive from Brooklyn (traffic included), we ventured into Brooklyn only once a year to buy our school uniforms.

Growing up, Chanukah meant watching my father light his menorah (we are Sephardi and only the head of the house lights), and singing “Ner Li Dakik” as we formed a train chugging around the house, giggling as we crouched. We’d open some presents from my parents or from aunts and uncles who shipped gifts to us through UPS. We sat next to the candles, played some dreidel, maybe Boggle, and made real sufganiyot.

Every year as Chanukah approached, I would hear the “busy people” talking about all their parties. How tired they were, how many presents they got, how much gelt Zeidy gives every grandchild. In seminary, Shabbos Chanukah suddenly became a time to spend with family or friends, or at the very least, a time to go somewhere special. Along with the caramel donuts that started popping up everywhere, I also kept hearing the refrain: “What are you doing for Shabbos Chanukah?”

Now here’s a piece of trivia you’ll never have to use: The first family Chanukah party I attended was my in-laws’ family party the year I got engaged.

Now, years later, as Chanukah draws near, my calendar never fails to amaze me. During Chanukah, the little dots indicating engagements are all about… parties. Imagine that: little me, busy with parties. And you know when I really feel the tingle, the “is this for real?” feeling? At my mother’s party. She’s a Savta now who makes a Chanukah party, as good as any professional Bubby out there.

My husband rushes home from work and lights his menorah. My boys sway as they make their brachos with the lilt of their rebbe’s cadence and light each candle. We sing together and then we sit for a bit, perhaps open a present, spin dreidels, or I give out chocolate coins. And then we’re off to a Chanukah party! (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 620)


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