The Ninth Candle

I really enjoy visiting my Orthodox Jewish friends during the holidays. I refer to my parents as Lox ‘n’ Bagel Jews because, for them, practicing Judaism revolved around attending secular humanist lectures at our temple and eating foods favored by other Members of the Tribe.

It feels fresh and especially sweet to me to take part in Jewish traditions that are carried out with great heart and respect.

Just a few weeks ago, I was a dinner guest at my friend’s Hanukah (or do you say Chanukka?) celebration. Each guest was allowed to light their own menorah. The latkes were homemade (not from Trader Joe’s) and philosophical repartee was flowing.

I’m so appreciative of how my hosts welcome friends into their home; how they encourage me to take part in the rituals without making me feel stupid or ashamed because I don’t speak Hebrew and am only loosely familiar with the prayers.

I loved watching the candles’ flames from my menorah blazing alongside of the lights from other menorahs.

When there was a break in the eating (Did I mention the hostess made jelly-filled donuts?), our table leader asked everyone if we would weigh in on our understanding of the significance of the holiday.

After invoking a favorite explanation from Austrian Jewish actor Theodore Bickel (“We won. They lost. Let’s eat!”), we went around the room contributing our own commentary on the significance of the historical events that spawned the celebration.

After sharing what we all learned in Sunday school, about how the a small band of Israeli soldiers, the Maccabees (think Special Forces), beat a larger and much better resourced army and how a small supply of oil that was meant to provide light for one day actually lasted for eight days, the host proposed that the primary theme of the holiday was little vs. big.

This compelled many around the table to draw parallels to the continued position of Israel, a country trying to survive in a world of much bigger Arab states. Many guests not only saw Israel as Little in a world of Big, they declared Israel to be GOOD amid a sea of EVIL

Some guests strongly condemned the US for not supporting Israel’s policy of building new developments in a geography, which could turn into a home for Palestinians.

A few guests, including me, were taken aback by how this celebration turned into a political forum.

One guest brought up that she was uncomfortable that dinner table talk turned in this direction. She also pointed out that we need to remember multiple sides to the situation, how the Palestinians have also occupied this space for many years and how important having a home is to them, something Israelis should certainly understand.

Before I left my friends’ house, I thanked the host for inviting me and expressed how moved I was by seeing the flames of the many menorahs. I thought about how, together, they formed one great light. I wanted the ritual of lighting one more flame each night to go on forever. I remember saying something about wanting to be the 9th candle.

In another nod to the theme of big and little, I was drawn to think about distinctions in size; how to any one individual, degree is not so important. I want to remember not to stop acting from my heart because I’m locked in to the idea that my actions alone are not significant.

I want to act from my heart in all things. My declaration came from wanting to add light in the world, no matter the amount.

In the following days, I kept thinking about big and little and how upset I was by the discussion turning political

It’s almost reflexive that a group of people, especially one with a history such as the Jews, would see the world as us vs. them. It’s understandable to be concerned with survival of your heritage.

I also think that everyone is being called on now to be BIGGER than they might have been in the past; to remember what we all have in common and think less in terms of us vs. them.

Don’t we all want our families to have a home?  Don’t we all want to pursue our individual talents and feel secure that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor?

I hope that Jews and non-Jews can move towards identifying with their BIGGER selves and with the whole of humanity.

Being able to celebrate your traditions and culture but not letting history confine you is no small thing.


  1. In your last sentence, you put into words something that has been floating around my brain now for some time. Thank You. LauraLee

  2. So beautiful, Debbie!

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