Fifth Day of Hanukkah
Sunday morning, 9 a.m.: I awake to a knock on my door. “I have some bad news, Carolyn.” It was my housemate Claire. For months, I’ve been afraid that the house I live in and love would finally sell. In my adult life, I’ve moved more times than the Israelites; I haven’t been kicked out of Eygpt, but I might hold the record for the most sublets and shares in New York and California. “This is it,” I thought to myself, “I’m going to have to move again.”
But the news was of a different kind. “Katie and I aren’t going to be able to go to the Hanukkah party with you today,” Claire said. “We just got tickets to a reading of David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice.“
“NO! I want to go to too!” I said in my best imitation of a British accent. “I want to go to the David Sedaris reading right away!” mimicking Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka.
The three of us were supposed to attend the “Hanukkah Happening” at Temple Emanuel, home to a (now Reform) congregation for the past 156 years. I’d never been to a Hanukkah party before and was reluctant to go alone. “Do you think they’ll let me in?” I asked Claire. “It’s not like they’re going to ask you at the door if you’re last name is Rosenberg,” Claire said. “I think the fact that you’re not Jewish is actually the exciting part about it; you’re curious about the faith. And you kind of look Jewish, so wear your Gilda Live! T-shirt and go with it.”
Sunday afternoon, 2 p.m.: Standing outside Temple Emanuel, it’s freezing and I think about going back home. Is this really okay? Can I boldly go where no Catholic comic has gone before? I reluctantly walk inside the temple, feeling like I’m crashing a party I was not invited to. After making a small donation, my hand is marked with the letter C. I felt like Navin Johnson, Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, when he recognizes his last name in the phone book. “How did you know my name started with a C?” I asked. “The ‘C’ is for Chanukah, you shmendrik,” the doorman said in reply. (I added the “shmendrik” here.) The floodgates to the Hanukkah Happening opened before me, and I was all in.
I decided to just tell somebody the truth — that I was writing an eight-day Hanukkah blog for Busted Halo — and hope that that person would have mercy. Thankfully, Rachel, a woman working at one of the craft booths, did. “You have to remember that Hanukkah isn’t our most important holiday,” she said. “It just happens to fall during the Christmas season so people assume that it is.” She explained that Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are high holidays, as is Passover.
“What is the most important thing I should do while I’m here? I asked. “Eat latkes!” she said. “I tried making them the other night,” I reluctantly admitted. “They’re very easy to make,” she said. “Did you not have a recipe?” “I had a recipe,” I said. “I’m just totally inept at cooking.” Rachel led me to the latkes, which were delicious. “What would be the second most favored Hanukkah dish?” I asked her. “Donuts,” she said. “Definitely donuts.”
“Because of the oil,” we both said in unison. I was learning.
I walked around the hafla, thinking how similar it was, really, to the annual church bazaars of my youth: games with prizes; homemade crafts for sale; a piano player; hyper kids running around while screaming for more sugar. Finally, I learned how to play Spin the Dreidel. Rachel’s daughter handed me a gold top with the word NUN on it.
“Of course I would get the one that says “Nun,” I said. “It means nun as in ‘nothing,'” Rachel said, and explained that “if you look closely at the dreidel, you’ll see that each of its four sides is decorated with a different Hebrew letter: nun, gimel, hey, and shin — which all stand for the Hebrew phrase meaning, “A great miracle happened there.”