A second look at the Chanukah candles

From the other side of the bench


The sight of 81 candles shining from our dining room window out to the cold winter night of Columbus, Ohio was indeed a sight to be seen. And so every year on the eighth night of Chanukah after my father would light the menorah, all of us eight children would light ours. Afterwards, we would all trek outside and look from the outside in, upon the nine menorahs, and snap the annual picture.

Years later the grandchildren would come and light as well. The light of one generation was transmitted to another. My mother would fry up a batch of irregularly shaped latkes and together with the sufganiot that our cousins from Israel showed us how to make, we would celebrate the holiday in warmth and joy.

Kvitlach was too advanced for us youngins, so we busied ourselves with an old-fashioned game of dreidel. To this day I’m still not sure of what exactly one gets when he spins a nun, gimmel, hey or shin. It didn’t matter back then either; no matter how it landed Dad made sure that each of us got our share of the chocolate Chanukah gelt booty.

The gifts were interspersed and represented a cross of things that we needed and wanted. Coupons for movies or bowling, clothes, books, scarfs and sometimes things as magical as a football helmet. I think I wore it for eight days straight and if I could find it I would wear it now. A football helmet to a 10-year-old was, in my estimation, the greatest gift ever.

When the eight of us started fanning out across the country to continue our Jewish education, returning for Chanukah vacation made the festival of lights so much brighter. As we got older Chanukah became the time where we understood the gift of education as opposed to being educated about gifts.

So the dreidel spins each year because one never gets too old to play that game and we look each year to perhaps a new spin on the festival itself. Chanukah is the only festival in the Jewish calendar that occurs in two different Hebrew months. It begins in the month of Kislev and concludes in the month of Teves. No other holiday has that feature. Chanukah spans two months, two time frames, to impart the notion that education often requires a second look and that nothing is as it seems.

My gift to you this year is a story I heard from a reader of my columns, the story of a second look.

A local woman dropped off her kids at school as she did every morning and couldn’t help notice a woman standing outside the school building with what appeared to be a menacing dog. The woman and the dog were there almost every day and most, if not all, of the schoolchildren were afraid of the dog and detoured around it. One day, while dropping off her children the woman could no longer contain her anger and frustration. You’ll excuse the pun, but from her minivan she barked at the dog-owner: “Do you really have to bring that dog every morning? Can’t you leave it at home? Don’t you see how all the children are afraid of it?”

As this woman sat in her car yelling at the dog and its owner, she was incredulous at the response. Instead of offering an explanation, or better yet, vacating the premises, the dog-owner just stood there staring back at the woman in the minivan smiling in a sort of mocking way.

Later that night the woman returned home and discussed the entire incident with her husband. “I don’t know what eats me up more, that she brings the dog and scares children or that she just stared at me and mocked me when I told her to take the dog home,” the woman asked her husband.

As fate would have it the woman and the infamous dog-owner stood on line next to each other at parent-teacher conferences. Lady number two had the temerity to bring the dog into the school building. Rather than confront her with anger, Mrs. minivan decided to use another tactic: I’ll kill her with kindness, she said to herself. With all the fake sincerity she could muster, the woman tapped the dog-owner on the shoulder and said “What a beautiful dog. What’s her name?”

The second lady turned around and scribbled on a piece of paper. On the piece of paper were words that jumped out at the first lady and pierced her heart.

“I am sorry, I am deaf,” the woman wrote on the paper. “If you want to tell me something could you please write it on the back of this paper?”

A closer look at this woman revealed thick hearing aides in both ears. It was then that the woman realized that the deaf woman with the dog had never heard her original words of rebuke. It was then that she realized that the deaf lady wasn’t glaring back at her with a mocking smile. She had never heard the now-clearly inappropriate free advice offered by the first lady. The smile that was once interpreted as mocking her was rather the innocent smile of a woman struggling to survive.

A second look at the candles is often more enlightening.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at ds@lawofficesm.com