Jewish Journal


December 10, 2009

HANUKKAH—Let’s CALL the whole thing off!!



In acting school, you learn all sorts of techniques. But nothing really prepared me for the phone call I was about to make. Determined to get an audition that was supposedly “closed to the public”, I saw no choice but to call the producer and convince him it was worth his while to invite me to audition. I had to make this call before the Hanukkah vacation rush when he might go on vacation.

In business, this is called “Cold Calling”. In acting, this is called “potential suicide”, because many “big shots” of the industry don’t appreciate actors using unconventional methods to get their foot in the door. But I felt the casting directors would WANT to see me, so it was my responsibility to break down those doors.

I read somewhere that phone solicitors go through dozens (hundreds?) of “cold calls” to just get one successful sale. Unfortunately, I didn’t have hundreds of numbers to practice on. Just one. And I heard he wasn’t very nice guy.

So, after spending the past two days mentally preparing myself for the conversation (You’d be surprised at how many ways you can say “Hi, my name is Tiferet…), I was disappointed to learn that—when it came to actually calling – my fingers had a mind of their own and “did the walking” away from the phone.  I was totally procrastinating. I volunteered to babysit my niece for an hour (any hour), agreed to go shopping with each of my eight siblings (only two took me up on it), and tried to stay out of my apartment as much as possible (which accounts for this blistering cold). Anything to buy me a little extra time to get my thoughts together.

“How about we play “Connect the Dots”? Or maybe we can do a puzzle together?” I plead with my niece, determined to avoid a replay of her headlong smash into the piano leg which left a red mark on her adorable cheek. I figured I could tell my sister I had kissed her there.

“Wheeee! I’m a dreidle!” she shouts in delight, as she spins herself around the living room. Round and round she goes and where she lands….“Nes Gadol Haya…“ she shrieks excitedly just twirling headlong towards the far wall. I chase after her trying to guard her with a sofa pillow to cushion her next collision. Seeing the pillow in front of her she turns and slams herself against my knee.

“Ouch!” I cry, empathizing with the sound of her collision with my knee. She cries for a second, then thinks better of it, and careens around the room looking for new dreidle adventures.

Who on earth made up the ridiculous tradition of spinning dreidles on Hanukkah in the first place? I don’t remember any mention of it in the Hanukkah story.

I watch as my niece abruptly stops and turns a pale shade of green. “Tiferet, I’m dizzy,” she says, and she sways towards me like a drunken midget sailor.

Great! I mumble under my breath, as she throws-up the ice cream, cookies, sufganiyot (Israeli doughnuts), and assorted M&Ms that seemed not to have melted in her mouth. She starts to shriek as I scoop her up in my arms and run to the bathroom. And we still have 8 more fundays of this.

For my niece, Hanukkah is all about fun. It’s a chance to trade in the celery sticks and high protein dinners for oil soaked latkes, and all sorts of goodies. And let’s not forget about the Hanukkah gelt (she won’t accept anything under 10 shekels), and of course, presents (she’s already asked me for a pet elephant—apparently hamsters are out of style).

But for those of us who need to maintain our day jobs and never experienced Hanukkah vacation as adults; for those of us who are spending the gelt instead of getting it; for those of us who gain 15 pounds over the holiday just smelling the sufganiyot—WHAT’S THE BIG ATTRACTION?

That’s it! I say to myself. Life’s too short (and Hanukkah’s too long!)! So, after equipping my energetic 3-year-old niece with a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and tying a small garbage bag around her waist just in case of up-chug emergencies, I pick up my cell phone and prepare to dial The Producer. But once again, I’m too scared to make the phone call. I’m afraid he’ll hang up on me, or get upset with me for calling him directly.

It’ll take nothing short of a miracle for me to finally make this phone call, I think to myself.

That’s when I realize what Hanukkah has going for it. Miracles. 8 days worth.

After the Greeks defiled the Holy Sanctuary, God made a miracle and saved the Jews at the last minute, and he gave them the miracle of finding pure oil when everything was profaned, and allowing the oil to burn for 8 days when there was only enough oil for one day, and….

But that was then. I get the feeling that back then God was in a much more miraculous mood.

How can modern men and women recognize miracles today? We all hope and pray for miracles, but when do we actually get to see them?

CRASH!!!  My niece has twirled herself into the bookcase.

Here we go again, I think to myself, prepared to wedge her out from under the display of books that have toppled over her. But surprisingly, she shoves my helpful hand away, and digs herself out independently.

“I can do it by myself,” she says adamantly. “I’m a big girl!” and goes spinning away (I check to see that the garbage bag is still securely tied to her).

I’m reminded of something interesting I recently read. Although I know it’s a custom for Jews not to work during the first half hour of candle-lighting, I was surprised to learn that a specific emphasis is placed on the women being idle, and that there’s even a custom that women don’t work on the first and last day of Hanukkah.

Here’s an excerpt from THE BOOK OF OUR HERITAGE, by Eliyahu Kitov:

“The reason for particular emphasis of Chanukah observance on the part of women, is that a harsh decree had then been issued against the daughters of Israel: The Greeks ordained that every girl who was to be married was to be brought first to the Greek ruler.

Additionally, the miracle itself came about through the heroism of a woman. The daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol was especially beautiful, and the Greek tyrant king desired her. She pretended to acquiesce, came to him, and fed him cheese dishes until he became thirsty. Then she gave him wine to quench his thirst, and he became intoxicated and fell asleep, whereupon she beheaded him. She brought his head to Jerusalem, and when the enemy commanders saw what had happened, they fled.”

So, I discovered the root of “wine and cheese” parties, as well as the fact that a major heroine of the Hanukkah story was a girl.

She must have been terrified. How did she have the courage to go through with such a dangerous plan? Had she failed, no doubt she would have been killed. Where did she find the inner strength and resources to kill the most powerful man in the country?

“Nes Gadol Haya PPPOOOHHH!!” my niece shouts gaily, the Hebrew words for A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE, just as she crashes through the sliding door, her helmet shattering the glass to pieces. Oblivious to both the damage and danger, she quickly brushes herself off and resumes running around while I, mouth agap, keep looking for the blood that should be spurting from her, or at least a slight hint of exhaustion.

Had I been such a stubborn daredevil at 3? Were all children so care-free, nonchalantly smashing through glass without giving it a second thought?

At what point in life do we lose the courage to hit an obstacle, get up, and keep going? When did we stop having faith that everything will turn out all right, and let the red-eyed worry monster take over to fill us with dread and worry about the things to come?

I’d like to say I figured it all out. But I still have no idea what spinning dreidles have to do with anything, or how to recognize a miracle when I see one. But what I DO realize is that if oil once burned hot for 8 days, making a cold call is small Latkes in comparison.

So instead of trying to imagine successfully calling the producer, I close my eyes and imagine being Yochanan’s daughter in that terrifying predicament. Here I am, forced into marrying a powerful, horrible man, and realizing that my only way out is to kill him. I feel my heart racing and my hands tremble with fear as I picture my fingers grip the knife and—-

I open my eyes and smile.

My phone call doesn’t seem quite so scary, or even all that life-altering anymore.

Here we go, I tell myself, taking a deep breath and finally dialing His number.

Al Hanisim…

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