December 29, 2011
Germany’s First Lights
Every year I spend one night of Chanukah with my grandmother who is eighty-nine years old. And every year it seems that I manage to leave this poor woman in tears. The last time I showed up at my Bubby’s house for Chanukah I forgot to close the oven door when I took out the latkes, which caused her to accidentally trip and fall in the kitchen leaving her with a bruised face in a shade of blue not entirely dissimilar to those little blue candles we had just lit on our Menorah.
This year I was extra cautious in the kitchen and we made through dinner, draidel playing, and even the X-Factor without incident.
And just as I thought I had cleared through all the hurtles, it happened. As if this holiday season of Chava blunders should be any different than the last.
Bubby handed me the matches and said “You are the oldest, here you light.” I lit the match and touched the blue wick that stood in the tall silver menorah. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a second smaller menorah with orange candles set up and proceeded to light it as well. Just as the flame hit the orange wick, my grandmother shouted “NO NO, NOT THAT ONE!” With fear and intimidation, I immediately blew it out, trying my best to clean up the candle that now had the black scar of a charred fragile wick.
Oh the shame and guilt I felt for lighting my grandmother’s coveted antique fifty-year-old candles, which she had managed to display so flawlessly for an entire jubilee of time.
As I gazed at my grandmother now welling with tears, it became evident that this menorah and those precious candles I almost singed to oblivion had a unique and precious story attached to her past.
The orange candles that arrived from Newburgh, New York were clearly the perfect choice. My grandmother placed the orange candles inside the Menorah and observed them to be the perfect fit as if the Menorah was made especially for them. With the joy of their Jewish pride brimming, my grandparents lit their menorah in the window that year. To their surprise, several German townspeople began lingering outside my grandparent’s front lawn. With less than a decade separating my Jewish grandparents from the ashes of Auschwitz that still permeated the German soil, fear began to creep inside them. Just to be safe, an officer was called to stand guard of their home as the lights burned. Men and women from all across the town came to view the lights. When asked by the officer why they insisted on lingering in front of my Bubby’s home, a German neighbor replied – “It has been at least fifteen years since our small town has seen the lights. It’s nice to have them back.” Fifteen hundred Jews were killed in this small village of Germany, and yet less than seven years later, this little unassuming Menorah became the first Chanukiah to illuminate the vast darkness the Nazis left in their aftermath.