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Jewish World Review
Dec. 15, 2004
/ 3 Teves, 5764
Chanukkah tradition lives in the window
A Midwest gentile reflects on her life-long encounter with the Festival of Lights
Way back in the fifth grade, long, long ago, when the dinosaurs roamed and before everyone got all thin-skinned and put their attorneys on speed dial, we sang Chanukkah songs in my public school:
"Chanukkah, oh Chanukkah/Come light the menorah/Let's have a party/We'll all dance the hora/Gather 'round the table/We'll give you a treat/Dreidels to play with and latkes to eat ."
I went to grade school with kids with last names like Goldstein, Bloomberg and Fishman. When Miss Cooley, the most ancient teacher of music in the history of the world (some believed her to be 125, but I personally thought that estimate was low), taught us "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah" it was as though she had pulled back a curtain of mystery and given us a peek into the lives and traditions of our Jewish classmates.
"And while we are playing/The candles are burning low/One for each night/They shed a sweet light/To remind us of days long ago."
When Miss Cooley blew into that pitch harp, you sat up straight, slammed both feet flat on the floor and breathed from your diaphragm, wherever that was. While Miss Cooley was demanding, she never demanded anyone sing the holiday songs. If the kids from Christian homes didn't want to sing the Chanukkah songs, they didn't have to, and if the kids from Jewish homes didn't want to sing the Christmas carols, they didn't have to.
Miss Cooley wasn't indoctrinating, she was teaching culture and history through the language of song. Miss Cooley didn't know about the ACLU back then, and the ACLU didn't know about her. If they had known each other, I would have bet my sack lunch on Miss Cooley and the upright piano she rolled through the halls at 80 mph.
Today, my family lives in a neighborhood that is close to two of the city's synagogues. The family that lives behind us is Jewish. They have twin girls close in age to our two girls. The girls have grown up together and in some ways are like sisters.
We can see into one another's kitchen windows, this Jewish family and ours.
On Friday nights we often see a two candles glowing, a reminder that the Jewish Sabbath has begun. And every December, we see the candles burning on their menorah.
And each year, sometime between Chanukkah and Christmas, late at night, because that is when girls do their best socializing, our girls flip on our back light and the neighbor girls flip on their back light; they all grab their jackets and run to the pine trees that separate our yards. They stand beneath the boughs, giggle in the dark, exchange small gifts and ask: "How was your Chanukkah?" "How was your Christmas?"
As a Christian, there is a quiet reassurance in knowing the Hebrew traditions are being passed to another generation, for the roots of the Christian faith are forever intertwined with the Jewish faith. Without the Jews there would have been no Joseph, no Mary, and no baby boy born in a manger stall.
It may be an unusual Christmas tradition, but it has become one of mine: to enjoy the candlelight of my neighbors' menorah, to reflect on the Jewish roots of my Christian faith, and to hum a few bars of "Chanukkah, Oh Chanukkah" in a manner that would make Miss Cooley proud.
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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of , most recently, "Pass the Faith, Please" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) and I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids To comment, please click here.
© 2004, Lori Borgman