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hanukkah question

I’m surprised it didn’t happen before the sixth night.

After we’d lit the candles, said the prayer and opened the gifts last night, Sophie split, but Annabelle stood in the kitchen watching the candles (in a rather motley display, I have to confess, with the menorah decoratively placed on the Formica, just out of reach of the toaster oven) and asked the question I’d been waiting for but still had no answer to.

“Mommy, do the words of the prayer mean something in English?”

Both girls love to get really serious and cover their eyes when we say the prayer (something I’ve only seen our 11 year old friend Anna and the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” do, but it’s cute) and Annabelle’s been working to memorize the Hebrew words. Of course she was going to ask what they mean.

I’m pretty sure we don’t do Hanukkah exactly right. I always say the prayer over the Sabbath candles, but switch out Shabbat for Hanukkah. You can get fancier. Do the words mean anything? Damned if I know, but I do know the translation, which I shared with Annabelle: 

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has commanded us to light the the Hanukkah candles.

I said it all in a rush, then I stopped and looked at Annabelle, who had announced she did not believe in God when she was, oh, I think 3.

(And command? The closest anyone’s come in our house to commanding anyone to do anything recently was the other day when I told Annabelle to pick up the innards of the dog toy the puppy had ripped out, in exchange for a dollar. “I already have lots of dollars,” my typically sweet girl scoffed, walking away.  For better or worse, hierarchies aren’t a big thing in our house.)

Annabelle looked at me. Before she could say anything, I said, “You know, lots of people believe there’s a God, a guy with white hair sitting up there making all the decisions and telling people what to do. I know we don’t. There’s a lot of stuff about being Jewish we don’t believe.”

“But there are some things about being Jewish that we do believe, right?” Annabelle asked.

“Yes,” I answered, wracking my brain.

Luckily, and oddly, she didn’t ask for specifics. She went back to staring at the lights, then it was time to eat dinner.

There are two more nights of Hanukkah left; I don’t think I’m getting out of Hanukkah this year without more questions.

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4 Responses to “The Meaning of Hanukkah — And, for that Matter, Everything Else.”

  1. (like button clicked)

  2. Jewish things you believe in? Bagels, latkes, kugel, hamentashen… The idea of a minyan, that people are more powerful in a group then alone. The idea of a mitzvah, that we benefit from doing good deeds. The idea of questioning ideas.

  3. I’d say send Annabelle to talk to Elaine as “the answerer of all hard questions”. Then get back to baking. :D

  4. One of my kids announced she didn’t believe in God the same week she started Hebrew School…and mentioned not wanting to share with “brown people.” So, I win with my racist atheist.
    Happy Hanukkah!

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