Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll draws FIVE LESSONS FROM CHANUKAH. She writes:

Last night was the first night of Chanukah. We set out all our menorahs and lit the one candle with the “chamash” or helper candle in each one. It looked pretty festive, but I always make my Chanukah Party on the seventh or eighth night when it’s a veritable bonfire – five menorahs with 9 candles apiece! Quite glorious.

There is not room here to tell the whole story behind Chanukah, so you should probably (spit!) Google it or otherwise research it. But for those without the time or inclination to do so, here is a t-shirt I own: “Imagine if your cellphone was at 10 percent but lasted for 8 days! Now you understand Chanukah.”

OR, as the old saw goes: “They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat!” And, oy, such eating! Fried Potato Pancakes (Latkes) with Applesauce and/or Sour Cream. And more commonly in Israel – Jelly doughnuts! The idea is stuff fried in oil. Try hard not to BE the person making or frying the latkes because it shouldn’t happen to a dog.

This is when the whole Downton Abbey deal looks attractive with a houseful of servants, even though at least half of them have complicated personal problems. First, you have to grate the potatoes with the fine holes on the metal grater, being careful to keep knuckle scrapings to a minimum. Then the dang potatoes will turn an unappetizing grey the second your back is turned unless you grate them directly into ice water. Then you fry them and keep them warm in the oven while you make and fry more because people will generally eat between many and lots. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Your kitchen will smell like oil and onions for several days. Luckily, you have made the brisket and several side dishes, appetizers and desserts days ahead.

I believe that Christians should also celebrate Chanukah because monotheism in general was hanging by a slim thread before the Maccabees retook the Temple and relit the oil.

There’s a great story that I shared in the comments section, but which probably only got seen by a relative handful of people, so I will repeat it here. The story is many years old, so it definitely did not involve any recent President.

An unnamed Orthodox Rabbi was invited to the White House occupied by an unnamed President to light the menorah. Unfortunately, the President had chosen the first night. The Rabbi – who I assure you was not a bearded woman shrieking for a ceasefire in response to whatever terrorist attack was then current – lit the chamash and the First Night Candle. And the President thought it did not make a very impressive photo opportunity with one puny candle and instructed him to light ALL of them. Naturally, he could not comply. But that leads us into our first Chanukah Lesson: Even a little light is a whole lot better than none.

As it happens, I am writing this column more or less in the dark. Why, you ask. Well, because five years ago, give or take, the ceiling fixture in my office ceased to do its one job – which was to illuminate. Of course, we assumed at first it was the bulb. (Many years ago we flunk-outs in Home Handyman School once had actually called an electrician friend over – and it turned out to BE a burnt out bulb… fool me once…mortify me forever…at least I made him dinner.) Anyway, we currently have high ceilings, but The Paranoid Texan Next Door, who is not too paranoid to stand on a high extension ladder (unlike some people I could name…) took down the fixture with great care and replaced the bulbs and we threw the switch and…NUTHIN’.

Holy Disappointment, Rocky! The ceiling fan in the same fixture works fine. So clearly we need to get an electrician in. And I intend to, any minute now. Meantime, let’s all resolve to try our very hardest to “keep on the sunny side of life” and also to bring as much light into the world as we can. Both are difficult in the current political climate.

Chanukah Lesson #2: After several days, it is fun to light the five or six candles and make mental bets on which one will burn the longest. Almost certainly you will be wrong! Even though the candles are all exactly the same size and all come from the same box. However, Quality Control in both Shabbos candles and Chanukah candles has never been the highest. Sometimes a candle will just kind of disintegrate from a weird wick. Another might burn halfway down quickly and then hang in there till the very end. So you never know how long any one candle is going to burn. It’s very deceptive.

Much like a family’s children. All from the same genetic pool, from the same “box” if you will. Some people start fast and burn out like comets. Some are late bloomers. Some just burn unremarkably but steadily. Some candles will even burn WAY down and then just exude a small flame in the melted wax that ultimately “wins” the contest. Some people will do everything they can to self-destruct, then hit bottom and self-correct and hang in there, bringing light and inspiration to everyone they know.

Chanukah Lesson #3: G. Gordon Liddy notwithstanding (RIP you wacky but loyal soldier!), you cannot hold your hand OVER even a single candle, let alone 8 in a row, for even a second. And it is astonishing how high you have to put your hand before you do not feel the extreme heat. Is this to remind us of loved ones who keep us “warm” with their intellectual heat, their creative or artistic brilliance, their beauty, or even just their human kindness?

Or is it an entirely different takeaway lesson to our enemies? “We may look warm and cozy, but put your hand over us to snuff us out, and you will get burned.” The Torah is not without a number of times where it says more elegantly and spiritually, but basically boiling down to FAFO: [Fool] Around, Find Out. As the great Bard of Minnesota, Bob Dylan, put it lyrically: “God said you can do anything you want, Abe, but the next time you see Me comin’, you better run.”

I don’t know – I kind of like both lessons…

Chanukah Lesson #4: Lighting candles or otherwise making light is a characteristic of almost all religious celebrations near the Winter Solstice, including Christmas, of course, in spades! Even pagan ones. And not without reason. When it’s dark when you get up in the morning and dark shortly after supper (for many people, dark on the way home from work), it can be depressing and enervating. We welcome any glimmer of light.

On Saturday night in our Gated Geezerville, there were luminaria in a designated neighborhood (we take turns) and most of the homes on those streets were decorated. People had tables at the end of their driveways with cookies, candies, and a wide variety of adult beverages to share with stoppers-by. It was a bit brisk by Arizona standards (high 40s) and I have to turn in my Former Minnesotan Card now because I actually wore gloves! In the Olden Days in Minnesota, when it was 47 in November or April, we would joyously romp about in shirtsleeves.

There were many beautifully decorated homes with fun lights and Christmas balls on cacti. Once in Minnesota, our Rabbi’s littlest girl wondered at the yuge displays of Christmas lights on houses and was told that those neighbors were Christians. Seeing a particularly impressive display on one, she exclaimed, “Boy, THEY must be REALLY Christian!”

Chanukah Lesson #5: Even though the reason for the holiday is to celebrate the oil burning miraculously for eight days, the mitzvah (commandment) is to recite the blessings, light the menorah, and then just to look at the candles. One is not supposed to read by them or do anything else useful by them that requires light. They really only last for about 45 minutes and it is a good lesson for all of us to just relax, do nothing, and commune with our God or our families.

If some of you are as “Type A” as the famous novelist Max Cossack (Type A+++), it is next to impossible to do “nothing” for 45 minutes. Often I will see numbers like :19 on the microwave. That means that Max has attempted to reheat his coffee there but could not wait as unbearably long as the 30-second ding. So he has hit “End” in a daily act of premature ejection after just eleven seconds. Max has things to do, things to think about, obscure documentaries to watch, words to write, music to practice, Hebrew to study, books to read! But I know he joins me in wishing all our Jewish readers a Blessed and Joyous Chanukah. Chag Sameach. Am Yisrael Chai!

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