by Bonnie Beth Chernin

Menorahs I Have Known

I had only one menorah in my life for my first 18 years. The blue chanukiah with brass candle holders in the shape of simple lamps that belonged to my parents. I don’t know how they came to own this menorah, but I welcomed its reliable appearance that marked our holiday tradition as much as my father’s latkes and my grandmother’s five dollar checks to all of us grandchildren.

But more menorahs have come into my life as I’ve moved through the stages of being a single adult, followed by marriage and motherhood.

A graceful pewter menorah, with purple glass at the base where the candle holders branched out, reminded me of my mother when I began celebrating Chanukah in my own apartment. I fell in love with the menorah at a local Judaica store. My mother adored glass, the lure of light seen in its reflection. When I saw the flickering candles shining in the menorah’s smooth purple disk, it brought back the insight into wonder my mother had shared with me.

That menorah was set aside the first year of my marriage when my husband brought his own, made of stone and lit with oil. Since for years I had faithfully used the blue square box of multicolored candles to bring light into December darkness, I was intrigued to use a menorah that featured a different lighting technique.

Although I have to admit, I was surprised to come home to see the menorah set up next to a bottle of olive oil and eight candle wicks.

“What’s with the olive oil?” I asked.

“To light the menorah,” my newly minted husband patiently explained.

Olive oil?

Somehow I had envisioned the dark lubricant used in cars as the source of fuel for the menorah, not the same oil I used on my daily salads. All those years at Hebrew School had never translated the lack of oil in the Temple as a shortage of olive oil. But as my husband poured the golden liquid into the small glass cups, I began to realize how farfetched it was to have attributed the holiday that professed “a great miracle happened there” to a petroleum shortage in Israel.

The next few years we used a silver menorah we had received as a wedding gift and went back to using the thin, short blue, red, yellow and green candles, and the lone white one that came in the box.

But these menorahs have all been nixed by the one my daughter made in pre-school from small pieces of blue tiles laid out in a haphazard line with hardware nuts as candle holders glued on top. We now have two more she’s made since, each with progressively better aligned tiles. Yet the first menorah she made is the one that seems to come out of the cupboard each year, its imperfection the very beauty that calls to us.

The menorah sits on the sill by the window of our seventh-floor apartment, far from ground level and any pedestrians walking by. But we continue to line the sill with silver foil and give the menorah its proper place by the window in the hope that others share the tenet I learned in college from a fellow student visiting New York for the first time— “when you’re next to a tall building, always look up, because you could discover a new sight.” And it just might be eight flickering lights offering their radiance.

Happy Chanukah!

© 2011 Lilith Magazine