I have mismatched lights on my electric ḥanukkiyah. The shamash and seven other lights are textured art glass that flicker like a flame, but the eighth light is a plain white one that doesn’t flicker.
It looks funny, but I like it that way.
My first Chanukah after moving to Bakersfield six years ago, I was disappointed that there was so little Judaica in local stores. The Jewish community here is very small, and retailers don’t stock much merchandise for us.
I had several traditional menorahs, but my children were young at the time — ages 6 and 3 — and I was a little nervous about an open flame in the house. An electric one posed less of a fire hazard. Plus, I could put it in the window.
After several days of scouring local stores in vain, I threw up my hands and purchased a hanukkiyah in Los Angeles, an hour and a half drive south.
I was quite pleased with myself when I returned home with my prize. As my family was admiring it the day before the holiday, the kids asked to turn it on. I told them no, we couldn’t “light” the first light until sundown the next day.
I placed the ḥanukkiyah on the kitchen counter along with some dreidels I had purchased and told the kids not to touch it. Then I left the room for a moment to hide the chocolate gelt that my little ones had been eyeing greedily.
When I came back, I found the children sitting on breakfast bar stools with frightened, guilty expressions on their faces. I followed their gaze to the remnants of one of the “flames.” A small art glass light bulb was reduced to shattered shards. My son and daughter sat wide-eyed, bracing themselves.
You know how in very old cartoons, when characters become enraged their toes grow and throb red, and the swollen redness ascends the body to the head, and then steam comes out of the ears to the sound of a train whistle? My sister and I call that the “voom.”
I had a definite voom moment.
As the full weight of what had happened slowly sunk in, my blood pressure rose and I started yelling. I don’t mean a mildly stern chastising. I’m talking full-on, hand-on-hip, finger-wagging, neck-rolling explosion. “Look what you’ve done! Didn’t I tell you not to touch it? DIDN’T I???!!! Go to bed, NOW!!!”
They skulked off, heads hung low, in their little footie pajamas.
The image haunted me all night. Some mom I was, yelling at little kids. I had overreacted. It was only a stupid light bulb. I’d apologize in the morning. Cook a big breakfast to make it up to them.
The next day I rose early and headed toward the kitchen to prepare the mama guilt meal. Upon entering the room, I was startled with shouts of “Surprise!”
The ḥanukkiyah was on the counter where I’d left it, but whole again. The broken light had been replaced with a little white one that I immediately recognized as a bulb from the children’s nightlight. The one they howled for every night because they were afraid of the dark.
“We put it in after you went to sleep. We slept all night without it,” my daughter said beaming. “We weren’t scared at all. Were we?”
“No!” my son said shaking his head enthusiastically. “I wasn’t scared. Not even a little.”
The kids looked at me positively bursting with pride. “You like it?” my daughter asked.
My eyes welled up with tears, and I said, “Yes, baby, I like it a lot.”
Six years later, I still have a mismatched bulb in there. The original one burned out long ago, but I’ve deliberately used plain replacements over the years.
They remind me that Chanukah isn’t about presents or perfection or how fancy your menorah is. It’s about love, family and sacrificing for a greater good. About knowing that there may be dark times now, but brighter days are coming.
Courtenay Edelhart is a journalist, Reform Jew and single mother by choice via adoption. She lives in Bakersfield, California, with two children, an obnoxious Chihuahua, and assorted dying houseplants.
Header image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons