3 December, 1942
Zelik remembers it in detail, and the holidays it centered those first five years. Gitla does not, and knows only the rough wooden chanukkiah carved with a lick and a promise by Uncle Josek last year, finishing, just as he did, a day before we lit the first candle. She loves it, insisting in her delicate, yet determined way that she can still see his hands smoothing the edges as his thumbnail embossed the Star of David under the shammus.
Having lost more people by the age of four than I knew during my entire childhood, perhaps she can. I fight against any acknowledgment of my daughter’s mantic tinge; her claim on this as the last hanukka chills my bones far deeper than the hoary drifts of ashen Warsaw firn, and I would much rather think her theatrical than clairvoyant.
Thank God I do not see future — it is ataraxia I seek, and that lives only in shades past — and I pray the zeitgeist of my time does not end up matching the writing on the walls of this Ghetto: Verboten! Under penalty of death.
They took Rywka and Mendel this morning. The children, too, of course. As they shuffled down the stairs she passed me a small parcel and whispered, “A mentsh tracht und Gott lacht.”*
I don’t know what I expected to find wrapped in that bit of newsprint, but a semilunar slice of contraband halva would not have been on any list. Rywka must have been saving this for months, maybe longer, and planning to share it out amongst the children over the holiday.
Well, it will not go to waste.
Tonight we will light the candle either serendipity or thieving placed in Zelik’s crafty little hands and both of my children will know the sticky, sapid sensation a little slice of sweetness can bring, even here, even now. There are so many fewer to share, so they will gorge and not leave a morsel.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyemanu, vehigi-anu laz’man hazeh.**
We are alive. My little man, Zelik, too thin, too mean, a rabid fox of a child which is why I still have him. My Gitla, frail, all dark eyes and nightmares. Me, their mother, offering havla as we once again celebrate the first night of the Festival of Lights, the miracle of oil.
For tonight, though … Happy Hanukka.
I wonder why it is that only Passover prompts the wish, “Next year in Jerusalem”?
*A person plans and God laughs.
**Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us in life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.
*** End of the world.
(This is another brain exercise for the Answers.com writing challenge. The “must use and link words” are: a lick and a promise, ataraxia, contraband, halva, mantic, praxis, sapid, semilunar, serendipity and zeitgeist. I added a few of my own for the linky bit, just for drill.)