לדור ודור (“From Generation to Generation”)

I grew up in a household with two non-observant (culturally) Jewish parents, but that didn’t stop us from singing Christmas carols or even having a Christmas tree. To say I was a bit confused about religious holidays as a kid is probably an understatement: I was totally lost!  As I got older, I came to realize that Jews have an innate need to be part of the “feeling” of the Christmas holiday season.  I think this is part of the reason that Chanukah, one of the least important Jewish holidays, has become a fixture of American holiday culture.  Perhaps it also explains Jews’ uneasy relationship with Chanukah. But to only look this far in understanding Jews’ relationship to holidays is to miss what I believe is the most important part of the equation: the celebration of family and the need to remember those who have come before us.

My grandfather, Jacob, fled Russia during the violent and bloody pogroms of the early 20th Century.  The pogroms were massacres by the Russian authorities of helpless villages, mostly Jewish. Men, woman, and children were slaughtered without warning as the Russian’s “purged” the countryside of schtettels (Jewish villages).  As a boy, Jacob watched as his sister and father were murdered attempting to flee.  Jacob made it to the United States, where he graduated at the top of his class from pharmacy school and later opened his own pharmacy in New York City. Quite amazing, really, for a teenager who spoke no English when he arrived at Ellis Island (although he spoke Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish fluently).

ChanukiahWhen Jacob left Russia, he and his surviving family carried next to nothing with them.  But there are a few artifacts that survived, including a pair of silver candlesticks used for Sabbath prayers, a silver Sabbath cup, and a menorah.  That’s right.  A menorah: the symbol most people associate with Chanukah.  But not the kind of menorah you are probably used to seeing that looks like a candelabra—this menorah is a set of 8 metal chairs (tiny, doll-sized seats) with wells where the cushion would be.  These wells were filled with oil and the oil was lit over the 8 days of the holiday.  I am lucky enough to be the “keeper” of all these artifacts for the next generation.  Which brings me to what I’ve come to understand is the true purpose of Chanukah—of any holiday, really—for Jewish families.  L’dor vador.  “From generation to generation.”

kiddish cupWhen I see that ancient Chanukiah (another word for menorah), when I see the candlesticks with their dents and wobbly bases, and when we use that silver cup, I remember those who have gone before me—those men and women without whom I wouldn’t be here, let alone my children.  Men like Jacob, who overcame terrible circumstances so that I could live a better life here in the United States.  Sometimes I forget I’m only a second generation American.  Sometimes I forget what sacrifices my ancestors made so that I could live the full and happy life I do.  That’s l’dor vador.  The shoulders I stand upon.  The menorah is my connection to past generations, as are the holidays.

Holidays are a time to remember and be thankful.  Sure, Jews embrace Chanukah in part because Christmas is such a huge part of American culture.  We don’t want our children to feel left out.  We sing, we light the candles, and we give our children gifts.  But celebrating Chanukah or any holiday is a way to reconnect with our past and remember.  A way to pass memories and hope from generation to generation.

So this holiday season, I’ll remember Jacob when I light the candles with the son I named for him. Some day my Jacob’s generation will remember mine. Each holiday is a reason to celebrate and to remember. -Shira

About The Author:

Shira Anthony was a professional opera singer in her last incarnation, performing roles in such operas as ToscaPagliacci, and La Traviata, among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle.

Shira is married with two children and two insane dogs, and when she’s not writing, she is usually in a courtroom trying to make the world safer for children. When she’s not working, she can be found aboard a 35’ catamaran at the Carolina coast with her favorite sexy captain at the wheel.

Shira’s Blue Notes Series of classical music themed gay romances was named one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Word’s “Best Series of 2012,” and The Melody Thief was named one of the “Best Novels in a Series of 2012.” The Melody Thief also received an honorable mention, “One Perfect Score” at the 2012 Rainbow Awards.

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E-mail: shiraanthony@hotmail.com