The last night of Chanukah was Wednesday, and now we have to put away our electric plastic window menorah.
I was a mixture of appalled and guilty when we bought it almost 15 years ago. An electric plastic menorah? With little orange Christmas-tree bulbs for the flames? How tacky! How Wal-Mart! How goyish!
But Becca was a little girl and we wanted more bright and shiny holiday geegaws around the house. So while we lit our lovely real-candle Chanukkiah in the kitchen over dinner, up went the electric plastic one in our living-room window. And now I love it.
I love that it looks right out on our street, from an elevated perch, so anyone can see it when they walk past at night. It is a little beacon of light in the winter darkness. It says, “This is a home. There is light here. There is love here. There is Judaism here.”
I loved it even more when I recently learned that the Talmud instructs us to display the menorah in a place where others can see it — next to the front door or in a window. (Except in times of danger or persecution, when it may be lit inside.)
Last week I wrote all those posts speculating on the Maccabees and the historical meaning of Chanukah. I didn’t have a chance to mention one central aspect of Chanukah, which has nothing to do with its historical narrative.
Like solstice, Christmas, Diwali and Kwanzaa, it’s a festival of light at the darkest time of the year. In all of these celebrations, light signifies hope, joy, love, faith at a time when we might otherwise lean to the dark and hopeless.
So I feel really sad today that we need to box up our tacky plastic electric menorah and pack it away for another year. I wish we could keep it in the window for the rest of December, while all the Christmas lights remain up. But then it wouldn’t really be a Chanukkiah.
So I’ll console myself with another reference to light.
Last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend an absolutely wonderful concert by Leonard Cohen at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. At 76, Cohen has been touring for something like two years straight. He performed for three and a half hours with grace, style, humor and intimacy. (And his fedora.)
He was welcomed with a standing ovation, but not the kind of standing ovation that a Springsteen or Bono would get — not a “Yeah! Let’s rock!” ovation, but an intimate embrace, a tribute, a thank-you to someone who had moved you in the deepest places of your heart. (Who touched your perfect body with his mind?)
There’s a lyric from Anthem, one of the songs he performed, that goes:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We are all human and profoundly flawed. But may the light continue to stream in through those cracks for all of us, all winter, long after the Chanukkiot and Christmas bulbs are packed away.