26 December 2005

The second candle is lit, and two lights burn in the sliding glass door overlooking the car park.

Tonight as I lit the candles, and said the prayers-traditional and private-I was struck by two simultaneous thoughts.

I thought, in the exact same moment, of a story I heard years ago and also of the reason the U.S. was populated by Europeans back in the 1600's.

The story I was told was of the rabbi fleeing Nazi Poland with his family, and the Torah, on the eighth night of Hanukkah.

Nazis were everywhere, but the young rabbi knew he must light the candles. The menorah had been left behind in the rush to escape on the false papers the family had been blessed with but somehow the rabbi had the candles in his coat pocket. With trembling hands-his surviving child relates the story as a years older adult, so the details are to be relied upon as accurate-the papa uses the shimash to drip a bit of wax in eight spots along the train window rail and affixes the eight candles in a line. He begins the prayers quietly, and the children hold their breaths as Nazi soldiers board the train and begin inspecting the compartments...

Then the electricity all over the depot and on the train shuts off, and the only light anywhere is from the Jewish family's makeshift menorah on the window rail. (Personally, here I think God was speaking!)

The family has just finished the prayers and songs when the SS officer in charge enters the compartment, quietly asks the rabbi to move to the next seat, and then sits down in Papa's former seat next to the glowing candles. He takes some papers out of his valise and uses the candle light to do his paperwork.

The family waits in an agony of fear to be ordered to show their papers; the children look at the floor, Mama clutches her husband's coat so hard that her son tells us that her hand was sore for days after.

But Papa sits as calmly as the paper-working SS officer, his face placid and serene, his eyes steady out the window just above the lit candles.

The officer stays in the compartment with the Jewish family until the required half hour is up (the menorah is to remain lit for one half an hour beginning just after sundown); within a heartbeat of the time expiring the German rises to his feet, nods to Mama and Papa, waves off his underling who has begun to ask for the family's papers, and leaves the compartment.

No sooner do his boots carry him into the corridor but the electricity is restored and Papa hurriedly blows out the candles and puts them back into his coat pocket.

The country I live in was colonized back in the 1600's by people fleeing religious persecution. They came here hoping to find freedom-religious freedom.

The people of Israel, the Jews, after a winning a wonderful victory against religious persecution, went to the Temple to reconsecrate it after the pollution inflicted by the Greco-Syrians. When the one small measure of oil, ordinarily only enough to light the lamp for one day, lasted a miraculous eight, the Lord commanded that Israel always remember when they were delivered into religious freedom and burn lights in public commemoration every year on the anniversary.

'Nuff said?

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