In 2007, I was in the middle of my Judaic study for conversion. I had been to very few Shabbat services in the synagogue. My first full service was on Hanukkah Shabbat. That particular week services were done “in the round” and I remember being so excited to celebrate two holidays in one night. My husband warned me not to get my hopes up, “Hanukkah isn’t a big deal, you’ll barely notice.” I remember the service was beautiful. The cantor’s voice was captivating and even made me forget how intimidating the Hebrew was.
I waited, and waited and still no mention of Hanukkah. The torah portion touched on the story a little but there were no bells or whistles. There was no jubilation. At the end of the services a Hanukiah was lit and they gave everyone with a December birthday a chocolate bar. This concluded the service.
I was bummed. That was it?
If I were considering giving up Christmas, I had hoped to take comfort in the fact that at least there was SOME Jewish holiday in December that I could celebrate with enthusiasm. But the minor role that Hanukkah plays in the Jewish calendar was never more apparent than on that night.
I remember when our Rabbi talked about Jewish holidays he said that his favorite holiday was Shabbat and that Jews were infinitely lucky because we are able to welcome it every week. If you were to ask my toddler what his favorite holiday is, he would tell you “baht-baht.” He asks all week when Shabbat is. He talks about challah and wine and candles. He brings me his Shabbat books and it brings tears to my eyes to watch him dance around at tot Shabbat on Friday mornings.
The last three nights when we’ve lit our menorah, he’s clapped “candles! baht-baht! again!” and instead of telling him that we have to wait until next week we get to say, “Tomorrow. We can light them again tomorrow.”
Tonight is the Hanukah Shabbat that I’ve been waiting for — a minor holiday blending with a major one that will bring twice the candles, and twice the blessings. My toddler’s excitement for these two holidays both burning brightly together fills my heart with joy and this weekend I remember not the faith of my past – but the light of my future.