Hanukkah

My Family Celebrated Hanukkah with Our Non-Jewish Friends. This Is What Happened

hanukkah

Salad fix-ins? Check.

Cookies? Check.

Menorah, candles, and dreidels? Check, check, check.

My husband, kids, and I were headed to family dinner at our dear friends’ house. Though she and her husband aren’t Jewish, my friend is a history teacher who loves learning about and sharing multicultural traditions.

Since she’d never lit a menorah before, she asked me to bring ours—and I was more than happy to oblige. For good measure, I also brought some dreidels and—because our kids ate all our gelt the first night of Hanukkah—some red and green Christmas M&Ms. We’d be celebrating the fourth night of Hanukkah together and decorating Christmas cookies—the delightful mingling of the seasons and faiths in our respective families—and I’d been looking forward to it all day. After all, it’s not every day you get to introduce the special traditions of your faith with others.

We shared a wonderful meal and conversation while the kids played, and then when it came time to light the menorah, we called them back to the table.

I explained to the little ones that we needed five candles tonight—one for each of the four nights of Hanukkah, plus the shamash candle, the “helper candle” which lights the others and stands taller than the rest.

All four kids put a candle in the menorah, and once the shamash was lit, I began reciting the blessing to a very captive audience—many of whom were hearing Hebrew for the very first time.

Looking around the room—seeing all four of our kids staring awe-struck into the bright glow of the menorah, shadows dancing on their tiny faces—I couldn’t help but break into a grin.

And then just as quickly as my grin came on, guilt washed over me. “Ugh, I should have sung it, I’m sorry, I just have a really bad voice.” If this was our friends’ first Hanukkah experience, I wanted to do it right… and by reciting the blessing versus singing it, I was not only cheating myself, but more importantly, cheating them—bad voice and all.

“Sing it, sing it!” my friend’s older son chanted.

I took a deep breath and quietly sang the familiar tune that’s been with me since childhood, eyes averted and cheeks flushing with each line. 

“Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam

asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu

l’had’lik neir shel Chanukah”

I looked up and—to my surprise—no one was covering their ears. They were all watching intently, smiles playing on their lips.

Phew.

“Dreidel time!”

My friend’s son knew about the game from a book at school, and he was eager to learn how to play. After dividing up the M&Ms, my 6-year-old daughter taught her friends the significance of the four Hebrew letters on each side of the dreidel, and then the kids went to town—changing the rules up just a bit, but having a blast along the way. (Now if someone could just explain to me how my 3-year-old son miraculously lands on Gimel every.single.time?! Hmmm…)

The game was such a hit that we left one of our dreidels at their house for our friends’ kids to play with.

Sharing traditions with our non-Jewish friends that night was a gift. If only more of us could experience multicultural/interfaith experiences like ours, I truly think the world would be a better place. We have so much to learn from one another.

People say, “Be the light you wish to see”—and in uncertain times like the ones we are in, it feels good to be able to be a source of light. And it feels even better to have friends who reflect that light, embrace it, and then emit it themselves in their willingness to learn and share with their own children.


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Melissa Henriquez

Melissa Henriquez is red-headed Jew from Jersey who married a wonderful dark-haired Catholic guy from El Salvador. They met in college, endured several years of long-distance love, married in 2006 and now live in Michigan with their two wonderful children: Maya (6) and Ben (3).  By day, she is a marketing manager at a global marketing agency and by night she blogs at Let There Be Light (est. 2008). Melissa's writing has been featured on Babble.com and The Huffington Post.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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