My husband always sings the blessings.
Whether it’s Shabbat dinner, the Shema at bedtime, or the blessings over the Hanukkah candles, he always leads the blessings when he’s home. He knows them better than I do, and he has a much better singing voice.
I‘ve done bedtime often enough on my own that I can sing the Shema without any trouble, although there are nights when I can tell my singing is off key and I have no idea how to fix it.
There’s only been one Friday night when I was home alone with the girls, and I did my best to sing the blessings over the candles, challah, and wine. It didn’t go so well, but we muddled through.
This week is Hanukkah, and Josh has made it home from work each night in time to light the candles with us. Except last night. He had a late meeting, so it was just going to be the girls and me.
I spent much of the afternoon thinking about how I could avoid lighting the menorah without him. Maybe I could score an invitation to a friend’s house? Invite a super Jewy friend over? Conveniently forget to mention it and hope the girls wouldn’t notice?
But then I remembered this whole Jewish Mother Project thing, and I resolved to do it on my own.
I was pleased with myself for remembering which side of the menorah to put the candles in and which candle to light first (thank you, Todd and God). But when it came time to sing the blessings, the Shabbat melody came out of my mouth, and I totally forgot the words for Hanukkah. I stopped singing. The girls looked at me.
“Mommy, I forget how to sing it. Isn’t that silly? We’ve been singing it for the past three night, and I can’t remember!”
My daughter’s voice was curious and amused, but I just felt stupid.
A real Jewish mother would know how to do this. Those words came to mind before I even realized what I was thinking. I tried to brush them aside as I pulled out my phone and Googled how to sing the Hanukkah blessings.
The girls and I sang them together, and I let them open their presents: American Girl Doll Hanukkah sets (tonight was their “something they want” night). I put on the Maccabeat’s newest Hanukkah song and watched as the girls put their tiny candles in their toy menorahs and spun their new dreidels. And I thought about the Hanukkah story.
When the Maccabees took back the Temple, they only found enough oil for one night. They knew it wouldn’t last very long, but they lit it anyway.
They knew they were dealing with an imperfect situation. They could have just walked away. But they didn’t. They did the best they could with what they had, and the results were nothing short of miraculous.
I looked over at my daughters, singing along with the Maccabeats as they showed their dolls how to play dreidel. “See? This one has a shin, because a great miracle happened there. Shin shin, put one in. That’s the worst one to get. But this dreidel over here? This one’s from Israel, so it has a pei, because a great miracle happened here. Pei is like pay, and you have to pay one in. Get it?”
In that moment, I realized I had found my own little miracle—two of them, actually. By doing the best I can with what I have, as awkward as it may feel, I am helping to create something that will last much longer than my own insecurities.
And so I’ll keep plugging along and stumbling through, because one of the greatest gifts of being a Jewish mother is remembering that I’m just one link in a very long chain, one that is getting stronger with each blessing, however imperfect it may be.