By Shira Perton
If anyone knows me, they know that I’m not an unhappy person, or a mad person, or a generally annoyed person. I don’t think that any of those words describe me at all, yet this past Chanukah, I think I could have fallen under the category of sad.
Don’t get me wrong: I like being on campus and being a part of the community here, yet whenever major events come around, like holidays or Shabbos Chanukah, I get a little homesick. Crazy, no? I’m a 21-year-old, who has spent a year in Israel, multiple summers at sleepaway camp. This is my third year away from my house, and I still get homesick.
The reason it is probably felt around now is that my family happens to do the holidays well, to the extent that I can’t choose one I like more than the other. Pesach is filled with tons of family and food that I dream about all year round, Sukkot fills me with thoughts of sitting bundled up around our table in freezing weather and my sister and I decorating the walls with colourful art. It is safe to say that every holiday holds something special in my memory. Chanukah in particular really brought all these feelings to the surface.
Let’s take a few steps back: there are probably a few things you should know about me. I come from Montreal, I’m the fifth of six children, and my family moved around a few times. Growing up in a relatively large family, everything was always pretty loud and pretty happening, and Chanukah was one of those times when it was especially evident.
We used to set up the table a week before Chanukah, building up the anticipation because whenever you walked out the door, there would be the table waiting, empty and ready to be filled. As the first night crept up, you would see a small stack of candles and oil fill up alongside it, and we would start claiming candle boxes based on colour and design. The night before Chanukah, we would all pull out our menorahs and place them in our strategically planned spot, for optimal visuals from the inside and outside. And then the climax: Chanukah itself. As one of the younger members of the Perton crew, it was my job to prepare everyone’s menorahs, and my brother and I would bob around with the help of a sibling, waxing candles into menorahs and debating if candles are to be inserted right to left or left to right…and then finally the night would come. My father would gather everyone around and we would all huddle around the table, excitedly sharing light to fill our own, and to this day I can recall the same tune my father uses to chant the blessing back and forth with us. Once the candles were lit, we would all fall back into the couches and just sit in the glow as we sang songs, which would turn into dancing.
So, this year, being the out-of-towner that I am, and knowing that I would get homesick, I brought the menorah I have lit since I was three back to Stern with me this year, and some special candles so I could elevate the lighting here. The first night I sat and just fell into trance with the rhythmic motions of the glowing light of my candles and my mind wandered to my times at home. As my siblings grew up our menorah table got smaller, time to time expanding when some were able to visit. Slowly, as time went on, our singing was not accompanied by dancing because days get long, and dancing is tiring. It seems that as we grow up, slowly we begin to create new traditions and new meanings of what holidays give us.
I guess I need to take it back. I wasn’t necessarily sad this time around, but it was bittersweet. Reminiscing on what Chanukah used to be and how different it is now was difficult, and wanting to be with my family while not physically being able to be was hard. But I created my own Chanukah, finding my family in the friends I have close, finding a corner of the room where I sat every night to light, making it a special place for me. Chanukah away from the place we associate as home, and not being with the people the create it is not easy, especially when it holds sentimental value to us, but it is about attitude.
Our experiences are what we make of them. We get to choose if we will enjoy them or not, if we will do them with our all or with only give fifty percent. This year, I knew it would not be easy. I wanted to be home, wanted to be in the warm glow on a couch listening to my father singing Maoz Tzur, wanted to be eating my mother’s latkes. There were a lot of things I wanted. Yet all I really needed was my menorah, candles, and the ability to be open to starting new traditions.