Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving and Chanukah’


            The confluence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving brings a flood of wonderful memories.  A lot of my favorite childhood memories come from different Chanukah experiences.  This year as we think about the things for which we are thankful, I realize how rich my childhood was and how important these memories are for my sense of self as an adult.  These are Chanukah lights that flicker in my soul, my inner being.

            Although we lived in West Virginia from the time I was 1 until I was 9, we often spent Chanukah in the Bronx with my Oma and Opa – my grandparents.  Each year the German Jewish community put on a Chanukah party for us kids and that party was highlighted by he appearance of the Chanukah man.  You have not heard of the Chanukah man?  Well he was a kind of pseudo Santa Clause, but dressed up in Tevya style clothes complete with peasant cap, carried a staff with a Jewish star on top and had a long white beard.  When I was 4 I attended one of the parties and was told the Chanukah man would be coming to speak with each of us.  Sure enough, he appeared after we had eaten out latkes to put each of us on his lap and ask if we had been good.  What I did not know was that the Chanukah man was my dad in disguise.  When it was my turn to sit on his lap, I glanced down at his shoes.  Now my dad had to wear special orthopedic shoes, so after looking at the Chanukah mensch’s shoes I said, “Gee Chanukah man, my dad has shoes just like those.”  To which the Chanukah man replied without missing a beat, “Well, we use the same shoemaker.  I see him there all of the time.” 

            Perhaps you think the whole idea of a Chanukah man is just silly – and in truth it is.  Yes it is a kind of cheesy rip off of Santa, but that never mattered to me.  I was 7 when I finally figured out that the Chanukah man did not really exist

            So it might be odd that my favorite Chanukah man story comes from when I was 11 and my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother.  That year my middle brother and I received a letter from the Chanukah man.  We were living in Allentown, PA by then, where my great Uncle Richard lived.  Uncle Richard was the man who raised my father, and was truly like my grandfather.  In Allentown, it was Uncle Richard who took on the role of the Chanukah man.  Here is the letter we received, complete with spelling and grammar mistakes:

“Dear Romberg brothers,

            Your Uncle Richard, may God bless him a other 25 years wrote a letter several weeks ago to me and was telling me about you two boys.  You both was during the last year fairly good, and I should make it my business this year and come to visit Allentown.  Sorry I can’t make it because this year I have to go to Russia and Siberia to bring the poor Yewish children some goodies.  Enclosed I send you some money and your Mami can buy something at Hesses Bargain Basement.  Also I heard the good news that your Daddy and Mamy ordered a custom built brand ne Baby girl, but your Daddy put in the order too late, and the delivery cannot be before the end of January, 1966.  Let’s be with Massel Tow, and we will later celebrate what ever comes out.  With best wishes to all of you and a good Chanukah yours,

Eliezer ben Morechai, Chief Chanukah man”

            I still have that letter.  Other than the framed picture and Silver Star that hangs in my study, it is the only physical reminder I have left of Uncle Richard, German Jewish immigrant and one of the few true heroes I have known.  But he lies rich in my memory and whenever I read that letter, I am comforted by the memories of the light that was his life.

            Chanukah also causes me to remember one of my dad’s closest friends while we were living in West Virginia, a Baptist minister – Dr. Edward Dreisinger.  Dad met Dr. Dreisinger when we first moved to West Virginia.  They became fast friends.  He was a liberal Baptist who had even studied Hebrew in seminary.  His experiences as a chaplain in World War II led him to feel that Jews needed to be affirmed, not evangelized.  Dad invited him to be a guest speaker at our small synagogue and Dr. Dreisinger had dad speak to his congregation about his experiences as a Jew growing up in Nazi Germany.  Dr. Dreisinger’s family would join us for certain Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, or Chanukah.  We would go over to their house each year to watch them light their Christmas tree.  Mrs. Dreisinger played piano and dad would sing the Christmas carols in German.  The Dreisingers really liked that.  He always shared some Chanukah songs as well.  Mrs. Dreisinger never touched alcohol  except some wine when celebrating a holiday at our house as she felt it honored our holiday.  Dad had an honest, easy relationship with Dr. Dreisinger, because Dr. Dreisinger accepted dad on my dad’s terms.  Their model of an interfaith friendship has been my lifelong model.  They were close and could joke with each other.

            For example, when I was in kindergarten I was cast as Joseph in the Christmas play.  I was cast because I knew how to sing a song in Hebrew and the teacher thought it would be more “authentic” if I sang the song to Mary on the way to Bethlehem.  I felt like a star, even if they gave top billing to a baby Jesus who was played by a plastic baby doll.  My dad felt like I was a star too and invited Dr. Dreisinger to watch me in the play.  When it was over Dr. Dreisinger told dad, “Jackie was so cute I could just adopt him.”  To which my dad replied, “and make a Baptist out of him, over my dead body!”

            I love these memories.  They remind me how lucky I was to have parents, grandparents, family and friends who provided me with a beautiful, secure childhood.  As I light my Chanukiah Wednesday and Thursday nights, these are the memories that will be kindled in my soul.  It is my hope and prayer that everyone lighting their Chanukiah this Thanksgivingkah can have the same experience.

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