Chanukah memories

About ‘In first person…’
Last month we asked our readers to share their memories of Chanukah and winter. As always, we received pieces about special menorahs, the “Chanukah mensch” and parenthood. I hope you enjoy them.
— janet silver ghent, senior editor

Our Chanukah mensch — Winnie the Pooh
by diane j. levinson

Thirty-six years ago our firstborn was approaching his fourth Chanukah. One December night, while reading bedtime stories, Robbie asked, “Mommy, I know that Santa Claus brings Christmas presents to my friends, but do you know who brings Chanukah presents?” Wisdom inspired me to answer his question with another. “Can you tell me who brings them?” I asked. Without hesitation, Robbie said, “Winnie the Pooh!”

From then on, Winnie the Pooh was our family Chanukah mensch. We decorated cards with pawprints, and Robbie ran to the piano bench to see the presents that Winnie left for him and his younger siblings. A problem occurred the next December when we were at the shopping mall and Robbie discovered that only Christmas decorations adorned the shops. He dissolved into tears; no words could console him. However, upon entering Sears, we were greeted by the sight of their children’s clothing logo: a huge, stuffed, Winnie the Pooh. Experiencing the pure joy on my son’s tear-stained face became my favorite Chanukah memory.

For Robbie’s fifth birthday, we took him to Disneyland; the only costumed character he cared to meet was Winnie the Pooh. He enthusiastically thanked the bear for the gifts he’d gotten each year. Fortunately, the characters don’t speak because I’m sure the actor inside had no idea what my son was talking about.

Witness the Winnie the Pooh dreidels and menorahs now available and you will know that one 4-year-old boy, in 1969, had the facts all along, as do our six grandchildren.

The writer lives in San Carlos.

Lights that link me to my foremothers
by judy levitt kennedy

It’s 1974, an ordinary day in my kitchen, and I’m feeding my extraordinary first-born, 4-month-old child, Eli. My African American, Christian husband says to me, his white Jewish wife, “Are you going to light candles this year?”

“No,” I reply quickly. “I haven’t celebrated it since childhood. No need to do it now.”

He shrugs, but there’s a knowing look in his eye that gives me pause.

The day moves on; he goes to work. I treasure the slow day at home with my baby.

Slow suddenly becomes fast, as I dress Eli for the dreary, chilly Berkeley day. We head out the door and begin our walk to where? — the synagogue, why? — to buy a menorah and candles! What happened, the rational, science-oriented me asks? There is no answer and no need for one.

I am walking to the synagogue with my brown baby in my arms and beside me on both sides, linked arm-in-arm and stretching out forever, are all the generations of women in my family and all their babies. I have no choice but to move with them, and for the first time in my life, “no choice” feels like the best choice I could possibly make.

The writer lives in Berkeley.

My Chanukah gift to a man with Alzheimer’s
libby lieberman

I live in an adult-living facility in Oakland. After my husband died, I turned some of my attention to those living there that need help. One couple that I tried to look after was Margaret and Carl. Margaret used a walker and Carl had Alzheimer’s disease. This couple lived around the corner of our hallway.

One Chanukah evening, I was awakened by the light in my room being turned on. I never locked my apartment door. I sat up in bed and looked toward he door of my room. I saw a man dressed in pajamas standing there. It was Carl.

I shouted, “Carl, what are you doing here?” He just stared. I got out of bed, slipped into my robe and walked toward him. I took him by the arm and said, “Come, Carl, I’ll take you back to your room.”

He listened to me and came quietly with me. I took him around the hallway to his room, opened the door and led him into the bedroom. His wife was asleep in the twin bed next to his. I helped him into his bed, covered him up and gently kissed him on his cheek. I quietly left the room and went back to my apartment. This time I made sure to lock the door! The light of my Chanukah menorah flickered off just as I got back into my bed. This was my Chanukah gift to Carl.

The writer lives in Oakland.

Menorah on Union Street kindles old memories
edith samuel

One day, as I was looking at the window displays on Union Street, my heart skipped a beat! There was a brass menorah — the very design I remembered from my parents’ and grandparents’ homes when we lived in Germany before World War II. I hadn’t seen this menorah since I left.

Entering the shop, I asked how they got it.

A saleswoman explained. “Once a year, an older gentleman comes to us from Holland, bringing various brass items that he has made for us. This year, he brought this menorah. He said it was a very old European design, and that they all had vanished during the war. As luck would have it, he’d found it in an Amsterdam antiques shop after the war. His company had made a new cast of the design and was selling it all over Europe. ‘Put the menorah in your window,’ he said, ‘and you will have no trouble selling it.'”

At dinner that evening I told my husband and two sons (then in high school) what I had encountered on Union Street. Little did I know that, on the very next day, my boys would use the money they earned from their part-time jobs to go to Union Street after school to purchase the menorah for me. They surprised me with it a few weeks later, at Chanukah.

The menorah still graces my home. With its candles shining ever so bright at Chanukah, I remember the homes of my relatives so long ago.

The writer lives in San Rafael.

Hand-fashioned menorah a reminder of survival
werner loeb

During the Hitler years when Jews were no longer permitted to learn a trade, the Jewish community in Hamburg, Germany, got around this edict by teaching useful occupations for the purpose of emigration. At the Weidenallee facility in Hamburg we were taught carpentry and/or machinist trades. These so-called lehrwerstatten (apprentice shops) were supported by the German Jewish community and by ORT.

Having opted for the machinist trade, I designed and hand-fashioned, without the use of machinery, a menorah made entirely from steel. The year was 1940. But finally, even these facilities were forced to close, and I returned to my hometown in central Germany, taking the menorah with me. When shortly after my return our family was sent to a concentration camp, our Christian neighbor offered to keep the menorah and other family heirlooms in a safe place until our return. Very dangerous considering the circumstances.

I did survive various camps and, upon my return, I was handed the menorah. It had been stored in a basement sealed off by a brick wall, and it was badly rusted. The Mogen David had been removed and stored separately as a precaution.

When I immigrated to the United States in 1949, I took this rusty piece with me and had it chrome-plated. It has occupied a place of honor in our home ever since. It is as modern, dynamic and traditional now as it was more than 60 years ago.

The writer lives in Walnut Creek.