Tis the season to stumble through

Bah, humbug. The Ghost of Chanukah Past torments me.

My traditional family never tried to make up for the comparative drabness of the festival by plying us with nightly presents or decorating a half-dead fica tree and calling it a Chanukah bush. We were vigilantly opposed to yuletide commercialism, wary of the splash and sparkle emanating from Madison Avenue.

My mother was a charter member of the League For Parent Education and, thus, prominently displayed even the crummiest-looking kindergarten chanukiah on the windowsill, certainly driving the Christian neighbors mad with envy.

Year after year she almost burned the house down with assorted window exhibits.

These included candelabras made of walnut shells. Wood, rubber and metal bolt creations. A designer piece made of scooped-out potato halves. And the round fish-bowl-with-food-coloring version featuring floating candles. Using raisins or Brazil nuts as “booty,” we gambled late into the night with still-damp dreidels made out of — you guessed it — clay.

Like my mother before me, my living-room windowsill is covered with layers of rock-hard wax, providing ironclad testimony that the story of Judah the Maccabee is being retold, re-enacted and resung as the fragrance of burning oil and acrid onions permeate the hallways of our humble Jerusalem home.

Chanukah is my only opportunity to display an underappreciated musical brilliance. The children listen in a near-catatonic state as I merrily plunk out several lively tunes from a book called “Harvest of Jewish Music.”

My children are still traumatized by the specter of my falling in the street one Chanukah. I was carrying a covered tray of 50 jelly-filled doughnuts overhead when, trying to leap over a dirty puddle in an already too-tight skirt, one leg yanked the other after it and I found myself suddenly lying in the service road of a major thoroughfare. My stockings were torn and my expensive London Fog coat muddied, but the thing that sustained the most injury was my already fragile ego. The gathered crowd cheered, however, as my oldest daughter gently lifted the cover of the carton and announced that all 50 of the doughnuts remained undamaged.

As a young and newly pregnant wife, I wanted to impress my not-easily-impressed new husband with a platter of homemade potato latkes. We hailed from different cultural backgrounds and he had never heard of eating latkes with sour cream or applesauce. (He still eats potato pancakes with chili pepper schug, a Yemenite spread, and hilbeh. You wonder why I’m divorced?)

Anyway, I grated the potatoes according to instructions, adding eggs, onions, matzah meal and seasonings. The recipe promised that it would yield a batch of 30 golden, light and crispy pancakes. True. They were golden and crispy, but let me assure you that wolfing down 20 freshly fried latkes while still standing at the stove lessens the “light” feeling pretty rapidly. That burning sensation in the chest cavity isn’t alleviated by either Pepto-Bismol or a half-gallon of seltzer.

This story, however, has a happy ending. I gave the remaining 10 latkes to the Latino building superintendent in a one-way culture exchange. My very hungry young husband returned home to find me lying facedown on the sofa as I muttered about having “no appetite,” “never realizing the hardships of pregnancy” and having “no strength to cook.” Sufficiently worried, he ordered a festive Chanukah pizza for supper and massaged my feet. I never confessed the afternoon snacking debacle.

Shopping in the mall last week, in a pathetic attempt to locate a flattering outfit to wear at an upcoming simcha, I felt as though I were under siege as I darted between tables of oil-laden, cream-stuffed doughnuts, all of them calling my name.

As I began to hyperventilate in the overheated shopping center, Christmas jingles from my secular youth began to pump through my already-pounding head. The words had, miraculously, changed from the ones I sang as a youngster. The voice singing to me was a remarkable cross between Fran Drescher in “The Nanny” and Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

‘Tis the season girls wear Spandex


I wore small but now I’m Three-X!


Don we now our tight apparel

Tra-la-la, tra-la-la, la-la-la!

I’m built like a pickle barrel

Tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la …

Andrea Simantov is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem. This column previously appeared in the San Diego Jewish Journal.