Miracles can happen on Chanukah and every day of the year

Over the eight crazy nights of Chanukah, Jewish kids everywhere repeat the phrase preserved in the dreidel’s four-sided acronym: A great miracle happened there. For me, the great Chanukah miracle happened here in California, one December afternoon in 1961.

I was 6, a precocious motor-mouth of a boy. Sitting beside my father as he clacked away at his typewriter, I busied myself cutting out a Star of David for the holiday, working  with a heavy pair of scissors.

At one point the scissors jammed in the thick cardboard. The smart thing would have been to ask my dad for help. Instead, I did the dumb thing, trying to force them through with all my 6-year-old might.

In an instant, the scissors busted through and up, ripping into my left eye.

I remember a flowing sheen of red and my father leaping out of his chair. I remember running — or was I carried? — into the bathroom down the hall. My mother pounded her fists on her head, my Yiddishe grandma gripped her walker and screamed.

Because I was in no pain, I downplayed the injury, trying to reassure my parents, freaked out seeing their baby covered in blood. As my father gunned our old Rambler station wagon to the doctor’s office, I remember picking up a newspaper and reading it out loud. “I’m OK, Daddy,’ I said. “See? I can read.”

My memories of the subsequent days and weeks are hazy. I had surgery, had both eyes sewn shut and heavily bandaged. Virtually blind, I stayed home from school for what seemed like ages, learning to get around the house by feeling my way along the walls.

I got used to the dark.

And then, in time, the bandages came off and my eyes — and my vision — were fine. One hundred percent fine.

My miracle? The scissors never touched the eyeball. Instead the blade went up the inside part of the lid. I missed my eye by an eyelash. Literally.

Of course, I use the word “miracle” advisedly. I don’t really believe in miracles, if by the term one means God with an outstretched arm intervenes in physical events on Earth.

When Pope John Paul II was shot in Rome back in 1981, some claimed it a miracle that the bullet missed his heart, that God steered the bullet an inch to the left, saving the pontiff’s life.

One person responded by asking why then didn’t God simply move the bullet two feet to the left?

It’s a good question, and it made me laugh when I read it. But I don’t want to indulge in cynicism. Better to adjust my sense of what constitutes the miraculous. Let’s define it as a good result that beats overwhelming odds.

Given the chaos of physics, the scissors should have poked my eye out.

I don’t want to go all Hallmark card here, and I’m certainly no paragon of gratitude, but once in a while I find myself appreciating the minor miracles of daily life.

At 54, my body still works well. No replaced parts, no engine overhauls yet needed. Don’t laugh, but sometimes I marvel that my toes can actually wiggle on mental command. Try it. It’s amazing.

Though my parents are deceased, virtually every other person I have ever cherished in my life is still alive and well and reasonably happy.

And that’s just me. What about the billions of acts of human kindness that take place every day, even in the face of chronic cruelty and disinterest?

How about the greatest human miracle of all: We are beings, made of atoms forged in the fires of dying stars, aware that we are starstuff. I can’t begin to calculate the odds against that.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget the miracle of a tiny band of Jewish warriors who, vastly outnumbered, defeated one of the great armies of the day. Of course I mean the Maccabees in 160 BCE. Or perhaps the Israel Defense Forces in 1967.

These are the kinds of things I try to remember to remember during Chanukah and every day, as I feel my way along the walls.

Dan Pine
can be reached at [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.