Last night, on the seventh night of Hanukkah, more than 70 people gathered on Zoom for “Menorah Memories,” a candle lighting and storytelling event organized by J. The Jewish News of Northern California and Value Culture, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that organizes charitable events, usually with a Jewish bent.
The evening was hosted by Value Culture founder Adam Swig and J. digital editor David A.M. Wilensky and featured a live performance of “Maoz Tzur” by Emmy-winning musician Hughie Stone Fish.
Swig kicked off the festivities by noting that usually at this time of year, he’s collecting toys for the Marine Toys for Tots program. “This year it’s gone virtual for everyone’s safety,” he said. “The theme of the night, other than menorahs, is giving light.” (To contribute, go to valueculture.org)
But the main event of the evening was the sharing of the titular menorah memories. Attendees took turns showing off their menorahs and sharing family Hanukkah stories — with the promise that the best ones would appear in J.
The best story turned out to be less a story than a brief drash about Hanukkah from Holocaust survivor and motivational speaker Sami Steigman, who joined in from his home in New York.
“Growing up, Hanukkah was for me a very fun holiday. What I really loved was my mother used to make the latkes and boy were they good,” Steigman recalled. “We are celebrating Hanukkah for eight days, so I would like to share with you eight different lessons you can learn from Hanukkah — if you have the patience.”
One lesson was that the few can triumph over the many. Others included “don’t conform to a popular opinion just because it’s popular” and “a little light can dispel much darkness.”
Others who chimed in included several of Swig’s own relatives, including his mother Sari Swig, who told of a childhood menorah that played “Hatikvah”; and rapper Kosha Dillz, who freestyled briefly about Hanukkah.
Avery Stone Fish, also from New York, noted that he has been celebrating Hanukkah with his girlfriend, who is not Jewish. “One thing that I thought was funny is, you know the hole is a little bit small for the candles, which is a classic Hanukkah issue,” he said. “You light the bottom, let the wax drip down, stick the candle in. It was beautiful to see, my girlfriend, independent of our tradition, realize that process too and engage with that process too.”
Wilensky also shared one of his menorahs, the Menurkey, a turkey-shaped menorah created in 2013, when Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincided for the first time since Thanksgiving became an official U.S. holiday.
“It has become my favorite menorah, if only for sheer weird American kitsch value,” he said.