Charney/My Turn: Feeling blessed

“Who knows some-thing about the Hanukkah story?” For a moment, no one spoke. Then into the silence, 2-year-old Max proclaimed, “the Maccabees saved the temple.” We all looked at Max snug on his mamma’s lap. Was she whispering in his ear? But no, he knew what he knew and said again with authority, “the Maccabees saved the temple.”

There was a collective giggle of appreciation. Our youngest member of the family had begun our story, even if he started at the end instead of the beginning. “OK, that’s how it turned out. But how did it begin?”

And so, the assembled family cobbled together the facts, not all of them in order and perhaps not all of them facts exactly. Romans? Persians? Two thousand years ago? Three thousand years ago? But the substance of the remembered story was true and for this family, not sticklers for details, the substance was evidenced in their hushed respect for narrative and its accompanying ritual.

The essence, after all, lived in the fine tapestry of an extended family community — grandparents and grandchildren, uncles and aunts, cousins and a neighbor’s boy. They were Jewish and Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist, observant and atheist. Some were Puerto Rican, others descendants of the frontier and some survivors of the Eastern European Diaspora. But they were all snuggled close around the long table sharing the important message of Hanukkah.

When we finished the story, and when the temple, as Max had promised, was liberated, Max’s uncle described the miracle of light, as symbol and metaphor. He talked about how the light was both relief from winter’s encroaching darkness and a glimmering of hope that exists even in the face of struggle and despair. There were many nods and one “Amen,” followed by a moment of silence as we honored loved ones no longer among us. Then an aunt held her nephew’s hand as he lit the Shamash candle and as they all recited the ancient prayers in Hebrew and English. “Blessed are we our God ...”

And they felt blessed. Blessed because they were about to eat a delicious Puerto Rican soup, a rich brew of meats, corn, noodles with avocado, banana and pico de gallo on the side. Blessed because they had enough Hanukkah gifts for the children to go around, even for unexpected company. And most of all they felt blessed by the privilege of health, jobs and community in this our precarious world. Later, after dinner, the boys played dreidel, gambling away their chocolate pieces or allowing Max’s dump truck to wheel their winnings away in its caboose.

Perhaps on this rare confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, there was a special sense of awareness and gratitude. Implicit in this awareness was gratitude for the gift of ritual. It is what we can do in the face of more and more glitz and materialistic pressures. It is what permits us to share heritage and pass on what we most value, as we construct and reconstruct meaning to fit the times and ward off shrill commercial seductions.

It is also what helps us to bind us together and embrace differences of background, language and culture. So let us continue to light candles against the dark. And let us enjoy such a soup as the newly named and most delicious “Puerto Rican Hanukkah Soup,” too. Here is Lisa’s Puerto Rican Hanukkah Soup Recipe:

Start with your basic chicken soup recipe and, add corn on the cob, potatoes and noodles. Prepare and serve on the side sliced bananas and avocado. When ready to eat, each person can add to portions to their bowl. Finally add the pico de gallo.

Pico de Gallo: 1 cup cilantro chopped fine, two jars pimientos one-quarter scallion, 1 tbsp. red onion, 1 tbsp. minced garlic, juice of 1 lime, half a tomato diced, 1 tbsp. vinegar.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.

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