With just a week to go before our MFA Hanukkah Celebration, we asked some of our event partners to share some thoughts and stories about their relationship with the holiday. Here’s what they had to say:
What’s your favorite Hanukkah memory?
“When I was a really young kid, Hanukkah was the only Jewish festival we observed (besides the bewildering practice of staying home from school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which were otherwise unmarked in my very Yankee and Catholic town). My childhood understanding of our Jewishness was mostly that we didn’t have a Christmas tree like ALL of my friends did. Our little menorah seemed both dim and paltry in comparison. But on one night of Hanukkah, we would visit my aunt’s mother, who lived in an apartment building in Hartford tall enough to require an elevator (very exotic compared to our house in the suburbs). Her place must have been small for all the kids and their parents it contained that night, and the kitchen tiny for all the latkes being fried in there (which I imagine you can smell to this day), but I remember it as a huge party. There were a bunch of menorahs and kids were actually playing dreydl games, you know, the “official” way. It was some kind of magical portal to Jewishness which I visited one night a year, as in some kind of fairytale. There in the apartment with Bubbie (she was the only person I had met who was addressed by that name), we’d assemble around the dining room table for menorah lighting and sang a song we called “Rock of Ages.” Then all the kids would form one line and all the adults another, and as we kids would march past them, each adult would give each of us a silver dollar. At that age, such a treasure, described to me as “gelt” only there and then, was quite a haul! Back in our we-don’t-celebrate-Christmas house, the silver seemed like the only proof the whole thing wasn’t a dream. It happened this way just for a few years, and I’m certain the minute we got home I went right back to asking why we couldn’t have a Christmas tree, but in retrospect, it was the first big experience of Jewishness I had.”
- Ilene Stahl, musician in Klezperanto
“When I was a kid, my younger sister really wanted to put Christmas lights up in her room. She was obsessed and kept bugging my parents about it. My interfaith parents were not into Christmas lights but they found a string of blue and white lights with Jewish stars and menorahs and my sister went to town in her room. She called them her, Israel-lights. Beyond all of the great memories of time spent with family, the lingering smell of oil and the yummy treats, I always smile when I think of the Israel-lights.”
- Rabbi Jillian Cameron, Interfaith Family
“Lots of strong memories of family music-making from my early years when my grandparents were still alive and healthy. My family are all musicians, lots of strong voices, and we would always sing a lot when lighting the candles. We sang the brachos as a choir, and then would segue way into a bunch of other pieces, usually hitting the Malavsky Al Hanisim and sometimes Pinchik’s version of Maoz Tzur. My grandfather (renowned cantor Jacob Konigsberg) had his own special variations/improvisations on those pieces and it was a thrill to hear him and sing with everyone together in the dark candle-lit room.”
- Jeremiah Lockwood, musician in Book of J
“I am in an interfaith marriage and while my children are being raised Jewish, they celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. My husband’s family loves to learn about Hanukkah and all the traditions. Whenever Hanukkah has fallen during the Christmas season, we always take our menorah to the family Christmas celebrations and teach everyone the prayer and songs. I have many pictures over the years of the family celebrating both holidays and I know my children appreciate that they get to experience both.”
- Linda Apple, Museum of Fine Arts
“My favorite part of Hanukkah happens in the Shapiro Family Courtyard at the MFA – cliché as that might be for an MFA representative to say. It’s the moment when hundreds of people—from the cute kiddos to the elders—all sing Ma’oz Tzur together. I get goosebumps just thinking about standing there under the glass Chihuly “tree” with the light bouncing and reflecting all around the room – the sound sending a frog to my throat and sparkle to my eyes.”
- Jen Leclerc, Museum of Fine Arts
Be sure to join us at the Museum of Fine Arts for Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights on Wednesday, December 13th. Free museum admission begins at 4pm, festivities begin at 4:30pm. Museum members skip the line.