Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Kislev 5760 - December 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by











Home and Family
Chanuka Memory
by Menucha Levin

This piece is nostalgia-reversed. Whereas we like to think back on old times as the good ol' days, this forward looking writer finds joy in the present and is happy to have come this far.

When I was thirteen years old, my family moved to a tiny Jewish community located deep in the isolated pine forests of northern Ontario, Canada. It had flourished in the years before the Depression and there were still the remanants of a once-vibrant place of Yiddishkeit, about thirty families in all, mainly middle-aged or elderly people. All the young people left as soon as they finished high school, relocating in the large cities of Toronto or Montreal. The shul was a solid looking brick structure, situated on the main street. At the back of the building there was even a mikve, now sadly unused, its walls green with mold.

My father, z'l, was hired to be the rabbi and cheder rebbe in this tiny outpost. Although he had obtained smicha from R' Kahaneman at the esteemed Ponevizher Yeshiva in Lithuania, his European accent and `old fashioned' outlook made it difficult for him to obtain a position in a larger center where American pronunication and an impressive vocabulary were considered necessary qualifications for a community rabbi.

We arrived at that little northern town on the first of December. I can still remember descending from the train in the morning darkness and feeling the most freezing blast of air that I had ever experienced. It must have blown in directly from the North Pole! But when we complained of the bitter cold, the locals merely laughed. "Oh, this isn't even real winter yet. It's fall." They smirked. "Winter doesn't arrive for another three weeks." I could not begin to imagine anything more glacial. Obtaining a thick, warm blue scarf, I wound it tightly around my face and no one knew what I really looked like until spring came. Once the temperature dropped to minus 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow fell for ten months of the year.

We soon realized it was time for that season - that bright, colorful time of jangling tunes when the goyim celebrate and all Jews, even the most secular, feel alienated and realize deep down that they are a minority and do not really belong. Our house was the only one on the street undecorated by flashy colored lights. Only Hashem's pure white snow, thick as whipped cream, adorned our roof and windows. And when we lit our menorah that year (how my younger sister and I loved choosing the pretty little colored candles), it really was a brave beacon shining into the vast alien darkness which surrounded us.

We stayed eighteen months in that small community [only two of which were snowless]. My father did his best, teaching Hebrew to the children, scraping up a minyan for davening, delivering the occasional dvar Torah (which I helped him write up) and patiently preparing two `problem' boys for their bar mitzvahs, one tone-deaf and the other developmentally delayed. Every evening I used to wait at the back of that bare little cheder classroom, huddled near the hot hissing radiator. The bar mitzvah tunes echoed over and over in my head until I, too, knew them by heart. Then my father and I would walk home together in the surprisingly beautiful night, the thick snow crunching beneath our boots, air cold as ice-water, stars large and very bright in the dark, frigid sky. When the boys' bar mitzvahs finally arrived, their performances astounded the community and their parents were thrilled.

My father also helped one other boy who had gone to religious summer camp and upon his return, insisted that his mother begin keeping kosher. She, however, was less than thrilled, as kashrus was no easy task in the middle of that frozen wilderness. Kosher meat came from Toronto, over four hundred miles away by train, and when it arrived at the station, we went to `meet our meat,' as I described it. My mother had to bake her own challas for Shabbos, not out of choice as I do now, but of necessity. Yet, somehow, my father managed to persuade this woman to keep kosher for her `unusual' son.

But eighteen months there was long enough, and we moved far away from that icy, isolated little town in the middle of nowhere. The years went by. My parents grew older. My sister and I married. We all talked of making aliya to Eretz Yisroel, but, sadly, my father never lived to see that dream become reality. Finally, however, after many years of planning, my husband, children and I were privileged to move here.

One day, during our first Chanuka, I found myself in Jerualem with errands to do and by the time I caught the bus to our home in the suburbs, the sun had already set. Menorahs began to glow in many of the windows we passed by. Then, as the bus journeyed toward our neighborhood, we went through a section where, unfortunately, few of the inhabitants are yet observant, and it was dark, a sad reminder that we are still in exile, even here, and will be until Moshiach comes. But at least, in the meantime, Chanuka here is still a holiday for the majority and one can blessedly forget about that other goyishe calendar-time- of-the-year which barely exists here at all.

Then, suddenly, the bus rounded a curve and descended into our new, all- religious area. Everywhere I looked, every single window blazed with beautiful menorah lights, brightly joined in banishing the darkness. Realizing how far I had traveled in every sense, I felt grateful that, unlike me, my children will grow up having this as their own special memory of Chanukah.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.