Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our Quest Begins...

…at my late-childhood home in Cincinnati, Ohio.

December 2002.

I’m in 12th grade this year. Sometimes I can’t wait to get out of here, but now is one time I love being at home with my parents and five cats. The Jewish holiday Chanukah starts this evening. Festive music emanates from the living room as I dash up and down the basement stares to gather decorations that are stored there. While helping my parents put them up, I sing and dance joyously with the music. I search through drawers to find the dreidles, special spinning tops that are used for a game that is customarily played on Chanukah. I look forward to playing it again with my parents this year. Even the cats are excited, what with all the new toys for them that have appeared.

My mom brings the tape player into the kitchen. Out come the grater, potatoes, matzah meal, eggs, and salt. It’s time to make latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil that are traditionally eaten on Chanukah. Our family tradition has been to make loads of latkes every year with my mom, enough to last the whole eight-day holiday. We eagerly get busy grating the potatoes, mixing the ingredients, and frying them up. We wait impatiently for some to cool off so we can each have our first taste, and when we do…mmm, sooo good!

Later in the afternoon, when the sun goes down, my parents and I rummage through the box of colorful candles and pick the candles we want to light for the first night of Chanukah. We sing the blessings for the candles in unison, along with some traditional songs. I can’t wait for dinner, which I know will include those delicious latkes. Together as a family, the three of us sit down to dinner and begin enjoying our special holiday treat.

Fast-forward to December 2003. I’m in Israel for the school year, in a post-high-school Jewish studies program. My friends and I light Chanukah candles together and look forward to a special trip and a holiday party. As much fun as I’m having, though, this is the first time I haven’t been home at all for Chanukah, and I’m a little sad about that. I get an email from my mom during the holiday; she says she’s also a little sad that I’m not home. What is it we both miss the most? Not enjoying the music together. Not putting up the decorations. Not lighting candles and singing together. Not even the dreidle game. The most poignant Chanukah tradition for both my mom and me is making latkes together. In fact, my mom says she couldn’t bring herself to make latkes at all this year, without me there.

I’m glad we had such a special time making latkes last year, because I don’t know when I’ll next be home for Chanukah, now that I’m an adult. I’ll hopefully continue the tradition with my own children and thus create meaningful moments with them, like my mom did with me.

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