Last night we lit the last candle on the menorah. Eight burning lights filling the window with joy and light. Chanukah is one of the easiest holidays to celebrate and one of the most joyous. It is the Festival of Lights. In Israel, it is preceded with great expectations and anticipation. It’s a holiday of food – potato pancakes, chocolate coins, and jelly donuts. For young and old, it is a brief vacation, a break from school and, if you are lucky, a break from work. But more importantly, Chanukah is about miracles. It’s the miracle of a single small jug of oil meant to last only one day, somehow managing to burn for eight. It is the miracle of a great military victory, when the weak defeated the strong, and it is a miracle of dedication and re-dedication.
Last year, we all stood in my youngest daughter’s room and each of my children lit a menorah beside the tall silver menorah that my husband lights each year. We sang and ate together as a family. Some years we took vacations; other times we took day trips hiking or visiting friends.
It’s funny how your life can change so much, so quickly. I don’t think I realized it last year; that I thought about how different it would be. My oldest daughter is now married; she and her husband lit their menorah in their new home.
Elie is in the army and most nights was able to light a menorah that the army set up for him on base. He was home on Friday and Saturday, lighting here, but he wasn’t here last night when we lit the candles and when we sang together.
Today, I took my three youngest children to the Mediterranean. The summer before Elie went into the army, Israel was at war with Lebanon. When it was over, we wanted to do something to help the northern residents and businesses that had suffered so much during the war.
So, we went north, spent money and time. At one point, we drove along the Mediterranean coast and stopped on an almost-deserted stretch of beach.
My youngest daughter was enthralled. “It’s huge,” she kept saying in awe. “Look!” she commanded me, as if I too had never seen such a sight. Elie took her into the water and she clung to him as he swirled her around and let her feel the power of the waves.
This year, knowing that it has been hard for her to adjust to suddenly having two of her siblings out of her daily life, I asked her what she wanted to do on this last day of the Chanukah vacation. She said she wanted to go to the sea. It’s December. It’s cold. “We won’t go in. I just want to see,” she assured me.
So, we took food and towels and spare clothes and water and off we went. No real plan, other than to sit on the beach and enjoy the view. Extra clothes because I couldn’t imagine them getting that close and not actually getting wet.
Elie wasn’t there this time, but the others were and I decided that it was right to focus on them; to think of the ones who were there with me, and not the ones who were not. My oldest daughter wasn’t there. My husband had important work deadlines that couldn’t be pushed off. But today was my day; my day with these three who needed and deserved a chance to challenge the waves.
My youngest daughter was filled with joy. She ran and danced beside the water. She bent to pick up shells and carefully washed each of her treasures before adding it to her collection. It was all wonderful for her; all simple and perfect. Her two brothers went deeper into the water and she too moved into the waves, jumping up and down and feeling the pull of the tide.
This is why we live here, in this beautiful land. To be free to do all the normal things that people do in their country – to watch your children marvel at the wonders of this world, to sit and relax and stare at the beautiful waves, to be content for this moment. There is time enough to worry about what will come in the future and what will not; time to fear and pray, and time to hope and dream.
But what we sometimes need most of all, is simply time to live, away from thoughts and all other concerns. Today was a day to remember the simplest of things in life – the joy a child can get simply by seeing the power of the waves.
I’ve spent much of the last few months feeling that a part of me was missing while Elie was away and out of reach.
Today was about remembering that there are forces more powerful than us and we have to learn to live for now. I missed Elie today, missed seeing him swirl his sister in the water and watch him play in the waves.
But the joy in my youngest daughter’s heart was mirrored in my heart as well because I am at peace with where Elie is, what he is doing, and how he is feeling.
My youngest daughter was amazed by the power of the waves. “It felt like it was pushing me and pulling me,” she told me as she stood wrapped in the towel, finally having accepted it was time to go home.
That’s how it has been for me for the last few months – I’ve been pushed and pulled in many directions because the army is something so much stronger than a mother. The waves are powerful and you can’t really fight them; you can’t stop them. So all you can really do is accept them as they come and challenge each, overcome each and watch as it hurls forward and then goes back out to sea. The power of each wave is a miracle, an awe inspiring event for a child…and also for an adult.
Each wave brings a sense of wonder. My daughter felt it today as she stood by the water and danced among the waves, and I have felt that wonder as well. There is an acceptance that comes with having a son in the army. You accept that he is okay (because if he wasn’t, you’d hear about it). You accept that he’s warm and fed and safe. And you accept the miracles that happen in this country every day.
We’ve lit the last candle for this year, but seeing the waves today was a promise that the miracles continue.
May we always be blessed with miracles and may we all remember to look at the waves with awe.