We had come to New York partly to celebrate the holidays, but mainly try to help with a new grandchild, due officially on December 24th—the second day or third night of Chanukah, as well as Christmas Eve and our son Adam’s birthday—but expected any time. We came up on Sunday the 15th, and a week later, with twelve hours to spare before the first candle, my stepdaughter Logan and daughter-in-law Leah were blessed with their new son Rivers—naharot in Hebrew—at 5:36am, 7lb. 6oz., healthy and strong with a lusty cry.
Within a few hours he was enjoying the bounty of life (I want to say chalav u’d’vash, milk and honey) at Logan’s breasts, themselves flowing like rivers out of Eden. And at dusk the first candles were lit by Jews all over the world, celebrating the oil that should only have lasted for a night but burned for seven nights more.
Although, sadly, Jews were attacked somewhere in that world, just for being Jewish, every day of this Chanukah holiday, at Logan and Leah’s home in Brooklyn Rivers, his two loving moms, and his doting Nana Ann made a tableau of Three Graces, three wise women around a baby boy, himself as bright as a star.
On the second night I subwayed across Brooklyn to light candles with my youngest, Sarah, and her long-time partner Lance, whose coffee shop in Bushwick was just named (by Food and Wine no less) the very best coffee shop in America.
Sarah just completed her first term in the MFA program in dance and choreography at Smith College, and she and Lance have been commuting between a beautiful home on a tree-lined street up there and a brownstone in Crown Heights. I commuted a little too, twice going up to Northampton from Atlanta to see Sarah dance.
As I often say, it’s not my father’s Brooklyn. But that evening, the second candle, I was on my way to Sarah and Lance’s, wondering if I should stop and buy candles. Sarah had said she would buy some on the way home, but maybe she wouldn’t be able to, and anyway, you can’t have too many Chanukah candles.
I was changing trains with people rushing in all directions around me, trying to get my bearings, feeling more like the rubes in the old Broadway show singing “New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town, the people ride in a hole in the ground” than the old boy who grew up in Brooklyn myself.
Suddenly out of the crowd came a tiny man with a great white beard who looked exactly like Santa except he was dressed in black, saying, “You Jewish?” in what sounded like the Yiddish accent of my childhood. I had enough of my old New York instincts to try to ignore him, and he was turning away when I saw that he had a box of Chanukah candles in his hand.
“Wait, Sir, excuse me.” He turned, his bushy snow-white beard sweeping back to me in an arc. “You have Chanukah licht?” I pointed at the candles, which he immediately put in my hand.
“You need a menorah too?” He offered another box.
“No, I have a menorah, I just need the candles. How much are they?”
“Oh, we don’t charge for that!” and he disappeared into the crowd. My mood was buoyant as I carried the candles to Sarah and Lance.
It turned out it wasn’t quite such a miracle. Sarah had bought candles and then on her own way home was offered them by three other Orthodox Jews in various places. It’s their Chanukah mitzvah to fan out over Brooklyn bringing little boxes filled with light.
We had a beautiful candle lighting, with gentle singing in the glow.
A couple of days later Sarah and I walked around the Prospect Park lake, where four swans honked circling over us and flocks of ducks and geese skated on the thin ice.
Then I went back to the other Chanukah miracle, the shining new boy, shifting from the arms of one of the Three Graces to the next, to the next, three wise women making a safe warm place for him, to live and grow in a troubled world.
Last night I called our other grandchildren in Atlanta, and we said goodbye to the holiday and hello to another day, year, and decade of miracles.