A Chanukah Adventure
"Children," father said after bentching the Chanukah Lights, "tonight you'll have to play dreidle on your own..."
"Oh daddy..." they all chimed in a sorrowful chorus.
Father cut short their protest.
"You see children," he began to explain, "I have something very important to do, and when you hear what it is, I'm sure you will agree with me. Do you know that there are many Jewish homes where there will be no Chanukah Lights tonight?"
"No Chanukah Lights?" called out Nechamah'le. " And no dreidle?" called out Rivkah'le.
"And no latkes? " called out Yankele -he was very fond of potato-latkes.
"No Chanukah Lights, no dreidle, no latkes; no, indeed, I'm sorry to say. And do you know why? Because many Jewish children don't know that there is such a beautiful festival as Chanukah! Nobody ever told them about it; nobody ever reminded their parents about it. These children have been forgotten. ..."
"What a pity," said Yankele.
"What a shame," said Nechamah'le. "It makes me sad," said Rivkah'le.
"But the Rebbe -G-d bless him -has not forgotten them," father said reassuringly. "He told us to go out and visit such homes, and bring them Chanukah lamps and candles, and tell them about Chanukah, so that they, too, will light the Chanukah candles. Now, I ask you: What is more important -that I should stay home and play dreidle with you, or that I go out and bring light into those Jewish homes, and make those forgotten children happy with the joy of Chanukah?"
The children understood, and nodded. They had to admit that Daddy was right -as always.
The young father got into his old Chevy, which was much the worse for wear and tear, but bravely doing its duty, like a battered war-tank that had seen much action on the battle fronts. This time the old car started without hesitation, and Berel sped to the central office of the Youth Organization, where he was to pick up a companion and stock up the car with little brass Chanukah lamps, boxes of candles, scores of dreidles, as well as brochures with the Chanukah story and instructions how to light the Chanukah candles.
The office was buzzing with activity, like an army headquarters. Young men and Yeshiva boys were coming and going, all eager and enthused to do their "thing" in this Chanukah Campaign.
Yossel was already waiting for him, all set with the stuff. Berel checked the list posted on the wall. He and Yossel were to go to a small suburban town in Long Island, about one hour's drive from Brooklyn. Losing no time, they set out on their Mitzvah mission.
Berel was impatient to get there and begin action. He stepped on the accelerator, and the good old Chevy hummed eagerly, as if it, too, was just as eager to help in the mission. Berel must have been driving a little too fast, for he suddenly noticed the flashing lights of a patrol car that clearly meant to tell him to pullover to the curb.
"The 'Adversary' had to try to spoil it for us," Berel muttered to his companion, as he slowed down and pulled over to the curb. The police car pulled up behind him, lights still flashing.
A tall police officer stepped out of the patrol car and came up to Berel's open window.
"What's wrong, officer?" Berel asked innocently.
"Don't you read the signs? You passed through a 40-mile speed zone at 51 miles per hour. Your license and registration, please!"
Berel never argued with a police officer; he just said, "I'm sorry."
While Berel fumbled in his wallet for his driver's license and registration, the policeman eyed him suspiciously. He must have been wondering if the two bearded young men in the car were "hippies" or similar characters up to some mischief. He flashed his torch on the back seats, and wanted to know what there was in those cartons at the back.
Berel bent over his seat and took out a little brass Chanukah lamp, which he handed to the Lawman. The officer looked at it curiously. Berel thought it necessary to explain to this "Goliath" what it was.
"You see, officer, we Jews have a Festival of Lights, called Chanukah, when we light candles: one candle the first night, two the next, and so on, until the last and eighth night of Chanukah, when we light all eight candles. So we are on our way to distribute the lamps and candles to Jewish homes. You might say, we are on a call of duty. ..."
"I'm also a Jew," the officer remarked.
Berel wished that the officer had said it with a little more feeling, and not just in the same tone as "your license, please." But he was pleasantly surprised nevertheless.
"Well, well, how do you like that! Yossel, did you hear, he is a Yid, like us!"
Turning to the patrolman again, Berel said, "May I give you this Chanukah lamp as a Chanukah gift? There is one condition, however; you must promise to use it. Here is a box of candles that goes with it. Do you have any children?
" A boy and a girl."
"Then let me also give you a dreidle for the children. Here is also a brochure with the story of the brave Maccabees."
"I've heard of the Maccabees...Yes. They are doing a good job of protecting the neighborhood. ..."
"No, not about those Maccabees, but the original ones, over 2000 years ago. You will read all about Chanukah in this brochure, and your children will enjoy it, too. It also has instructions how to light the Chanukah candles, and also the rules about the dreidle game."
The patrolman's face lit up. "I just remembered seeing my grandfather, may his soul rest in peace, light the Chanukah candles. That was quite some time ago. My father didn't light them. I certainly never did. ..."
"It's never too late to start a good thing," Berel said enthusiastically. "Tell me, your friend over there in the police car -is he, perhaps, also Jewish?"
"No, he is a genuine Irishman. He's my neighbor; lives next door to my house. You know, every year at this time, he decorates his house with colorful electric bulbs, and a tree all lit up. The truth to tell, it makes me a little envious, especially the kids. My non-Jewish neighbors observe their holidays, but I know nothing about my Jewish holidays; it's embarrassing. … My kids, they also want to celebrate a holiday... Well, now I'm going to light the candles, and the kids will be happy to have a holiday of their own! "
The patrolman became silent; thinking. Then he asked Berel, " Are you a Rabbi?"
"Yes, I'm a children's Rabbi. I teach at a Yeshiva - if you know what it is."
"Would you care to visit me at my house? You'll meet my wife and the kids. We could have a talk. Tomorrow evening I'm off duty. Would you come?"
"I'd be delighted," Berel assured him. "I'll give you my address." The officer jotted it down on a piece of paper. "Here it is. You see, I'm giving you this instead of a ticket. So instead of going to the Traffic Court to answer a summons, you'll come to me. O.K.?"
"Very O.K.!" Berel said. "Now, don't go speeding again. You may not be so lucky next time," the patrolman warned
"And you don't forget to light the Chanukah lamp," Berel said, adding, "tomorrow night we'll light it together."
"Happy Chanukah! See you tomorrow," the patrolman said with a broad smile on his face.
"Happy Chanukah, happy Chanukah," Berel and Yossel returned the greeting, and continued their journey in a happy mood.
The following night, Berel went out again on his Chanukah Campaign. His first stop was to be at the home of the police officer.
As he drove through the quiet streets of suburbia, Berel saw many houses decorated with colorful lights. Some houses were not decorated, and here and there he noticed a modest electric Chanukah Lamp in the front window. This was one time in the year when it was easy to tell which was a Jewish house, even without looking for the Mezuzah. Later on, Berel would be visiting some of those "undecorated" houses and those with electric Chanukah Lamps in the window, and enliven them with the real Chanukah spirit. But now he was heading for the address, which the Jewish policeman had given him.
It was a two-family house. The upper apartment was brightly decorated with colorful electric bulbs and a display of a plastic sled harnessed to two reindeer. However, Berel's attention was attracted by the electric Chanukah Lamp in the casement window of the lower apartment. "This is where my new friend, the Jewish policeman lives," Berel said to himself, as he pressed the doorbell. While waiting for the door to open, he did not fail to notice that the small Mezuzah on the doorpost was painted over and hardly noticeable.
Presently the door opened and his host, minus the police uniform, welcomed him with a broad smile and warm handshake.
"This is my wife Gladys, and this is Bobby, and this is Betty, and my name is Fred," the policeman said, introducing his family and himself. Then he turned to his wife, saying, "This is the young Rabbi about whom I told you last night.
"We are all delighted you were able to come," Gladys said.
Berel asked the children how old they were. "I'm ten," Bobby said.
"I'm eleven, " Betty said.
"Do you know your Jewish names?" Berel asked. The children shook their heads. "Do you know, Mom?" they asked in unison.
"1 sure do," Mother answered proudly. "Your Jewish name, Bobby, is Boruch-Hersh; you are named after my father, may he rest in peace. And your Jewish name, Betty, is Chaye-Bashe; you're the image of my mother, may her soul rest in peace."
" And what is your Jewish name, Mom?" Betty wanted to know.
"My Jewish name is Golda."
"And my Jewish name is 'Froim' (Efraim)," the father said. I happen to know it, because I remember grandpa telling me that I was named after his father."
Berel encouraged his hosts to talk about their parents and grandparents. It turned out that Golda had a pretty good Jewish background, but drifted away from Yiddishkeit after marriage. Her husband had very little Jewish education, and the neighborhood in which they lived had very few observant Jews. But he, too, had some vivid memories of his grandfather, with whom he had spent some very pleasant Jewish holidays.
It was a heart-warming conversation, and when Berel suggested that they proceed with lighting the Chanukah Lights, the suggestion was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by the children.
Father and son put on Yarmulkes, which Berel had thoughtfully brought with him. First, father bentched the Chanukah Lights, reading the blessings from the brochure, which had the Hebrew in English letters. Then Berel produced another little Chanukah Lamp, and a box of candles for Boruch-Hersh, and Berel showed him, too, how to light the candles and make the blessings.
"Why do we light candles on Chanukah?" Boruch-Hersh asked. .
"I was waiting for you to ask this question," Berel said, and he proceeded to tell the story of Chanukah. He told them how the neighboring king Antiochus, who was a Greek idol-worshipper, tried to force the Jews to give up their Jewish way of life, and how a brave old Jew, Mattisyohu, and his sons, rose up in rebellion against the cruel king; how, though they were greatly out-numbered, they won wonderful victories on the battle field, under the leadership of Judah Maccabee; how the Jewish fighters finally drove the enemy out of the Holy Land and out of Jerusalem, and once again made the Beis Hamikdosh holy to the service of G-d. And then happened that wonderful miracle with the little cruse of oil, with which the Menorah was lit, that had enough oil for only one day, but lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared for the Menorah.
"The Chanukah Lights remind us," Berel concluded, "to light up every Jewish home with the light of the Torah and Mitzvos, and in a growing measure, just as the Chanukah lights are kindled in growing numbers from day to day. Chanukah also reminds us that where there is a firm determination to live by the Torah and Mitzvos, G-d helps us to overcome even the most difficult obstacles. Fortunately, in this country, there are no real difficulties to live Jewishly; certainly nothing like those encountered by Mattisyohu and his sons and followers."
Berel's words, coming from the heart, obviously made a deep impression on both the parents and the children. For a few moments after he finished, they sat quietly, thinking. Then little Chaye-Bashe asked, "Why shouldn't I light the Chanukah candles, too?"
"For you and your mother there is another and very special mitzvah of candle-lighting, and not just once a year, for eight days, but every Friday before sunset, in honor of Shabbos, and on the eve of every Yom Tov," Berel answered.
"Really?" the little girl called out excitedly, looking up at her mother.
Only now mother realized what they had missed all these years, and her eyes welled up as she recalled how it was on Friday nights at her mother's home. She hastened to assure her daughter that from next Friday on, both of them would light the Shabbos candles without fail.
Berel suggested that before lighting the candles they should each put a penny into a charity box. "I have one to spare," he added, as he produced a round charity box from his briefcase. "When it will be full you will give it to your favorite Jewish cause." This suggestion, too, was received with delight.
"Now that your home has been lit up with the Chanukah lights, and will become even brighter with the Shabbos lights," Berel said to his father, "it is time to bring light also into your heart and mind."
At first the policeman did not understand what Berel was talking about. But when Berel explained that he was talking about putting on Tefillin, on the left arm facing the heart, and on the head, Efraim remembered that at his Bar Mitzvah party his grandfather gave him a pair of Tefillin. It was the first and last time that he had put on Tefillin, but he didn't remember whatever happened to the Tefillin since that time.
"Don't worry, we can take care of that," Berel said, promising that first thing the following morning he would send a Yeshiva-boy with a pair of Tefillin, and he would show him how to put them on. "It will take you only a few minutes every morning, except Shabbos and Yom Tov, but you will gain an eternity," Berel said persuasively, and the policeman responded with a hearty "O.K.!"
Everybody was in a happy and elated mood, and they felt sorry when Berel got up to leave. "I have yet much to do tonight," he said. "We have made a wonderful beginning. There is just one more thing we have to see to -the Mezuzos!"
Berel asked permission to remove the only Mezuza in the house. He was not surprised to find that it was not kosher, for it contained a printed paper scroll, instead of handwritten parchment, as required. He replaced it with a kosher Mezuza, and promised that the Yeshiva boy would bring additional Mezuzas for every room in the house. "They are provided at cost price, or given free in some cases. It's up to you," Berel said.
Before leaving, Berel had a quick round of Dreidle with the children. He explained to them the meaning of the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin -" A Great Miracle Happened There."
"And what letter would you need to say, 'A Great Miracle Happened Here?'" little Boruch-Hersh asked.
"You've got a fine little Jewish keppele!" Berel said as he embraced the boy affectionately. "Instead of a Shin you' d have to have the letter Pey. But no one has yet produced a Dreidle like that. It's a wonderful idea, anyway. Well, good night and a happy and bright Chanukah to you all! "
"Happy Chanukah, Happy Chanukah," they all responded cheerfully as they escorted him to the door.
As Berel drove home that night, he found himself singing, " A Great Miracle Happened Here. ..."