There are a few reasons for this. One is that I just love the candles, and seeing my neighbours add candles each night, and these growing pools of light in Israeli winter evenings. I also love that stores and businesses also light candles, and display them in their windows. It’s like a thread of candlelight that links us all.
Another reason is that Chanukah usually takes place in December, which is around my birthday, which is always my favourite time of the year.
Yet another reason why I enjoy Chanukah is that we live in the city of the Maccabees who we remember in this festival, Modi’in. We also arrived in Israel on the first night of this festival, so that makes it even more special to us.
Each year, I take photos of our candles, and show our progression from the first candle, to the 8th. This year, I decided not to go with my standard view of our menorah with each day’s addition.
Our son was really into capturing each night’s candles with his phone. I noticed he was experimenting with ISO, and shutter speed on manual settings. Definitely some photographer Dad pride there! 📸
Of course it’s not just about the candles. This time of year is also a time for amazing donuts called sufganiot, and fried foods such as latkes. I especially enjoy my wife’s potato and sweet potato latkes!
I love candles in various contexts but, above all, I love Shabbos candles the most (Chanukah candles are a close second). I can only guess it all began as a child, growing up in a not-so-religious Jewish home. We almost always celebrated our Sabbath with a family meal, prayers over the wine and bread. All of this was illuminated by at least two candles that seemed to burn for most of the night.
The joy of Shabbos Candles
Shabbos candles have lit up my home for decades and their light literally lifts my spirits. Even when times are darkest for me, the light from those candles, along with the other rituals we perform on Friday nights, banish that darkness. When those candles are lit, everything feels like it will be ok.
Some nights, while my family is sleeping, I sneak back to our dining room just to experience that light one more time before bed.
Chanukah candles are a close second
Chanukah is, by far, my favourite Jewish festival and it is primarily because of the candles.
Our tradition is to light Chanukah candles and place them on window ledges so their light can be seen from the street. That was, unfortunately, a little symbolic when we lived in Johannesburg behind two meter high walls and you really couldn’t see much from the street.
Here, in Israel, Chanukah candles are lit in shop windows and placed on balconies for everyone to see. To me, it feels as if joy is passed from shop window to office window and from home to home.
Even though Chanukah candles tend to burn out in about half an hour (if you’re lucky), those 30 minutes are slices of joy spread across the eight days of Chanukah. It’s even better with a Shabbos somewhere in between because, for a brief time, our home is filled with this heart warming brilliance.
It isn’t really a religious thing
We’re not particularly religious. We try to run a Kosher home because it is the way we choose to live. We are pretty infrequent visitors at our local shuls (mostly my fault, I start the week with the intention to go and when the time arrives, I procrastinate long enough to make the walk pointless).
At the same time, a Shabbos meal with my family is not negotiable. I am also pretty particular about our routine.
The starting point is Gina and Faith lighting the candles. I try to be there with them when they do because it feels as if we are welcoming Shabbos together then. Before we eat I say the blessing for our kids (I do the blessing for our kids separately – they argue over who goes first). I then do a version of the Shabbos blessings and blessings over the wine and challah (the Kiddush) and we eat.
Lately I’ve wanted to add something for Gina too and I keep promising myself I’ll learn Ayshet Chayil well enough not to take half an hour to recite it. If you’re not familiar with this one, it is basically a tribute to the wife for all that she does for her family. Just doing the blessings for the kids feels like I am ignoring all that my wife does for us. I’ll get there eventually.
We don’t really keep most of the laws but keeping our few traditions distinguishes this day for every other for me.
The light. Oh, the light.
The Kiddush, the wine, the challah and the meal with my family are highlights of my week. Above all, the candles we light make Friday night the best night of the week. After we’ve eaten, the kids are in bed and we finally turn off the lights and crawl into bed, the remaining light from those candles reaches our bedroom.
That light dispels the darkness and grants a respite from it all for at least 25 hours. Even on the nights when I don’t sneak out of bed to watch those candles flicker one last time, a glimpse of their light before I fall into a food coma leaves me a little happier, more content.
We had our own Chanukah miracle this year. One of us left our box of candles in the sun one day and the heat melted about half the candles in the box. We had enough candles to take us through to the 7th night before we ran out of usable candles.
I went to a local Jewish shop to buy more candles. I didn’t have cash on me and they wouldn’t take a card so I had to cancel the sale. None of the other shops in the centre had Chanukah candles so I left the mall, intending to ask my wife to buy candles (and promptly forgot).
That evening I realised I had forgotten to arrange with Gina to buy more candles and when I checked the box of candles we had 3 melted candles (we needed 9 candles for one menorah). I dug around in a drawer and found an almost full box of Chanukah candles from last year, enough to light up two menorahs to finish off the last night.
Not quite as dramatic as our ancestors’ experience but a great synchronicity for our family.