Wednesday, November 03, 2010


I wrote this a while back as a First Person piece for our local daily. It was one of other pieces focusing on my experience as a student attending after school Hebrew lessons. This was a very pleasant time and experience although it didn't seem like it at the time. In any case, I'm toying with re-writing it as a play perhaps combining it with some of the other pieces. As usual, comments always welcome.

A Shining Light

As a youngster, Christmas was somewhat of a demoralizing time of the year. Since our family was of the Jewish faith, we celebrated the holiday of Chanukah, which didn't seem to me to be half as exciting as the furor that went along with trimming a tree.

On occasion Chanukah fell during the same period as Christmas and somehow I couldn't work up as much enthusiasm for lighting a candle even if it was colored, as my friends seemed to experience placing ornaments on the branches of their trees.

Even though my parents explained time and time again that Jewish people don't celebrate Christmas, which meant that a tree even a miniature one was out of the question, it was difficult for me to accept. In spite of protestations that we could call it a Chanukah bush, it was obvious that there was no way a fir tree would be part of our celebrations.

Traditionally at Chanukah, children receive gifts of gelt or money and light small colored candles in a menorah (candelabra), one per night for the eight days of the holiday. While that was nice, in my mind it didn't measure up to all the excitement connected to the "other" holiday.

At Hebrew school we always celebrated the various holidays, big and small, and Chanukah was a particular favorite especially since our class, being the eldest students, entertained the residents of a seniors home. Each year the teacher would select eight students to sing and perform as Chanukah candles and competition was fierce for the part of lead candle.

Since I wasn't blessed with a good singing voice – I could barely carry a tune – I knew that my chances were slim at best to play any candle, never mind the lead candle. My biggest rival was Zelig, who had the voice and promise of a future opera singer. Not only did he have the best singing voice, he was also the top student scholastically. Plus he was also the teacher's pet. Whenever games were played for prizes during the holidays, Zelig won everything, which didn't exactly ingratiate him with the other students. Actually, we were all jealous and would have liked nothing better than for his voice to change in the middle of a concert.

Class auditions for candle parts were held a few weeks before the onset of the holiday and the best I could hope for was a minor part and even then, only if the rest of the students had an off day or laryngitis. Each student auditioned for the teacher and as expected, Zelig got the lead role, which irritated me no end.

My resentment was eased somewhat by being assigned the role of a minor candle, probably out of pity more than anything else. Those students not chosen became part of the chorus singing "tra-la-las" at the appropriate time.

Excitement was at a fever pitch when we arrived at the seniors' home, ready to perform for a live audience who were, for the most part, in wheelchairs. They were brought into the auditorium where we were lined up on stage, anxious to perform.

Glancing around the room, many of the seniors appeared half asleep.

"You will be entertained today!" their nurses might have insisted as they wheeled them into the room.

The first students opened the concert and sang well and those who followed performed admirably. Finally, it was my turn. My voice didn't fail me and I felt very proud of my accomplishment.

Zelig opened his mouth and it was like a chorus of angels had entered the room. His voice was strong and melodic and suddenly the seniors perked up, smiles on their faces in obvious appreciation of what they heard. When the last notes of his solo faded away, they all clapped appreciatively.

The musical recital was over and we performed a variety of Israeli dances, moving off the stage to mingle among our audience. Although Israeli dancing was a passion, I was consumed with the memory of the applause and accolades bestowed upon Zelig.

After our presentation and some refreshments, an elderly woman wheeled over to talk to me. She smiled, her trembling hand gently covering mine.

"Thank you," she uttered weakly and breathlessly. "You were all wonderful. How special you are to visit us!"

There was the sudden realization that it wasn't important who the lead candle was or who had the best voice. It was significant to our audience that we had taken the time to come at all.

It wasn't long after our successful performance that Zelig's voice finally broke and he never knew whether he would sing soprano or alto. Tough luck for him. My voice on the other hand, never changed and could always be depended on to sing off-key

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