by Jane Naliboff
Every year, sometime in late November or early December, sometimes crossing over the biggest winter holiday for most Americans, comes Chanukah. Not a major holiday by any means, but one that is associated with gifts, delicious food, and family, if you’re lucky enough to have them near you.
When my husband and I moved to the woods of central Maine with our then 14 month old, income was what we had in mind and there was a good job waiting for my husband amongst the piney woods and lakes. Not having family close by wasn’t an issue, we were strong, independent, and anxious to begin new traditions with our own little family that soon ballooned to five of us. Being on the secular side, we chose to offer culture and holidays that included food and gifts to our girls. Naturally Passover and Chanukah easily became their favorites.
Three small menorahs, three boxes of drippy, colored candles, star of David and dreidel cookies sprinkled with blue sugar, mountains of latkes and sour cream and applesauce, and a pile of blue and silver gifts was a happy time of year. One year we went to the small local Jewish group’s Chanukah celebration, but the girls didn’t like other people’s interpretations of the holiday, the lighting of at least 25 menorahs, more prayers than they had the patience to stand through, and “not as good as mommy’s” latkes. Our own celebration tradition lasted until the last daughter left for college, but even then, they each received packages in the mail, and they took along their little menorahs.
Something my youngest daughter said to me right around the start of Chanukah when she was in first grade sparked the idea for The Only One Club. She came home one day and said, “I’m the only Jewish kid in my class.” I asked her if she minded and she said, no, she liked it. It really didn’t matter. The next day I was volunteering in her class and out of the blue one of children said that he was only one with white eyebrows, and someone else said, they were the only one with red hair. And a book was born.
Using Chanukah as the starting point for this story of humanity worked well because it was the one thing that the other children noticed that was different about my daughters. As a true believer of the separation of church and state, I wasn’t particularly fond of the teachers asking them to explain Chanukah to the class and bring in a menorah every year, but they wanted to do it and I let them. For 99% of the children in their school in the woods, it was the only exposure they had to a religion that wasn’t based on Christian beliefs. Mentioning Chanukah categorizes The Only One Club as a ‘holiday” book which means that teachers will bring it out year after year and read it along with other winter stories. It has sparked hundreds of discussions across the country about why everyone is the only one, but that we all belong to the same club, that of humanity. My daughters have learned that now, instead of asking what I might like for Chanukah, they pool their money and make a donation to one of my favorite charities in my name. And I always hope I’m not the only one.
Happy Chanukah, or whatever you celebrate, to everyone!
Jane Naliboff is the author of The Only One Club. You can read more about Jane at www.janenaliboff.com.