“These candles that we light” were prepared in advance and our father walks through this house, with his hands behind his back, and prays the evening prayers: and as he finishes the final prayer “We must praise the Lord of all” he turns to us - to me and my brother Mottel - with fragmented words and hints with his fingers:
Ee-a-nu when he looks to the heavens and the earth A-A! But Mottel and I do not understand the language of our father and his hints and we ask him: Perhaps you are saying something alike a match? A knife? Scissors?
And our father points with his finger to the kitchen and says: “Ee-a-nu-fa-and therefore we hope - your mother! Your mother!
This time we understand to what his words are alluding, and therefore we summon our mother urgently from the kitchen to hear the blessing for lighting the candle, the Chanukah candle, and after her comes also Brayna the cook, a black woman, with clumsy and dirty hands, and both of them stand in the doorway, facing the Menorah, to hear the song and the blessing, and Mottel and I are barely holding back to stop laughing, which will soon break through, to see the black woman Mrs Brayna wiping her dirty hands on her contaminated apron and then later moves them to her nose and leaves a clear sign on her face....
Blessed are You.....my father starts to bless in the special sway, the sway of Chanukah, and finishes with “to light a candle of Chanukah”, and he bends over and lights the candle. The women put on a face of modesty and piety and answer: “Blessed is He and blessed is His name”. “Amen” with huge intent and during this act Brayna shakes her head and makes such a strange face that my brother and I are frightened to look at each other so that we don’t burst out laughing.
“These candles that we light” my father sings secretly and starts to walk here and there in the room and looks at the Menorah and prays and does not stop. G-d knows how long he will pray! Mottel! Come close to your father, and please tell him about “Chanukah Money”. In this way I rebuff Mottel and he does not want that. Why me? Perhaps you? You’re younger than me, Mottel, so you have to go first.
On the contrary isn’t the opposite true?
And father hears and listens to our negotiations, however he pretends that he can’t hear and comes closer quietly and slowly to the table and starts playing with small change. And we lift our eyes and look upwards distractedly and scratch under our “sidelocks” innocently. As if we can’t see anything and as if it has nothing to do with us at all.
Hmm....children”....Please come here....Hmmm....there you are “Chanukah Money”....”
We put out our hands towards our father and receive from him the small change into trembling hands and both of us go to a special room, firstly slowly and politely, and thereafter skipping with wild dancing and gyrations, until we reach the children’s room we can’t hold back and we quickly start hopping on one leg, singing with joy and excitement:
One and one
One and two
It’s better on one leg
Than on two legs!
So we will be heroes like soldiers
and we will dance like gods
and specifically on one leg
One and one!...
While we are still dancing and gyrating with all our might the door opens and our Uncle Benny enters.
You band of pranksters! Don’t you deserve “Chanukah Money” from me!
And our Uncle Benny puts his hand into his pocket and takes our two silver dinars and also gives us Chanukah Money - and we were as happy as could be.
As our Uncle Benny had arrived my father took a large sheet of paper and draws black lines and white lines on it and tells us to bring black and white tokens and they start to play backgammon, or as we used to call it “Bones” and they play this game every year on each of the eight days of Chanukah, and each time they have a special condition before the game and negotiations and complaints and discussions after the game.
Be warned, Benny, that the game should be played properly, without regret and without cheating. Thus my father says and starts playing and our Uncle Benny who also starts and says:
Yes, yes, without regret and without cheating.
And from one moment to the next they both get so involved in their game that my father doesn’t hear how we, my brother Mottel and I, are playing with the “spinning top” and quarrelling and wrangling with each other and come to blows. Both of them, both father and Uncle Benny, rest on the table, swinging their legs, biting their beards and both sing quietly: How do you play? - father asks himself as if reading the Gemara - if I want to hit this bone, I am scared that perhaps he will want to hit two of my bones? Two of your bones! - Uncle Benny helps him singing along. But what? father continues singing - but I need to go to the right to hit two of his bones properly;
And if I say that perhaps he wants to go left and to hit three of my bones? Really?
Certainly three bones! Uncle Benny helps him singing loudly.
You are a big idiot my brother Benny! - father sings and skips one of his bones on two bones of our Uncle Bennyץ
If there is any idiot here it is you! my uncle helps him and also skips one of his bones, and immediately regrets it.
There’s no going back and moving again! father calls without singing at all and holds it in his hand.
We stipulated before the game that there is no regret and no cheating!
At any time that I am in the middle of a move I have the right to go whenever I want!
My Uncle Benny also answers him without singing.
Definitely not! You can’t shout about the past!
You are telling me that there is no shouting about the past?
I am telling you that there is no shouting about the past!
Tell me my brother, how many times have you regretted altogether?
Would I have regretted?
You would have regretted!
How could you not be ashamed of yourself Benny! That is what I said, I should not play bones with you.
And who is forcing you to play with me?
Congratulations everyone! Why are you having an argument?
So says my mother who came from the kitchen with a burning face, and behind her the woman Mrs Brayna with a bowl full of hot latkes swimming in oil, and steam rising from them upwards.
All of us go to the table and my brother Mottel and I, who were not that long ago fighting and wrangling because of a game with the spinning top, make peace quickly with each other and sit at the table to honour the latkes with good intent.
On that night I couldn’t sleep. I lay supine and thought: how much small change would I have if all my aunts and uncles, my brothers and sisters, would give me Chanukah Money? First and foremost my Uncle Moshe Aharon, my mother’s brother, although he is really tight-fisted however he is very rich and has a load of money. And the second my Uncle Itche and my Aunt Devorah. The third is my Uncle Beinush and my Aunt Yenta, and our sister Sarah-Aidel and her husband Shalom-Zaidel, and the rest of our uncles and aunts, flesh of our flesh, our relatives and family members touch wood - Mottel! Are you asleep?
Why are you shouting?
How much would you say we would receive Chanukah Money from our Uncle Moshe-Aharon may he have a long life?
However much he gives.
After several moments:
Mottel? Are you still asleep?
What does it matter?
How much will our Uncle Itche give us?
I am not a prophet and not the son of a prophet.
After a couple of moments:
Mottel! Have you fallen back to sleep?
I am not asleep and you?
Does anyone have as many aunts and uncles as we have?
Another few moments:
Mottel! Are you still awake?
I am still awake, and you?
If you are awake why are you mumbling like sleeping people?
If you are asking I will answer you properly.
Another moment passes:
Mottel! Mottel! Have you slept enough?
Hrrrr...hilhilhil....tssssssssssss- Mottel snores and falls asleep, and I get out my small change, my Chanukah Money, and look at it and play with it and say to myself: One shekel! One shekel! One shekel! I turn it over and what can I get with it: toys, sticks, pockets, nuts, Pri Magdim, raisins and carobs, flip it and turn it over. Afterwards I put the money under my pillow and say my prayer “Hear O Israel” with intent and pray let it be that all my uncles and my aunts will open their chains and give me Chanukah Money generously. And my eyes are closing and I see the woman Mrs Brayna come from the cooking room with a large full bowl of shekels in her hand...
This Brayna is not walking on her legs, but rather she is floating in the air and singing:
“These candles that we light” and my brother Mottel swallows shekels and I shout like a crane:
Mottel! Mottel! What are you doing? You’re swallowing shekels? Shekels??....
But I wake up and it’s only a dream.
And I say to myself: “You had a good dream, you had a good dream” - and I sleep.
And it was the next day and we got up in the morning and prayed our morning prayers and we ate breakfast quickly, and we put on our overcoats and our conical hats and we wrapped up with thick kerchiefs and we started going to the doors our of relatives and family members to receive Chanukah Money.
Firstly we went to our Uncle Moshe Aharon may he live a long life. This uncle is a weak person by nature, thin with a digestive disease, always, whenever you come to him you find him at the sink when he is standing and washing his hands and making the blessing “who created” and fussily “in every aperture, aperture, every hollow, hollow”.
Good morning our uncle! - we both shout together, my brother Mottel and I, and our Aunt Peisel comes towards us and welcomes us with affection. This aunt is very humble, one eye black and the other white. Aunt Peisel takes off our coats and takes off our thick kerchiefs and wipes our noses with her apron and says: Blow your noses! Properly properly! Don’t stop! More and more!
And our Uncle Moshe Aharon wearing old and heavy clothes and a religious skullcap on his head and with a balding moustache stands by the sink, wipes his hands and screws up his face, winks with his eyes and says with full intent:
Aper-tures apertures hol-lows hollows
My brother Mottel and I stand as if we are on burning coals: a huge terror and black gall falls on us every time we come here and our Aunt Peisel comes closer to us, sits opposite us and crosses her arms on her chest.
Is your father well?
He is well.
And how is your mother?
She is well.
Certainly they slaughtered geese at your house?
And did they fry the fat?
And did they bake latkes?
And did your Uncle Benny come to your house?
And did he play Bones with your father?
Moshe Aharon! Moshe Aharon? We have to give the children Chanukah Money!
But our uncle did not hear our aunt’s voice, he wipes his hands and and finishes by intoning: And it is wonderful t-o d-o! And our Aunt Peisel is not negligent and reminds him again:
Moshe Aharon! Moshe Aharon? Chanuka Money for the children!
What? Chanukah Money? Oy my stomach, my stomach! our Uncle Moshe Aharon answers her. With a special tune - you want Chanuka Money? what amount of small change do children like you have? Small children like you do not need money! How much did your father give you? and what are you going to do with your Chanuka Money? This is how people introduce their children in a bad culture by their own hands, in genuine Yiddish.
Why do you care? interrupts our aunt - give them their due and they will be on their way!
Our Uncle Moshe Aharon turns and goes to his room. He makes a galloping noise with his sandals, searches for a long time in the boxes on the table and in the cupboards and takes out several coins and talks to himself:
Hmm...yes, yes, they damage their children by their own hand...
And at the same time he gives us several coins that don’t look like coins, and our aunt blows our noses and puts on our coats and wraps us up in our kerchiefs and we continue onwards. We run over the whistling snow under our footsteps and count the coins that our Uncle Moshe Aharon gave us and we can’t count them because our hands have frozen and our fingers have thickened. And the coins are old coins, coins made of copper, strange pennies, thin and green and old. It is very difficult to count them outside, and it is impossible to know how much our Uncle Moshe Aharon has given us as Chanukah Money.
Our next house for receipt of Chanukah Money is the home of our Uncle Itche and our Aunt Devorah. They are our aunt and uncle with whom our parents have been angry with for many years. We don’t know the reason for the anger, but we know that our father and this uncle are brothers and they have not talked to each other for many years, although both of them pray in the same synagogue and their seats are near to each other. And when on a festival they take out the Torah and the auction starts for sale of the portions to go up to the Torah both of them specifically want the same portion and each of them raises the bid until they reach the upper ceiling. A tumult and noise, everyone is whispering, everyone is talking, and there is much movement in the synagogue, everyone is thirsty to know who will receive the “third” portion and who will receive the “sixth” portion?
The beadle of the synagogue, Rabbi Lemel Hahatman, with the red hair locks, stands on the platform and most of his body is covered with the silver cloth over the table, his prayer shawl has half fallen off, his skullcap is leaning to the north, and his eyes to the east towards our father and towards our Uncle Itche and he sings out loud:
Eighteen gold coins for the sixth portion! Twenty gold coins for the sixth portion! Twenty five gold coins for the sixth portion!
My father and our Uncle Itche are sitting with one of them looking to the south and one of them looking to the north, each of them in deep reading apparently in his bible, and when one of them makes a bid the other bids higher, and the congregation helps them.
And the beadle Rabbi Lemel sings out:
Thirty gold coins for the sixth portion!
Forty gold coins for the sixth portion!
Fifty gold coins for the sixth portion! Fifty gold coins for the sixth portion! Fifty gold coins for....
The beadle Rabbi Lemel lifts his arm and wants to finish the matter in favour of our father. What did our Uncle Itche do?
He pointed his finger upwards and everyone helped him!
In short, the sixth portion remained my uncle’s property
When the time came for the sale of the Maftir (the final position) our father looked at the beadle Rabbi Lemel and pointed with his hand, saying: “the Maftir has been my property for a long time” and the beadle almost agreed with our father, but the majority wins, the congregation did not agree with it, there is no monopoly and a concern of presumption for the Maftir.
Twenty! Thirty! Forty! Forty five!
Our father turned his head to see who it was and who is trespassing on his Maftir, could you believe it, that this time too it was our Uncle Itche. He wanted the Maftir for his son-in-law the Yeshiva student.
But “three deaths will not kill us”. Firstly he took the sixth portion and now he wants to also take the Maftir?
It would not happen and our father hints to the beadle:
One hundred gold coins?
The words “one hundred” took flight and filled the whole cavity of the synagogue:
All the congregation was excited and amazed: Everything is in the hand of Heaven except the fear of heaven - one hundred gold coins for one Maftir!
And the beadle Rabbi Lemel lifted his hand and said:
One hundred gold coins for one Maf...
However at that moment our uncle sat up straight in his seat and our father gave him a look “Listen, do you want to kill your brother? Please kill me and don’t see my evil!....”
In short, the Maftir stayed in our favour.
Good morning to you Uncle Itche! Good morning to you Aunty Devora! we both shouted when we arrived at the home of my uncle and aunt, and they welcomed us warmly as proper guests.
Surely it’s not the Haggada (used on Passover) that is the main thing for you, pranksters, but rather the Afikoman (a piece of unleavened bread eaten at the end of the Passover meal which the children find and are given gifts in return for it)?
And thus our uncle said, while pinching our cheeks with love and fondness and takes out of his pocket and gives us Chanukah Money, to me twenty pennies, and also to my brother Mottel, and we leave there happy and good hearted to our Uncle the teacher Rabbi Beinush and our aunt Madam Yenta.
If you want to put yourselves through hell with all its might and fearlessness, go to the home of my Uncle Beinish.
Any time that you arrive there you will find noise and tumult. The house is full of naked and barefoot children, dirty, hair unwashed, body unwashed, with wounds and scratches all over them.
One of them laughs, another cries, one sings and one twitters, one whines and one whistles on a whistle.
One is wearing his father’s cloak with both sleeves rolled up, and the other is riding the dustpan and dancing and skipping and gyrating. One is drinking milk from a jug and another is cracking nuts, one is carrying the head of a salt fish, and another is sucking a piece of honey. Our Aunt Yenta has enormous patience in carrying all this huge group, such a bother and load. Every day from morning to evening she curses her children, damns them, hitting and scratching, and does not differentiate between who is at fault or who not - everything that she can find will not be of help: one will receive a shove, the second a blow, the third a punch, and the fourth a slap on the shoulder. A slap round the face is normal there.
The curses: “You will get diphtheria! Absolution to all of Israel may you live! You will be struck by darkness! and so forth - these are some of the lighter curses; there, in that house, you can hear much more serious curses: the plague, tuberculosis, infections, emptiness and green sickness, insanity and blindness, huge and assured slaps, every disease and every injury, and all the evil plagues of Egypt etc” and in these words as you bless your neighbour with “Good Sabbath”.
When we came here we found little Azriel riding on big Getzi, and Ephraim and Mendel dancing before them as gods. Moshe had found the gullet of a slaughtered goose and he blew it up with all his might until he managed to make a strange sound from it like a pig being prodded. Zeinvel is blowing a whistle and Sendler is carrying a small cat in his hands and throttling its throat; the cat was already sticking out his tongue and had closed its eyes and stretched his legs, saying: “This is what happens to us in this house!...” The best of them was Pinchasel (the very last child). A small child with bandy legs, his nightgown thrust upwards and he is a pleasant child and very clever, apart from one disadvantage that he has: wherever he stands there he will leave his mark...
However all this does not disturb our Aunt Yenta to sit quietly and peacefully with two soft souls, one who is nursing at her breast and the second who is kept close to her, and she is drinking chicory.
I will be your absolution, in for your soul and for your bones! - thus says our aunt and she grasps with much love her nursing baby, and by the way she gives a sharp push to the baby who is close to her.
See how ravenous he is may the Lord protect us! Estherelka! Rachella! Cheski!
Where are the tempting girls? Please blow your noses on this damaged breast and fill a glass with chicory for the naughty one may the darkness fall on him. My spirit, my soul, my heart and my consolation! I am for you and for your bones! All day long they won’t close their mouths from morning until evening! A commotion, a strange death, an evil disease on you and on your heads. Lord above! My Father! My crown! My glory! My soul! My heart! My consolation!
When they saw me and my brother Mottel the whole crowd of them swarmed over to us, one of them climbs into our arms, and another crawls over and hugs our legs; Chaimel blew the slaughtered goose gullet right into my ear, and Dudel hugs me with his shoes on his hands. Everyone was shouting and making noise. From one to the other singing and talking, and a mixture of chaos of strange sounds were ringing in our ears, and their shouts reached the heavens. And our Aunt Yentel was cursing them with vigorous curses.
Shout your teeth out! This shout will be your last shout, for G-d’s sake! I am for your soul and for your bones, my crown, my glory, my soul, my consolation, my heart!
And in the middle of all this our Uncle Beinish enters the house. A tall man with a fat potbelly and handsome, with a long beard and his prayer shawl and phylacteries in his hand - the tempest became silent. The whole crowd disappeared in a blink, no-one moved and no-one spoke or whistled as if they had all entered into flint caves and dusty burrows from fear of their father and the glory of his beard, and in the home silence prevailed, and peace over all the people of Israel!
Good morning to you Uncle Beinish! we both shouted, my brother Mottel and I.
What are you doing here, pranks? Surely you came here to receive Chanukah Money.
That is what our Uncle Beinish said in a loud and strong voice and gives each of us a silver coin of fifteen pennies, and the whole crowd looked at us with huge jealousy from their secluded corners like little, shiny insects. We seemed in their eyes like priests of rats and they hinted to us and point with their fingers and make all sorts of strange poses, but they just intend to entertain us. And Mottel and I hold back with all our might, so that we don’t burst out laughing and we escape from that hell.
From there we run to our sister’s house Sarah-Aidel and her husband Shalom-Zaidel may peace be upon them. Our sister has always been since childhood a great cry baby, over every little thing she cries, whatever trouble comes, both hers and others, she would cry and when she got engaged to Shalom Zaidel she had a new source of tears and never stopped crying. Perhaps you are thinking that she didn’t like the groom Shalom Zaidel?
Heaven forbid, how could a daughter of Israel be fed up with the choice, when she had never met him and he also had never met her, and they had never seen each other until after the wedding ceremony? Simply, because a bride before her wedding day in her happiness she must cry, but even more so on the day of her wedding when Baruch Leib the entertainer got onto the table and placed his hands on his potbelly, and put his head down as if he was eulogizing a dead person, and started to sing a heartbreaking song saying:
Dear bride, pleasant bride!
Eulogize and wail and moan!
Your tears will stretch a thread of grace to you, and before the court of the heavens will intercede!
Ha! Soon you will be led to your bridal canopy, and on this day you will find forgiveness; therefore I will teach you Madam, that life is bitter like radish and horseradish, that man has deceived you, from dust we came and to dust we shall return; therefore you must repent, to be worthless, humble and sad, and to cry like water - before the heavens!
However as much as our sister Sarah-Aidel was bitter and sad, our brother-in-law Shalom Zaidel was a happy man with a laughing face and a good heart and he was entertaining, however with due respect he was a very annoying person, that is he liked to annoy us, and to upset us he would put two fingers straight on the nose or the ear and found great pleasure in that.
On more than one occasion our ears swelled up from his pinches, and we were happy to hear the rumour that our brother-in-law was leaving our father’s table. On the day that the couple left our home to be independent there was great mourning in our house. Our sister cried without stopping, and our mother helped her to cry, and the cook Brayna also appeared with tears on her cheeks, in short everyone was crying from one end to the other, and only our brother-in-law Shalom-Zaidel, who helped to pack their possessions, stole away very quickly over to us and pinched our ears and our noses in a high and mighty fashion.
Good morning to our brother-in-law Shalom-Zaidel! Good morning to our sister Sarah-Aidel!
Both my brother Mottel and I shouted, and Shalom Zaidel takes out of his pocket and gives us new shiny coins straight into our hands, and we still haven’t managed to count them. And we already were getting pinches on our noses and ears. Firstly a huge pinch on my ear and he sends his finger to my brother Mottel’s nose, and then the opposite, he sends a finger to my nose and a huge pinch on my brother Mottel’s ear.
Stop hurting the children! - our sister begged him and she pulled us aside to fill our pockets with pastries, nuts and carobs, in addition to the Chanukah Money that she generously gave us, and we hurried to leave their home, because the day was short and we still had a long way to go.