My alarm was set unusually early for a Sunday, but it didn’t matter — I still woke up an hour before it went off, my body buzzing with anxiety. It was moving day, an event unanimously feared and despised, because moving is the worst (especially in New York City). Before I rallied myself out of bed to throw the last of my random umbrellas and scrunchies into a box, I checked my phone and immediately saw the news.
This time at a Hasidic rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, where a Hanukkah party was underway. The details were awful. The term “machete” was thrown about. And it added to the string of attacks that have plagued New York this Hanukkah. I read through any reports I could find, and scrolled through Twitter where I saw so many of my fellow Jews and concerned non-Jews reeling from the tragedy. Before I knew it, my alarm went off, my boyfriend woke up, and I broke the news to him.
But there was no time for us to mourn beyond a quick teary embrace. We needed to figure out where we could stuff our comforter and sheets, and that last box of miscellaneous items we probably should have thrown away still needed to be taped shut. Soon, the movers were there, shuttling everything we own into a single box truck, our sun-thirsty houseplant the last to go in. I tried to remember where all the important items wound up, the stuff we would need to find later that day — the internet modem, my toothbrush, the new house keys — but the day, like all moving days, went by in a blur. By the time the movers finished unloading everything into our new place, my brain was a foggy soup. We ran out to get bialys and donuts for lunch, then ran back and got to work unpacking.
We did what we needed to do: put our bed together so we’d have somewhere to sleep, set up the computer desk so I’d have somewhere to work today, took showers in our new bathroom which we discovered has excellent water pressure (a renter’s miracle). Soon it was dark out and we needed to eat, but it was also raining and we desperately didn’t want to have to put on shoes. We went for the one meal we had on hand: frozen dumplings we bought in bulk from a place in our old neighborhood that we made sure to bring along to the new one. The pots and pans were in a clear bin so I was immediately able to find the steamer, and 10 minutes later, our delicious dumplings were ready. There was just one problem: We had no idea where our utensils were.
The hunt began. We started with any box labeled kitchen, naturally. We found the coffeemaker, the wine glasses, the dish towels, the cans of soup. No silverware. We opened boxes that we had forgotten to label. We found the apron I never wear, the record player, a stack of sweaters. No silverware. And then I found a cloth sack that clanged with the sound of metal. I eagerly opened it up not to find a single fork, but my menorah, the one I’ve had since I was a kid, covered in drippy birthday candle wax because we ran out of actual Hanukkah candles on the fifth night.
We managed to eat the dumplings with a metal prong I’m pretty sure is meant for barbecuing, but it didn’t matter anymore, because I had a new agenda in mind. It was the last night of Hanukkah, and it didn’t matter if our space was now filled with half-open, rifled-through boxes. It didn’t matter if there were still a million things to do to make this apartment feel like a home. We were going to light the menorah in our new window sill.
It had been odd for me to feel so disconnected from the world all day. On any average Sunday, I’d be checking my phone, reading through Twitter, and flipping through Instagram stories more often than I’d like to admit. And on a day when there has been an anti-Semitic attack, that typically means I fly into work mode, even if it’s during the weekend, because I work in Jewish media and it is our responsibility to cover these things, even when it breaks our hearts to do so (and it always, always does). But this time, it took until that moment — after my boyfriend meticulously wrapped each birthday candle in foil (yes, we found the foil!) because they were too skinny to fit otherwise, after I sang the prayers and botched the second one because I always do, after we amen-ed — that I was able to take a moment and stare into the light.
And stare I did. We sat there and watched the candles drip down and didn’t leave until the last flame went out. We watched the light burn against the darkness of the night. And I couldn’t remember ever experiencing a last night of Hanukkah quite like this, not because it happened on moving day, but because I was sad — so sad — and angry — so, so angry — and afraid. Really afraid.
I was also exhausted. I laid on my bed and looked at my phone, scrolling through social media for the first time that day. And there, I saw a great miracle happen. It was on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, too. Every one of my feeds was filled up with fully-lit menorahs, candles burning bright. Some of them were posted without captions; others with messages of lighting up the night, of outshining the people who have hate in their heart, of burning through this tragedy and coming out stronger on the other side, yet again.
I always appreciate pictures of menorahs, especially on the last night of Hanukkah — candles are colorful, and fire is awesome, after all. But last night, I didn’t just appreciate the pretty menorah pictures. I needed them. And it seemed everybody else needed them, too.
That’s the beauty about being part of a people, a tradition. We come together when we need to, and sometimes we don’t even need words to communicate what we’re feeling (although boy, do we love our words anyway). We show up with light. We show off our light. And we show each other our light, which cannot be dimmed no matter how many times others have tried to do so.
I still have no clue where my forks are, but I know, at least for now, I’ll be leaving my menorah in the windowsill — messy wax drippings and all — because we could all use a reminder of what’s good and beautiful in the world, even after our holiday has passed. I know I do.
Top image via Getty Images/Natalia Ganelin