When my daughter was four
we lit the Chanukah candles
on the wedding-present menorah
atop the Lane record cabinet,
our first purchase as a married couple.
In our new home we could peer
out the window at the house below,
where the Todds’ Christmas tree
in their den blazed lights of every
color, reflected by glossy ornaments,
all leading to a star on top that seemed
to descend directly from Heaven.
We chanted our prayers,
Barukh atah Adonai,
Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam,
allowed Karen to hold the
shamash, the service candle,
for her first time, hustled Katey
to the other side of the room
lest she set her pajamas aflame.
Our ritual complete, we gifted
the girls—a doll, a book, a toy
from preschool (only a hundred
sixty-four dollars for an entire year,
reads the bill I unearthed in the
basement as I rummaged through
that crowded cavern where we
store our past).
Dinner, I told everyone, the greasy
latkes already burning at the edges
as they sat in oil on the new gold
General Electric range.
Wait, Mommy, I have a question,
Karen said, what’s that in the window
over there? It’s a Christmas tree, I told her.
Why don’t we have a Christmas tree?
Because we’re Jewish, I said. She wanted
to know then, before eating brisket
cut into small pieces so she wouldn’t
choke, before crunching the latkes,
now on the edge of soggy,
When will we be finished being Jewish?
© by Gail Fishman Gerwin.
Used with the author’s permission.