We went everywhere looking for Hanukkah candles. We were having our big Hanukkah dinner that night and we only had three candles, one of them broken. It wouldn’t do. It was the seventh night of Hanukkah so we needed eight candles, one for each night, and one to be the ‘helper candle’ and they had to be special candles that fit into a menorah, regular candles wouldn’t work.
We went to Winkie’s, a high-end variety store, selling fancy everything. Their tiny Hanukkah inventory had glitter and menorahs but no candles. “You don’t have any Hanukkah candles?” I asked the stern looking sales lady. “No,” she replied, offering no apology or explanation.
“Do you ever feel marginalized?” I asked my husband when I got back in our truck. He looked at me, a full-on Jewish look, and said nothing.
We then went to a synagogue, hoping that its Judaica Shop would be open, but the shop was closed during services. We stopped at a high-end grocery store that had a Happy Hanukkah sign out front but the cashier looked baffled when I asked for Hanukkah candles and directed me to a counter with fat balsam Christmas candles.
Then we remembered the Jewish school at the bend of the road only a mile or so away and so we drove there thinking that because it was a holiday there may be people there celebrating. A man in a black suit, black face mask, and stocking cap stood at the door, the guard. My husband parked our truck and climbed the steps to talk to him. Masked man listened to him and they talked back and forth and then both gestured toward the truck and I waved. Masked man waved back and then he went inside.
Then (now the story is related second hand) a very young thin man, maybe 20, maybe not even, came out of the door. He was dressed in the manner of an Orthodox Jew – a black suit, white shirt, and black hat. My husband explained our dilemma and the young man, whose name was Noah, nodded yes, indeed, the school did have Hanukkah candles which he would gladly give us but he couldn’t because it was Shabbos and he couldn’t do any work until sundown.
He said he would bring us candles at 5:15. He wouldn’t write down our address because that would be work, nor would he let my husband write it down. So they went back and forth with the numbers and the street until it seemed that Noah remembered it. “I will bring you candles later. It is a mitzvah,” Noah said, and then he explained the concept of mitzvah – a good deed – to the masked man and to my husband who had heard it all before many times.
After the sun went down, we waited for Noah. The hour passed. “He forgot the address,” I said. It seemed certain that we would be without Hanukkah candles so I found eight votive candles and lined them up on a platter. That would be our menorah. It would be fine. We talked about being disappointed that the wonderful story of the young man bringing us Hanukkah candles would end up being about his intention rather than the delivery. “That’s what counts,” we agreed. Noah was genuine in his intention to bring us candles so it was still a good Hanukkah story, Noah’s kindness, his readiness to help us, even if he didn’t make it. People forget.
And then of course when we had given up on him, Noah arrived at our front door. He had in a grocery bag seven large boxes, each containing a menorah, a dreidel, and enough candles for the entire eight days of Hanukkah. We were awash in Hanukkah candles. Noah stood just inside our door just inches from the ceramic mezuzah painted by one of our kids in Sunday School years ago that was fastened to the door jamb at just the right angle to protect us from visiting harm. It hadn’t always worked but its intention was clear and powerful.
Later that night, long after guests had left, at the back of the drawer of the china cabinet, my husband found a box of Hanukkah candles left over from last year. We were glad we hadn’t found them sooner.