On ritual

Last night I attended my first Channukah party.

It was thrown by family friends whose connection to the Brand-Maris clan runs pretty deep: When Mom was in school, her family had an American exchange student stay with them in Germiston for the summer. Fred Kranin has kept in touch with the family since his time as a college student, and has also come back to South Africa to visit with his family (I was about 10 at the time). We also met up with them in Savannah when we were on a family visit to the States a couple of year ago, and Fred’s niece, Eliana, did a trip as an exchange student in Cape Town a couple of semesters ago. When I moved to Bushwick, Mom sent out an email to everyone (EVERYONE!) we know who lives in the US (even if they’re not on the East coast) and Fred mentioned that his brother, Dan, lives in Brooklyn. A few weeks ago I joined him and his family for dinner, and it was really great to connect with friends with whom I have this link, even though I had never met them before!

This network was expanded at last night’s party, where I saw the whole Kranin clan – Fred, Dan and Eliana, as well as their families and a number of their relatives I had not yet met. It was a really warm environment where everyone was so laid-back and easy to chat to – a refreshing change from many other small-talk situations in this city!

There were traditional holiday foodie things, like latkes and geld, but also really delicious Middle Eastern food like dipping breads with hummus and babaganush. There was also really great wine – a rarity in NYC – so I thoroughly enjoyed the catered component of the evening. :p

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An aspect that really touched me, though, was the ceremony towards the end of the night. My family rarely does any of the Jewish ritual-related stuff; most of our gatherings are about family and food. Those factors are great, but this added element of acknowledging the chag was especially meaningful.

We all gathered in the family room and one of the Kranin brothers – Rabbi David – led us in the lighting of several channukiot. Each grandchild was invited to light a few candles as an honouring of the continuing party tradition – apparently it had been an on-going arrangement for over sixty years! (One of the aunts in attendance said that the first party was held when she was two years old.) I was included in the candle-lighting process, which felt really special and touching. We sang a few traditional songs (“We need some better ones like our friends who celebrate Christmas!” said Rabbi David) and concluded the small ceremony with a tzedaka offering – Dan and Amy’s boys had made a box for donations, as each year the family chooses to assist a different charity. This year, the collections were going towards a group working towards Syrian refugee aid. It is all part of the family’s connection to a time of year which celebrates light, symbolized by the lighting of candles but actualized in the spreading of goodwill.

It was a beautiful night, and a Channukah ritual which I hope to adopt in my own home one day. I’ll probably start next year. 🙂

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