Sunday 2 May 2021

It was the First Day of Hanukkah

 by Helen Fox

sweet wine 

It was the First Day of Hanukkah

This story helped my grandfather through the difficult years of the war, but I don't know if it is true or just a fairy tale.

You all know that Hanukkah is a wonderful Jewish holiday when the whole family gathers and happily celebrates it for 8 days. Children play dreidel, receive gifts and their mothers prepare delicious treats, such as latkes and some other tasty things.

In old pre-war Poland it was winter time, and I can tell you that winters were severe and very snowy then. But the light of Hanukkah drove away both cold and hardships.

Little David always loved Hanukkah. Winter holidays were special. Without a holiday it was very difficult to live in the cold and snow. And then Hanukkah came and illuminated the dark, cold nights with its bright light.

David was very fond of the warm flickering of candles, the game of dreidel with his younger brothers and delicious latkes, which only his mother knew how to bake best.

David was always looking forward to Hanukkah, it was a very happy time. But not that year.

That year turned out to be very difficult and even tragic for the Grzybowski family. First, their beloved grandfather Shlomo died in the spring. And after his death, things were getting worse and worse.

David's father Yaakov worked very hard and fell seriously ill. Their neighbor Rachel, an old woman who treated many people with herbs, tried to help him, but he grew weaker and weaker.

"Your father needs a good doctor, I can't do anything for him," Rachel shook her grey head and sighed.

David's mother Rivka also sighed heavily, the family had no money for a good doctor. The family was never rich, but due to the illness of their father, they became very poor and barely had enough money for food and basic necessities.

My father could hardly work, but the more he tried to ignore his illness and continued to work, the worse it became. One day he worked, and two days later he had to lie in bed.

The younger children also began to get sick, Rivka was always sad and was even getting thinner and thinner from the worries and David was afraid that she would also become seriously ill. What they would do then he couldn’t imagine.

"I only hope for you now," said mother, looking sadly at her eldest son. And the eldest son, David, just turned 10 years old. He tried his best to help the family, but he was still too small and his efforts were not enough to replace an adult person.

The parents had already sold the most valuable things, only the old hanukkiah, а nine-branched menorah which came from the great-grandfather, was left untouched, father categorically forbade selling it.

"Soon we are having a great holiday, we will light candles and hope for a miracle," father said in a weak voice. The mother nodded her head and agreed, although they had nothing for the upcoming holiday: no tasty food, no gifts, only candles and an old hanukkiah.

David was also looking forward to the holiday and hoping for a miracle. For many days he had been praying that his father would recover, that his mother would start smiling again, so that the house would become festive again.

The cold stars looked blankly at the boy from the winter sky as he was hurrying home, where the warm light of festive candles awaited him. He really hoped that a miracle would happen on this magical night.

First day. when they lit a candle and put the hanukkiah at the window, he sat and looked at the fire. The house was unusually quiet, Yaakov slept with a restless sleep, and the mother calmed the younger children so that they would not make any noise and wake up their sick father.

Suddenly there came a knock on the door, the youngest daughter was frightened and cried, and the alarmed mother asked David to open. He ran to the door, opened it and stared in amazement at the stranger on the porch. He was a tall, bearded man in a warm fur coat.

"Is this a house of Yaakov Grzybowski? "he asked.

"Yes," David replied.

"May I come in?"

David stepped aside and let the guest in. David's little sister stopped crying and stared at the visitor with great interest.

"Good evening, happy holiday, merry and kind Hanukkah," the stranger greeted all the inhabitants of the house.

Rivka answered politely, but her beautiful black eyes were sad; this time she didn't even have anything tasty to treat the children not to mention the guests.

The stranger quickly looked around the small house, the quiet children who looked at the guest with interest and surprise.

"Sit down at the table, but we have nothing to treat you to, my husband is very ill, we have no money," Rivka said sadly.

"It's okay, you see, it’s me, who came to you with gifts." And the stranger took out a large bag of sweets and a wallet.

"This is a present for the holiday, for your children. And this money is my debt. Several years ago, your husband helped me a lot, practically saved my life. If not for his help, I don’t know what would have happened to me. Take the money, please."

Rivka, very much confused, took the wallet, and the stranger got up and said, “I have to go, I'm in a hurry. Happy Hanukkah and may your husband soon recover.”

In the morning David was the first to jump out into the yard and immediately froze in amazement. White snow glittered in the bright, frosty sun. On the porch and on the path he saw his own yesterday's footprints. There was no snow at night and they were clearly visible. But there were no other footprints! There was no trace of yesterday's stranger.

When David, very much surprised, returned to the house, he overheard his parents' conversation.

"What was his name?" the father asked.

"He did not give his name, only said that you once lent him money. And now he came to pay back the debt. Especially for the holiday."

Father fiddled with his red beard thoughtfully.

"I once had an acquaintance, Marek Zand. I really lent him some money. He got into a very bad situation."

"So, probably, it was he who came, he paid back the debt," Rivka suggested, rocking the youngest daughter in her arms.

"No, it can't be. He died a few years ago, I know for sure."

"Who was that then?" Rivka asked in surprise.

“It was a Hanukkah miracle,” David answered gravely. And everyone agreed with him.

And since then, the family's affairs had been improving. They celebrated the holiday merrily with gifts and delicious treats. The children played dreidel and were absolutely happy.

Now there was enough money to invite a good doctor to father. He said that the disease was not as bad as they all thought, and with good treatment the patient would soon recover.

And everything happened just as the doctor said. When father recovered, he started working again. There was enough money in the family, Rivka began to smile again, and the children stopped being capricious and sick.

Little David grew up; he studied well and became a respected person. He often told this story, which happened on the first day of Hanukkah and changed the life of the whole family, to us, his grandchildren. Now you know it too.


About the author 

Helen comes from Russia.  

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