No products in the cart.

A Hanukkah Story

A Hanukkah Story

We’ve talked about karma before. I tend to be a pretty grounded person from day to day, but as I’ve written elsewhere, I also find that sometimes the only reasonable thing to do is to give in to wonder. And so it was last night.

My father was Jewish. But I was raised by my mother, who for much of her life was a member of the Episcopal Church. My concept and experience of Jewish tradition came mostly from books and movies. Karen and I tried lighting Hanukkah candles with our kids a handful of times, but it didn’t really “take”—I was forcing it without really knowing what I was doing, and it didn’t resonate with us. We lit the candles once at my father’s house, but in a rushed and awkward way that, again, didn’t resonate, at least not in that moment.

Back to that thread shortly.

This past July, we traveled through Scotland on another Rick Steves tour. When we received the tour roster a couple of weeks before departing, we both noticed a couple on it from a town just five miles from us (as well as another two dozen from all over North America). We met Ben and Sarah on the first day of the tour and understood in the first ten minutes that the four of us were destined to be friends. Besides a bunch of common interests, we had common values and attitudes, in particular a keen appreciation for irony and the absurd.

Hours after we shared the first of many laughs with Ben and Sarah, word came from home that my 95-year-old father had been hospitalized and diagnosed with leukemia.  On day three of our tour we sat in the dark, wood-paneled lobby of our Scottish country hotel—the only place we could connect to the spotty wi-fi—tearing up as we read our kids’ responses to the news about their grandfather. Most of our new tour mates moved past our quiet huddle with little more than a nod, focused on their own business and leaving us to ours. The instant Ben and Sarah entered the room, they read our expressions, asked what was going on, and then sat down with us, offering comfort and fellowship when we needed it most. From that point through the end of the tour, the four of us were nearly inseparable. (We joked later that the other tour members probably just assumed we were traveling together.)

And so it came to pass that last night we gathered in Ben and Sarah’s living room, packed to the rafters with dozens of friends and family there to celebrate both Sarah’s 50th birthday and—a night early—the first night of Hanukkah. As Sarah narrated the story of Hanukkah with her own inimitable humor, as Sarah and Ben’s sweet teenaged daughters lit the candles, as a crowded room of Jews and non-Jews alike sung the prayers together using thoughtfully provided cheat sheets, my heart swelled.

It’s easy to see why we clicked with Ben and Sarah—we had a lot in common and their compassion and humor and friendship were just what we needed in that moment when we met. But out of the hundreds of different Scotland tours we each could have booked, how did we, and how did they, end up on that particular one?

Last night we experienced Hanukkah as a joyous communal affirmation, a celebration of survival in the most elemental sense. And this time it resonated all the way to my bones. My mother passed. My father passed. But the story of our family, with all its complexities and digressions, losses and gains, goes on and continues to be written, day by day, moment by moment. Sometimes we make these moments. And sometimes, somehow—with a perfect grace that fills me with wonder—they are made for us.

Comment (1)

  • Keith Hunter

    Cousin Jason, There is nothing like family, friends and fellowship no matter the time of year. May the blessings of all be on you and yours. Keith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up to get all our latest updates & book release news.