By Larry Gordon –
By now the colorfully illuminated Menorahs have probably been taken down and packed away until next year. Those are the Chanukiya lamps composed of tiny bulbs that light up the streets of Jerusalem through the eight days of the chag and beyond.
For readers who follow the ebb and flow of these columns over the years, you know that over the last 24 years Chanukah has been redefined by the passing away of my dad, Rabbi Nison Gordon on that fateful 6th day of Chanukah almost two and a half decades ago. I have written about and reflected upon the experience extensively but this year I decided to approach the subject a little differently.
In the past I approached the yahrzeit with anticipation and even trepidation as Chanukah approached. This time around I deliberately delayed my elucidation on the subject until after the yahrzeit and the yom tov of Chanukah had elapsed so that instead of looking ahead with some unease and anxiety, I could write these words while looking back and reviewing the experience here in print. These words are being written on Sunday morning at 35,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic Ocean. It occurs to me that I have spent a lot of time flying over oceans during Chanukah over these many years.
The truth is that as the yahrzeit approaches you never know how it is going to turn out. For me anyway—and I’m sure it is identical for many—there are so many factors involved in how this observance works out and it indeed changes from year to year.
First there is the matter of traveling to Israel for the yahrzeit that has changed so many things for me and my family. My father was a Yiddish writer who expressed himself eloquently on a great diversity of topics over more than a half century. Though he was born and raised in a part of Russia that was also sometimes Poland, he came to the US as a teenager in the early 1930’s with his family, established himself and raised his family here. Still, from the very outset he displayed a serious and uncanny passion for the State of Israel.
I think that he genuinely subscribed to the idea that the founding of the state in 1948 was indeed the beginning of the blossoming of the promised redemption of Am Yisrael. And that in the aftermath of his families immigrating to America and the ravages of the Holocaust that claimed such a toll on the Jewish people that this was indeed the “Ikvesa d’Moshicaha,” that is the footsteps of the arrival of our righteous Messiah. He was always so animated and even excited about the tanach that he studied as a small child and teenager in Europe coming to fruition before his very eyes.
My father told me about a decade before he passed away that his plan was to be interred in Israel. He said humorously or maybe it wasn’t that funny after all, that he did not mind or object to living on America but that after his life here would be over he did not want to lay “in” America.
So it was on that 6th day of Chanukah in 1989 that the music stopped. Everything changed as we were suddenly on our way to bury our father in Bet Shemesh and then spend shabbos Chanukah in a rather contradictory joyous atmosphere in Jerusalem before retuning back to New York on Sunday morning. More in this week’s 5TJT.