It was so cold last year. Bitter cold, as I walk down Lexington Avenue towards Grand Central Station to get my train home to Wall Street. I had been at a Latino bar salsa dancing with a devilishly handsome Dominican who kept smacking my ass for not letting him lead, “C-Hannah you have to let me be the man.” Not one of my strongest suits. So after 2 hours and a number of whiskey sours I decided to call it a night, refused a walk home and jumped out into the cold night air.
Such a companion was New York that I could have walked the streets of Manhattan all the way downtown by myself and not minded. The smells, the sounds and the sites of the city fed me through the cold and somehow, and I know this is a big fat cliché, I never felt alone. Outside in the cold night air I felt like I had a companion by my side, which is probably why I had ventured out on the first night of Chanukah in the first place. Because the thought of being alone on Chanukah, well that scared me.
It would be the first year in a long time where I would not automatically be expected to be lighting candles with a certain someone… The wax stained menorah would have a new set of wax on it this year and I would not be lighting the candles. I did not even have a menorah. Religious artifacts were not really on my priority list while packing and now I was so sad to think that I may not light the candles at all. “Whatever it is just a dumb tradition” I told myself. But that yearning for days gone by… well that was just silly because they were long gone. This year would be a new tradition, a tradition of salsa dancing!
I had planned to treat my senses with a walk through the market in Grand Central. I could have stood in that market for hours if I had not been afraid of being trampled over by the overly eager holiday shoppers. The little patisserie with its delicate cakes all lined up so pretty with frosting of yellows and pinks and the flower and Muppet shaped icing. The chocolate store where the owner, although a “connoisseur” of chocolate, had somehow never experienced chili chocolate and would ask me to describe in detail the taste and texture so that he could remake it. Everything about that place lighted my senses and lifted my mood.
The Lexington entrance was in site and I began to strut towards the lights when a little boy dressed in black, with a velvet yamukah and paiyot called out to me, “Are you Jewish?” I recognized this kid. I had heard of the Chabad guys stood on street corners before Chanukah giving out menorahs and dreidels, but I had never seen them. When I told my friend that I was not doing Chanukah this year because I did not have a menorah her response was, “Find the Chabad guys!” But after a few disappointing trips down to Time Square only to find that I had just missed them, I gave up and decided that I was never going to get my menorah.
Only here I was in the middle of Lexington Avenue, in the middle of the night, being asked by one of these elusive (well they were elusive to me!) Chabad kids if I was Jewish, “I most certainly am!” I replied. And so he handed me a menorah, and candles and a dreidel and some chocolate money and he blessed me. And in return I lit my candles every night of the 8 nights, alone and with company.
And now today, on the first night of Chanukah I find myself remembering last year with somewhat of a melancholy feeling, because New York was my love and although I know we had to part, I will love her always and who knows what may happen in the future… New York I love you. ChannahbooKah everyone!