Peter was in fine form, belting out Yiddish songs at the top of his lungs while the rest of us tried to concentrate on getting everything ready. Mary reminded the kids of their Pilgrim ancestors and we recounted the story of the first Thanksgiving. As a capstone to our weekend we played for the Menorah Lighting Ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion.
This year happens to be the 75th anniversary of Krystallnacht (a coordinated attack on Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria at the beginning of the Holocaust). At the ceremony we heard the moving account of Ambassador John Price (born Hans Joachim Praiss) and his memories of living through the attack prior to fleeing Germany for the United States. Later, Governor Herbert spoke movingly of his own encounters with the record of the Holocaust and his determination to pledge himself to the cause of “never again” allowing our fellow humans to be slaughtered. Rabbi Benny Zippel spoke about the vandalization of the menorah in front of his synagogue earlier in the week, and how Jewish teaching encouraged the conversion of suffering into more joy. He recounted the many offers of help from the community and his own congregation’s dedication to celebrate Hanukkah more fully and restore the Menorah more festively than before. He then presented both Governor Herbert, and Ambassador Price with Crystal Menorahs stating he wanted to transform our commemoration of the pain of Krystallnacht into something of beauty. In wrapping up, Rabbi Zippel asked Otter Creek to play the Theme from Shindler’s List.
It was one of those rare moments in performing where you can feel every mind and heart connected to the music, where the music sings not only out of the performers, but streams out of the souls of those connected by listening as well. There was a pause after the music, as we all breathed in the beauty of the moment, the memories of pain, transformed by the courage to move on, and the light of each of our souls, flickering like the flame of the candles on the menorah, and as Rabbi Zippel pointed out, “no matter how you hold the candle,
the flame always points up,” upwards toward whatever it is that binds us all together.
We finished out the musical program with our favorite Hanukkah song “Fayer” a rollicking klezmer tune about the cooking (and eating) of latkes, and I was struck at how perfect this mash-up of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving was. The simple explanation of almost every Jewish holiday (and especially Hanukkah) is this “they tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed: Let’s eat!” and isn’t that really what Thanksgiving is about as well? Relishing the fact that we are here together with no intention to do each other harm (at least for one day) and enough food that we can afford to overdo it a bit. Savoring for just a moment the connection we all share across the boundaries of religion, race, and political ideology we are first and foremost all part of the human race, fellow inhabitants of this precious little pearl of a planet sailing the vast universe together on a voyage of discovery focused both inward and outward. Remembering that the soul of each person, even those we don’t agree with is a flame pointed upward toward that which connects us all, whatever it is. Pausing to notice that there is so much more we have in common than that which so arbitrarily separates us.
That’s definitely worth feasting about!