What It Feels Like When Someone Wishes Me ‘Happy Hanukkah’

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Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. This was taken from outside my home, looking into the front window.

I grew up in a conservative, Christian state where most people say Merry Christmas. And that’s fine.

I usually say Happy Holidays. I never take offense to a greeting of the season, regardless of how it’s spoken. But something warm and precious emerges when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah.

Let me paint a picture for a moment:

When you grow up as a religious minority, you’re used to society overlooking your holiday. It’s nothing that bothers or insults you. Therefore, you never think twice when someone gives you a Christmas card, or a Santa hat, or an ornament. You appreciate it.

Yet, I’ve never forgotten the boss who bought me a Hanukkah card my first year on the job—accompanied by a bottle of wine—or the friend who texts me the first night of Hanukkah every year. Precisely because I don’t expect it, when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah, they enter a special place in my heart and mind.

For me, those two simple words permeate deeper than the typical holiday greeting.

They say, “I see you. I recognize you. I understand this is your holiday, and I want to acknowledge that.” They say, “I accept you. I welcome you. And I hope you have a lovely Festival of Lights.”

I make it my mission to wish people whatever holiday they celebrate. For most of my friends or colleagues, I say Merry Christmas. I’ve wished a Happy Kwanza. And I say Happy Holidays when I don’t know someone’s religion.

Rarely, however, do I receive a Happy Hanukkah. When I do, it makes my heart dance. I rejoice in sharing the miracle and delight of my holiday with others, just as so many spread Christmas cheer wherever they go.

I know people do not say Happy Hanukkah for a variety of reasons: they’re shy, or they’re unsure of the correct greeting, or they think I also celebrate Christmas. Some people just don’t know. That’s okay.

But for the occasional person who acknowledges my holiday directly, thank you for making my smile glow just a little brighter.

My Jewish Cat and the Art of Guilt

My Jewish cat, Chance, who has skillfully learned the art of guilt

When hungry, most cats drill their “servants” with shrilling meows, driving them into madness. Not my cat.

Instead, he’s taken another route, skillfully learning the art of Jewish guilt. He doesn’t need to meow. In fact, he protests with complete silence, accompanied by “the look.”

I first noticed Chance had acquired this divine power last weekend, on a Saturday morning. I’d slept in that day, awoken by my own urgency to use the bathroom. Of course, curled up next to me in a furry ball, was the purring Chance.

As I left the bathroom to climb back into bed for a few extra minutes of rest, he merely climbed on top of my belly to cuddle. Thirty minutes later, as I slid into my slippers, he gently followed me down the stairs of my house. Five minutes later, he quietly sat in the kitchen as I prepared my Saturday morning coffee, toasted my bagel and prepared some salmon lox.

When I turned around to the pantry, I saw it.

There, poised gracefully next to an empty food bowl and a dry water dish, sat Chance. His black tail neatly curled around the confounds of his white paws. His fluffy chest held back in an upright position exuding a quiet dignity. And his blue eyes, patiently staring up at me from a dipped head, as if to say, “Did you forget to feed me, Mom? Do you not love me anymore?”

Immediately, I rushed to his side, drowning him in apology after apology, reassurance after reassurance. He received wet food that day, along with a full bowl of freshly filtered, cool water.

Chance understands the power of Jewish guilt, unlike the other whining cats who paw at their servants’ faces in the morning. He understands that time is his ally, not his enemy. And with a little patience, the rewards will far outweigh the wait.

Since this divine power was bred into me, I’ve remained immune to it throughout my life—well, except from my father. Yet, it was a cat who finally broke through the wall, took my heart hostage, and now uses it to wield his will.

And I know from this day forward, I’m in trouble. Big, big trouble.