The Hanukka menorah at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My grandmother was born on Christmas day. Her husband Jacques told her on her birthday “Today it is Christmas day for Christians, and today it is Christmas day for me.”
And indeed as long as my grandmother lived, the family gathered on Christmas day to celebrate her birthday among children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Thus Christmas was part of our lives, a celebration of the family’s matriarch: Yvette (nee Camhi) Nahmia.
Yvette was the daughter of a WIZO leader, poet Victorin, and her successful merchant husband Solomon Camhi. And although Yvette’s mother kept kosher and celebrated the Jewish holidays, Yvette’s father’s business was open on Shabbat.
Ultimately, my grandmother’s religion was love and family, and any combination of these two words: family love, love of the family, creating a loving family. Yvette would express that love for the family members with words like chikitika, bella, amore mio, and by doing loving deeds.
This year, Christmas and Hanukkah coincide. On December 25th, Christians will be celebrating the birth of Jesus, their God, whereas on the same day in the month of Kislev, Jews will be celebrating the miracle of the oil, instigated by lighting the Menorah with some pure oil found in the Temple. To me the day will be a three-in-one celebration of all the cultures I ever grew up in: the family culture of love, the Jewish culture of humans co-creating the miracles with God and the Christian culture of man’s potential to be God.
And that is what’s magic about Jerusalem: that these three world views live in harmony in the city, and that there is room for all to be heard and honored.
On Hanukkah/Christmas, the city will be literally lit by the Hanukkah lights and Christmas tree lights, and light will be emanating from all corners of the city. On that day I will be remembering my grandmother, our family’s matriarch, and her love of family. I wish that, for the sake of her birthday, we in Jerusalem grow to become a loving family, just as she would have liked it to be.