In my own write: Jumping for joy

My Hanukka ritual had become routine – until I publicized the miracle

Gold Menorah 311 (photo credit: courtesy/itraveljerusalem)
Gold Menorah 311
(photo credit: courtesy/itraveljerusalem)
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. (2)If you’re happy and you know it,Then you surely ought to show it,If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.– Children’s song
Perhaps only children know a pure happiness, the kind that makes them want to clap their hands and spontaneously jump for joy; but an experience I had one evening this week came very near to that feeling, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since.
Celebrating Hanukka is nothing new for me. I’ve done it throughout my whole life, and there was – I’ll admit it – something mechanical about the way I fixed five colored candles in their holders this past Sunday evening preparatory to the lighting ceremony. There were no small children present to enliven the occasion, and it all felt pretty routine as my husband and I got ready to recite the appropriate blessings before kindling the lights.
As is mandated, our hanukkia was positioned near a window, my usual faint attempt to fulfill the mitzva of pirsum ha-nes – publicizing the miracle of Jewish deliverance that we celebrate during the festival – but our windows were just too high for anyone outside to actually see the Hanukka lights burning. It struck me suddenly that neither in my parents’ home back in the UK nor in any home of mine here in Israel had this commandment ever been properly observed, largely owing to the structure and location of our living quarters.
Our new place in Jerusalem, however, is one of a series of dwellings built down a mountainside – what they call medoragim in Hebrew – and a public stairway connecting the street above to the one below passes close by our front door and one of our windows.
Impulsively, I wheeled a wooden trolley that we use for serving food over to the window, and placed the Hanukka menora on it. It was nowhere near high enough.
Looking around the sitting room, I saw a small threelegged occasional table. “Put that on top?” my husband suggested. We did, and our hanukkia, placed on top of the table, was duly framed in the window.
Already I could feel my spirits rising.
As soon as the candles were lit and the ceremony over, we hurried outside, climbed a few steps and pretended we were passersby making our way down. Even though we knew what we would be seeing in our window, the beauty of our Hanukka lights, as viewed from the public area, was arresting. It filled me with joy. I began to appreciate their proclamation, the message of Hanukka, as never before – and, childishly, to hope that a whole posse of people would be descending and pausing at the sight before continuing on.
That didn’t happen. But the pure feeling of happiness persisted. It felt like a charge and exchange of Jewish energy and connection; a mutual understanding between us, contained within our four walls, and the outside Jewish world of our link to our miraculous history, a sort of visual dialogue continuing for as long as the candles burned. I realized that a vital element of Hanukka – pirsum ha-nes – had been missing for me, and that from now on I would take care to ensure its observance.
Suddenly, I appreciated the Chabad movement’s practice of setting up enormous hanukkiyot in town squares and public places; of driving around during the festival in vans with illuminated electric hanukkiyot shining from their roofs and Hanukka songs blaring. It’s all about proclaiming the miracle and creating connection with our history; or perhaps, “If you’re happy and you know it / then you surely ought to show it.”
THE CATCHY song from which these lines are taken is simply worded, as befits a ditty composed for small children. In fact, however, it offers one or two thought-provoking ideas.
First is the notion I’ve already tried to convey with my account of our memorable lighting of the fifth Hanukka candle: that happiness and joy – whether occasioned by a miracle, or by anything else – fare poorly when cooped up inside. Despite ourselves, joy bubbles up like a fizzy drink and begs to be shared – ask anyone who’s ever fallen in love. (An alternative version of those song lines goes: “If you’re happy and you know it / then your face will surely show it.”) In other words, it’s very hard to keep happiness hidden. Joy is contagious, and one of the great things about it is how, when it beams out, it gets mirrored back to the source, and then reflected back again, infecting new people and reinfecting those already affected by a condition for which no antidote has ever been sought, or desired.
The second idea is more sophisticated, and embodied in the line “If you’re happy and you know it...”
How many people are happy, but don’t know it? (And if you don’t know it, can you really be happy? Is there such a thing as objective happiness?) Probably not; but I’m not a philosopher. What I do want to say is that many of us may be chasing a vision of happiness that seems elusive – pots of money, a glamorous figure, the ideal house or perfect mate – when we could, if only we realized it, be quite content, even happy, with what we already have.
Part of the problem, I think, is that many people imagine happiness to be something grandiose, like a character making an entry onstage preceded by a trumpet fanfare. These people are imagining once-in-a lifetime events like winning the lottery, or being left a huge and unexpected legacy.
Those things may be wonderful when they happen; they could (though most often don’t) lead to happiness, but they don’t in themselves bring happiness.
Happiness seems to be much more of a quality or state of being, and its existence may depend far more on the person who experiences it than on any external source. It might well be an ongoing ability to see the bright side of things, to cheer the halffull glass rather than lament the half-empty one (the same glass in each case!); to gain pleasure from the “little” things life offers: a sunrise, a lovely piece of music or moving poem, a good conversation over a cup of coffee.
When you come to think about it, the big events happen only rarely, if at all, while the small ones are continuously around us, if we can only appreciate them. The good news about all this is that happiness – or at least contentment – is within the reach of all of us. It seems to be a matter of identification, and internalization.
We might reflect on the fact that the people who seem to be the happiest sometimes have the least, in material terms, that is.
TONIGHT IS the last night of the festival, and hanukkiyot all over the Jewish world will blaze forth in their full glory, beaming out their message of Jewish endurance. I can already picture ours, framed high in our sitting room window, all eight candles aglow and visible to passersby.
Finally, I am doing my little bit to publicize the miracle of Hanukka, and that does make me happy.