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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

A Chanukah Story

December 2019 Our group completed an arduous tour of the Majdanek Labor/Death Camp in Lublin, Poland. Among all of the Holocaust sites in Poland, this is one of the most difficult. The complex has not been "sanitized" for public eyes. Proof of what occurred on the land has been preserved--ovens, ashes, prison blocks. We left the area by 3:30. Darkness comes early in Poland in December. We settled in our modest hotel by 4. The Jews in the group lit the Chanukah candles for the primarily non-Jewish travelers. It was the first night of Chanukah, a few days from Christmas Eve. We sang "Rock of Ages" and "Oh Chanukah" and shared the old stories of miracles. After the candle lighting, some forty of us dispersed into smaller groups, venturing out into the misty, cold evening. Lublin has a 700 year history, owing its development to being located on a trade route. A Jewish center of learning, Hasidism was founded in Lublin. Isaac Bashevis Singer was associated with the city. The city was alight in beautiful decorations, easy to forget what lay a few miles away. We stopped in a bakery to buy cookies, marveled at the marzipan treats, and pranced about, giggling at selfies and group pictures. We headed into the old city and meandered slowly to a square, time for a libation. My friends and I sat in a tiny, cozy cafe, nestled between apartments and stores in an inner courtyard. After the libation and banter, we eased into dinner. I was happy to have a fresh spinach salad. My two male friends followed my example. Quiet laughter and stories filled with melancholy ensued. We conversed with fellow travelers from our group at the next table. Pleasantly satiated after our meal, we paid our bills, poured ourselves into our warm coats, and slipped on gloves, hats, and scarves. The cold was familiar, similar to Washington D.C. The damp was chilling to the bones. I saw her first--an angel holding out a tray of sufganiyot (donuts), standing by herself in the dim courtyard, cobblestones shining. Was I dreaming? I had just told my newfound friends that I desired a donut for Chanukah. She had a round face like a hazelnut, rosy cheeks, and brown eyes. Her head was fringed in fur. I said, "How much?" She understood English? She smiled and answered, "They're free. Take one." I did and bit into the fresh, yeasty, warm dough. The jam was sweet, and powdered sugar drifted on to my jacket, like snowflakes. I called out to my friend, "Gabe, come look. You have to see." He smiled in astonishment as he approached; his face brightening in the near darkness, "Oh my. How lovely! Can I take one?" "Yes, please," said the little angel. And he took a big bite out of his soft donut. Our other acquaintences came over when they heard our converstation. "Look, donuts, theyr'e a specialty for Chanukah!" I exclaimed. "Wow. How cute she is. Delicious," the three women commented. They went on their way with their treat. Out of the mist, in the old square, a woman appeared. Who was this? Another passerby? "Hello. Darling. What have we here?" she asked. "They are taking my donuts, Ima." "Wonderful!" and the woman introduced herself; she was the angel's mother. The angel was actually a lttle girl. They were Israelis, visiting relatives. The mother said, "Follow me." We did, implicity trusting the two. Climbing up steps, after walking across the small cobblestone square, we entered a softly lit room. Tables were set with white embroidered cloths and napkins. Various pieces of furniture were covered in lace, adorned with brass menorahs, candlesticks, and photographs. Where were we? In old Lublin, circa 1880? Am I dreaming again? Klezmer music played in the background. A few waiters scurried about in long white aprons, neatly pressed shirts, and black bowties. A younger woman came up to us, "Welcome." Is that a cellphone? Are those CDs? Back to the present. This was the aunt's restaurant, the source of the sufanyiot. Such are dreams. My friends and I woke up to buy a few trinkets, say good-bye, and move on into the night. Posted by Karen L. at 10:48 AM Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

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