A Surprise Chanukah Celebration

If you planned to spend the holidays with family, I hope that you traveled comfortably and safely despite bad weather disrupting thousands of flights in the United States last week. Yet even when the weather cooperates, flight turmoil abounds.

When my husband was invited to speak at a Shabbat program for politically conservative Jewish students associated with Turning Point USA, we were delighted to accept. Not only would we spend Shabbat in Phoenix with courageous and interesting people, but on Sunday we could visit nearby family. The icing on the cake was that we would be only a five to six hour drive from our son and his family. We could get there in time to share Chanukah lighting with them Sunday evening and then visit for the next few days.

All went as planned, even though the warm weather we thought would greet us did not materialize. We had a lovely Shabbat, and a delightful Sunday morning brunch with nieces and nephews followed by a pleasant ride. We then spent a few days with two adorable little boys and their gracious and hospitable parents. Wednesday morning, we packed up and got to the airport well in time for our flight home.

It turns out that we were a little too well in time. The flight was delayed incrementally. American Airlines calls it “rolling delays”. First they delayed it one hour, then two, then another one, until it was clear that we would not make it home in time to light Chanukah flames. Because the airline did not tell us that we would finally only depart over ten hours later, we didn’t know that we had plenty of time to leave the airport and return to our son’s home to light there.

Kindling the Chanukah lights is beautiful and fun. It is also a serious obligation—not a choice. What to do? Earlier in the day, when we thought our flight might be canceled and we would indeed head back to our children and grandchildren for another night, we had approached a man who looked like he might be a religious Jew. We wanted to make sure that he knew he could come with us to our children. As it turns out, he was waiting for a different (also delayed) flight, one that eventually took off hours before ours. Before he left to board, he came over to offer us a small travel menorah. While at home we normally light with olive oil, the candles he shared would do just fine. Except for two problems.

The first was that we did not think the airport would appreciate our lighting five flames in their facility. The second was that we had no matches with us and, as we quickly found out, airport stores do not carry them. A conversation with our airline’s agent reassured us that the likelihood of being arrested for lighting candles in the airport was minimal. (I did ask him to commit to visiting us in jail should he be mistaken.) He also suggested an out-of-the-way location for our venture. The next step was a visit to the smoking area in search of matches. This was a sealed room boasting a few men playing at slot machines as they smoked. Suffice it to say that this is not my usual hangout. Nonetheless, the first gentleman I approached offered me his lighter, even when I explained that I needed to take it with me to use in a different location. “I trust you, sweetie,” was his politically incorrect and much appreciated statement when I offered to return it in ten minutes or so.

We found the less-traveled area, although it wasn’t as deserted as we hoped it would be. We said the blessings, lit our candles, and sang the appropriate songs. I rushed to return the lighter to its owner and got back to find my husband hovering protectively over the menorah as a vent blasted a hurricane of air-conditioning over the area, threatening the flames. A short while later an airport policewoman strode over and ordered us to extinguish the candles. Her demeanor and lack of English suggested that explanations were futile and enough time had passed that we had fulfilled our responsibility. We complied.

A few more hours passed and our plane finally took off, an unplanned red-eye flight. The next evening we joyfully lit six flames, appreciating the serenity and peace in our home more than usual.

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