During the Hannuka festival I like to drive slowly through my heavily Jewish neighborhood and look for the menorahs.
It’s one of the more charming traditions of Hannukah (which is a tradition with much charm), that the menorah is placed in the window, so everyone knows “we celebrate this here.” Judaism has many public expressions of private faith; it’s a religion of bravura and courage, which I suppose it has needed to be.
While my parents were raised as Christians, I was raised to mistrust religion, so I’ve been somewhat on the other side of the windows for all of the winter traditions. I see the candles and the lights and the stained glass from the wrong side. No question, it’s beautiful from either perspective, but I’ve always imagined the interior of worship places to be a warm and mysterious communion where everyone knows the same thing; something I don’t, and can’t know.
Religion is a foreign language to me.
When my kids were born, I vowed that they would at least understand what was going on on the other side of the window, and we marked all the Judeo-Christian holidays with outward accoutrements: food and stories and decorations. We read the Hannukah story and lit the candles. We had a tree and presents and read Dylan Thomas and St. Luke. Easter and Passover, Hallowe’en and Purim. If I had it to do over, I’d add Ramadan and Diwali, as well as Solstice and Equinox celebrations. Oh well, I’ll have grandchildren someday.
Strangely, my husband, also not a Christian, has worked most of his adult life as a worship musician, in both the church and the synagogue. He knows the rituals inside out. He’s good at it, too.
Even though the kids are gone, and there’s really no reason to do it, I still light the Menorah and say the prayer. Yesterday I made challah. There are Christmas lights in my window and my yard.
Because the thing about the holy is that there is no “outside.”