by Yakov Mendzelewski (Kholon)
Translated by Pamela Russ
As soon as the fall rains ceased, a frost froze over the soaked earth, and the first snow decorated the town in honor of Khannuka.
As evening fell, the shul street came alive. From all sides, Jews began to stream to the large shul and Bais Medrash to light the first Khannuka candle. Despite the weekday dress, a holiday spirit shone from the faces. The small Khannuka candles related that we have to have hope. It was mainly the children who enjoyed Khannuka, the beautiful young ones who went home from kheder in the cold autumn evenings, often hungry, with torn shoes but on Khannuka night these children shone from joy at the time they would help their fathers light the candles and put them into the Khannuka menoras made from dug out potatoes with cotton wicks dipped into oil.
The children's eyes would sparkle as the dreidels fell onto the tables. The dreidels were made from spools. Since no one went to kheder on Khannnuka night, all the boys would come into the Bais Medrash, young and old from those who were learning the alef-bais, to those who were learning khumash and Rashi, and Gemara and commentaries. These were students of the more prestigious teachers, such as Khaim Yoine, of blessed memory, his son Shimon Sep, of blessed memory, and Dovid Itzik Rubenshtayn, of blessed memory.
A great calm would embrace everyone when the Baal Tefila (the one who led the prayers) began his singing as he lit the main candle in the Khannuka menorah and recited the blessings. A resounding Amen! came from the shul. The spirited children tapped with their toes. Their great excitement affected the older people. One could see how the embittered workers with their faces wrinkled from great difficulties, smiled and laughed with tears. The young pranksters discretely put out the main candle (shamash) during the prayers, in order to have to repeat the entire performance. Even the most prominent businessmen who prayed at the Eastern Wall of the shul
with the Rav at the head, smiled happily into their white beards and didn't disturb the children's excitement with Khannuka.
The Khannuka nights were stellar. The snow shimmered, lighting up God's little world. The trees were covered as if with white blossoms. And the river Narew, flowed quickly, as if rushing before it would freeze. Crowds went sliding down the mountains, and young couples would walk together closely, dreaming about their future good fortune. For the workers, with their books under their arms, their loads were evident, and they were deep in thought about difficult problems. Life dished out joy for them only on the tip of a knife. On this sort of a night, the moods improved, and they would throw snowballs with energy and fire, until pale cheeks turned rosy.
The Khannuka nights were filled with joy. The delicious aroma of potato latkes was smelled until late into the night. And from all the windows, the flames of the candles would dance slowly. Maybe the town already sensed the impending destruction that eliminated Jewish life from Poland, including our town Serock, together with the small Khannuka candles, forever.
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