Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Chanukah everybody...

Happy Chanukah everybody. I know it is a bit late. Below are two of my fave stories are from Isaac Bashevis Singer's collection "Zlateh the Goat" . Although I am just a crazy shiksa* from NYC, I am often mistaken for a nice Jewish girl ( well, people do think I am Jewish) Sometimes people are insistent thinking I am, fearing anti-semetism, denying my heritage. Some try to encourage me to be brave enough to admit that I am in fact, Jewish. This is deliciously ironic because, after spending our teenage years in Brookline, both my sister and I are Jewish "wannabes. " As Irish -Italians from NY, we knew being Jewish was a major cultural upgrade. We'd love to claim Jewish heritage but the mystery of fate made it, forever, unattainable.

What is not mysterious is that both my sister and I know and use lots of Yiddish. Our mother was a with-it New Yorker. She and all intelligent and/or expressive and/or comedic New Yorkers spoke a bit of Yiddish back in the day. When I was 13 we moved to Brookline. I remember arguing with a new friend that oy vey iz mir ( spelled out in my head as " oi vei issa mia") was Italian. After all, my first generation Italian-American mother said it a dozen times a day. Gee -give ashiksa a break, already. Well, that was a long digression...Now for the Hannukah stories.

Two of my fave Channukah-esque stories are from Isaac Bashevis Singer's collection "Zlateh the Goat" summaries below and link to book here:

The Devil's Trick

A fierce snowstorm has been raging for three days, and the devil and his wife are roaming the countryside. Three days ago, David's father had left for the village to gather supplies. When he did not return, David's mother went looking for him. David's mother has not returned and tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. David decides he must go in search of his parents, so he puts his infant sibling to sleep wrapped in warm blankets, lights the first Hanukkah candle, and goes out into the blizzard.
The storm intensifies and David quickly becomes disoriented and then completely lost. He realizes his parents must have also become lost in the fierce weather. David is unable to see the sky or any landmarks and fears he will perish, when he sees the single Hanukkah candle flame in the distance. David runs toward the candle and quickly finds his house, but he is pursued by the devil and the devil's witch wife. David runs into the cabin and slams the door behind him, keeping the devil and his wife out, but trapping the devil's tail in the door.
The devil tells David to free his tail, but David says unless the devil will return David's parents, David will cut the devil's tail off. The devil sends his wife to fetch David's parents, who have been imprisoned not far distant. The devil's witch wife soon returns with David's parents, who rush into the cabin. David takes the Hanukkah candle and uses it to single the devil's tail then he opens the door and releases the devil's tail. The devil and his wife flee into the snowstorm.

Zlateh the Goat
It is almost Hanukkah, and the winter has been a very dry season. The village farmers realize that the dry winter will lead to poor harvests and difficult financial times. Reuven the furrier has also had a bad season, and he reluctantly decides to sell Zlateh, the family goat. Reuven plans to use the money to purchase Hanukkah supplies and treats for his family.

When Reuven tells his twelve-year-old son, Aaron, to take Zlateh to the butcher, Aaron's mother, Leah, and his sisters, Anna and Miriam, cry. Aaron takes a small amount of food and puts a rope around Zlateh's neck to lead the goat to the butcher. Aaron will spend the night at the butcher's house in town and then return with the money the following day. When Aaron reaches the road, Zlateh acts confused, as she has never been led this way before.
Although the sun is shining, when Aaron leaves the village the weather takes an unexpected turn for the worse and a vast cold wind blows in, bringing heavy hail with it. Soon, the hail turned to thick snow. Aaron has never seen such a storm and he becomes lost. He soon realizes he is no longer even on the road and fears that he and Zlateh will perish in the freezing snow. Aaron prays to God for deliverance. Suddenly, he makes out a shape, which he recognizes as a haystack. He runs to the snow-covered haystack and quickly scoops out armfuls of hay to make a large hollow cave. Aaron and Zlateh enter the hay cave where they quickly become warm and Zlateh begins to eat the hay.
For three days and nights, Aaron and Zlateh remain in the hay cave while the snowstorm rages. Aaron is careful to keep the snow cleared from the mouth of the cave, so the air can circulate. Zlateh eats the hay and is quite content. Aaron first eats the food he brought and then subsists by drinking milk from Zlateh. During the three days of storm, Aaron is comforted by Zlateh's presence and imagines that the goat's simple and repetitive bleats are answers to his questions. Aaron also realizes that one must be thankful for the things that God sends, regardless of the nature of the gifts. Aaron begins to feel that he has no father, no mother, and no family, and that he is a child of the snow. When he sleeps, he dreams of summer and green hills.
On the fourth day, the storm abates and Aaron hears the distant ringing of sleigh bells. He leaves the haystack and makes his way to the road where a passing sleigh directs him homeward. Instead of continuing on to the butcher's shop, Aaron takes Zlateh and returns home. When Aaron returns home, he is greeted by his ecstatic family, who believed he had perished in the storm. They feed Aaron and Zlateh a special supper while Aaron relates the story of his survival. No one in the family again thought of selling Zlateh to the butcher.
As winter cold sets in, the townspeople need the services of Reuven the furrier, and the family's economic situation quickly improves. Hanukkah arrives and is a joyous and prosperous occasion, and the children play dreidel, while Zlateh the goat watches.

* The word shiksa is etymologically partly derived from the Hebrew term sheketz, which means "abomination", "impure," or "object of loathing", depending on the translator.[1]
Despite its etymology, the term shiksa is widely used and accepted in the United States, where it is often used in a humorous way.

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