Hanukkah Insurance

by Leorah Gavidor November 27, 2017


menorah“Hanukkah shopping” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as its Christmas counterpart. And I really don’t feel left out of the whole tradition—especially when friends and coworkers complain about finding gifts for every extended family member. But when I set out to buy Hanukkah candles for the first time since moving to San Diego in 1998, and my husband and I searched five stores to find them, I must admit I did feel a bit excluded.

The first place we looked, Ralphs in Hillcrest, had a holiday-themed display near the entrance, with poinsettia plants placed merrily on cascading shelves. I inquired of an employee if she knew where to find the Hanukkah candles, assuming I was just overlooking them.

“I don’t think we have any,” she said after a thoughtful pause. “Let me ask.”

We left empty-handed, on to the next place: Sprout’s on Park Boulevard.

Sprout’s, too, had a jolly good tower of Christmas fixings—hot chocolate with marshmallows, peppermint bark, and colorful candy canes. But no festive piles of potatoes for latkes (aside from the usual offerings in the back of the store), and certainly no Hanukkah candles.

The next day we found ourselves in La Jolla. I was fairly certain that the Jewish population in that part of town would demand that Ralphs, which has kosher catering, carry candles. Mistaken again.

Incidentally, we happened to stop at that Ralphs a couple years later to buy Hanukkah gelt to distribute to my coworkers. We combed the extensive holiday candy section for the yellow mesh bags filled with gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins. Again I thought I must be overlooking them. I should have learned. The gelt was far-removed from the Christmas stuff, stashed at the back, at the end of the “Ethnic Foods” aisle.

Back to the candles. Store number four was Bed, Bath and Beyond in Mission Valley. I called Mom in Los Angeles, a transplant from New York like me, for the recommendation. That’s where she had gotten hers for a few years running. At the San Diego location, however, every other type of candle was in stock but the Hanukkah variety.

Which brings us to Whole Foods in Hillcrest. We had another errand there, so I asked a stock clerk about Hanukkah candles.

“Oh yeah, when does that start?”

“In about three hours,” I chortled.

“Well, we have a bunch in the back with a note that says ‘put out for Hanukkah.’ I guess it’s time to put those out,” he laughed as he trotted off.

He came back several minutes later with one box of candles—Streit’s, my preferred brand. They were $2.99.

“I’ll take five boxes, please.”

“Hanukkah insurance,” I said to my husband.

The miracle lasted seven years—extended by an unexpected find of two boxes at Target.

Last year we opened the last box of Streit’s. We were only three candles in, on the morning of December 28, when my husband suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage. He spent two weeks in the hospital. Luckily, he has since recovered. We missed lighting the menorah for the remainder of the holiday.

When we finally returned home together, the hanukkiah was still on the table.

The next day, when I brought chicken soup out to the table, I saw that my husband had cleaned off the two-week-old wax and added fresh candles.

“We have unfinished Hanukkah,” he smiled. “Hurry up, the sun is setting.”

I lit the three candles with the shamash and hummed the song. After dinner my husband rested while I opened mail that had accumulated during his convalescence. Among the packages was a big cardboard box from Cost Plus that my mom had sent before my husband fell ill. Inside: three more years of Hanukkah insurance. Α


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