With our busy lives, finding time to sit down together as a family is an almost impossible task. With three teenage daughters, each on a different schedule, plus running our own business, the phones are constantly ringing. Radio, CD players and televisions are blaring and someone is almost always on the computer. Dinners usually consist of microwave prepared meals or pizza delivery. That's why the holidays are special for our family. They're the only times when I actually cook using real kitchen appliances. The first night of Hanukkah was on a Sunday this year, so I had the entire day to get ready. Around noon I began gathering all the necessary cooking utensils I would need to prepare our holiday dinner. I dusted off my "Daisy Stripper" electric potato peeler, wiped the cobwebs off my food processor, and scavenged the storage area for my electric frying pan.
After making all the difficult preparations, I had plenty of free time to work on an article I was writing about the Jewish Brownie Girl Scout Lehavah Award. I read a section of discussion questions in the Leader's guide that ended with "What would a house be like without television or electricity? Are these gifts from God?"
Then, the lights went out.
I guessed the high winds probably knocked down an electrical line. It was two thirty in the afternoon so I still had plenty of time before sundown, but by four o'clock it was starting to get dark and we still didn't have power. My kids were getting restless and bored. No electricity meant no computer, no television, no video games, no stereo and the cordless telephones and answering machines weren't working either. They started to complain. I called the electric company on a working phone expecting them to tell me the power would be restored in an hour or so.
Major cable explosion. No electricity for eight to twelve hours. They're working on it.
I told the girls to gather up all the flashlights and candles they could find and bring them into the kitchen. I put away the electric potato peeler, electric food processor, and electric frying pan. I dug through a stack of pots and under the oven and found a large skillet. Rummaging through my junk drawer, I found two very dusty, but still sharp potato peelers and one hand-held grater. For the next half hour, my children and I peeled and grated five pounds of potatoes and onions by hand, by candlelight.
We mixed the eggs and other ingredients and got everything ready to cook. But when I went to the cupboard to get the oil, I discovered there was only about three tablespoons left in the bottle. My daughter had forgotten to tell me she'd taken the oil to her Hebrew School class that morning and had used almost all of it for their party. No electricity and no oil. I was beginning to feel like the Jews of ancient times. With my thirteen year old holding a flashlight over the frying pan, I somehow managed to cook almost all of the latkes on our gas (thank God) range using the small amount of oil we had.
We took the Hanukkah menorahs off the fireplace mantle and put them on the dinning room table. After reciting the blessing, we lit the candles. Their tiny flames lit up the dinning room and the hall and even illuminated a small section of the front lawn. The glow was made more intense by the fact that it was totally dark outside as well as inside. Not a single bulb on a single house on our entire street was lit.
Our home was full of the aroma of potato latkes and candle wax. We read the story of Hanukkah, exchanged gifts and played Dreidle by candlelight. My husband joined us as we sang the holiday songs without the tape recorded accompaniment and laughed at the irony of singing "Don't Let The Light Go Out" in the darkness of the power outage. Later, the girls played cards together and talked about school, and boys and I finished my article using a pencil.
To answer the question in the Lehavah Award booklet, I believe it's not the electricity that was a gift of God, but the lack of electricity that was the gift that night. It was a modern miracle. This very special first night of Hanukkah we spent together like Jewish families of long ago before the invention of modern conveniences took some of the brightness out of the candle lights.
Of course the next night things were back to "normal". We barely had time to light the candles before the phone rang or someone had a meeting to go to. But for one very extraordinary Hanukkah night, our family created a holiday memory we will long treasure. It's truly amazing what you can see when the lights go out.