On the third night of Hanukkah Dad stood at the doorway to the kitchen. I closed the worn fringe of our only prayer book and stepped back.
"You're done?" Aren't you going to sing?" he asked. This is the first night in years of Hanukkah that he had attempted not to avoid the candle lighting. Usually I was alone, unless the dogs stayed.
"I said the blessing to myself."
"Don't want to sing?"
"I guess I'm self-conscious." Embarrassed too strong a word? "To sing in front of you, I mean."
"I remember you have a nice voice, not a confident one, but nice." Dad turned and exited the kitchen.
I had long assumed that a discomfort with my recognition of Jewish identity kept me alone in front of the kitchen counter. Instead, it seemed the issue was self-consciousness about the maintenance of melody in my voice in front of my performance tested father. I stood alone in candlelight, noting to myself how unexpected the interplay of individual characteristics can affect which parts of us we share. This was not the first time I had doubted my voice nor stood isolated in space. I had once written,
"I bounced Oscar’s daughter in my arms, and Galy laughed. I asked, “During the traditional first sauna bath did you tap a pencil on a notebook, an echo of the tools you hope she would someday use? I remember you told me you did this with your sons.”
"Yes. But my sisters tapped pieces of a loom as well. Women’s tools.”
“I could teach her something too.”
When my niece was born I had considered writing her a book for every year of her life. Then, my interest shifted to which American Girl's doll could provide stories I could not. Now, my fingers lingered over the "Buy Now" prompt for the Melanie Crowder book in verse that made me fall in love with being a studious, Jewish woman with the opportunity to advocate for change. Last year for Hanukkah I bought myself boots. As a woman, co-worker, an aunt, the permanence of gift giving continued to intimidate. This year, for the author, for myself, for the author within myself, I should purchase, place value, on Audacity. I closed the prayer book and flipped to the beginnings of a song back when Dad had asked for words to his melodies.
The world is your kingdom, princess,
Your story to tell
Once upon a time
You choose from
All pages gifted, white, but
Too blank for inspiring
Words erasers won’t need.
You walk and you sit,
And you watch and you write
The world you think you see it to be
Senses suggest and
Betray the choices along
Bending back to the dream
A pencil leaves only smudges not
Words you should read
Before I closed my computer, I recalled a book about Hanukkah around the world I had read last year. It taught me about Chag HaBanot, the festival of the daughters, and the resonance of the festival of lights for women, specifically the heroine Judith. I searched my own work Bird, a historical fiction novel about the Dirty War in Argentina and two sisters who used pseudonyms of Jewish heroines, Judith and Ester. My characters reminded me of what I had not said, yet.
“You shouldn’t change histories,” Mamá had always said.
“Are those histories that you tell us? I thought they were stories. Or isn’t there any difference?” Ester had asked in response.
“The worst tales often come true, especially when you take too long to listen to them.” Mamá had yanked on her wrist to keep her close. “The sweetness you enjoy is from the bones ground into those pages. Why do you think you can break them? They hold you up.”
Most recently I had come across another book in verse that referenced Judith. Panged with jealousy, I skimmed the referenced histories. Someone had beaten me to my own heritage and the women that held me up.
The traveler, the farmer
The kiss of a lover, the hug of a friend
Mark the edges, fold corners
Rip pages to burn
Attached to nothing
Smoke blackens, and blurs, and then
Slips through your hand
Woman, tell me your story
While my life’s on the shelf
Sing to me, read to me
I’ll close my eyes
Imagine our place
Where no paper cut bleeds
And in the ending
You’d write for me.
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