Shminklending.  Rhymes with Finklending.  It’s a word in “Hanukkah Likhtelekh,” a song we sing in Koleinu.  I was taught to know the meaning of every word I sing, but I don’t want to know what shminklending means.  I want to savor the sound of it and let it evoke the world that belonged to my great grandparents, the world ofEastern Europe.  A dictionary definition would destroy that.  Too cold.  Emotionless.  Shminklending.  I say it out loud, letting its beauty roll off my tongue.

Shminklending makes me think of those Workman’s Circle Hanukkah parties we went to with my grandparents in Passaic, NJ.  We played dreidel, ate latkes, and sang songs in Yiddish.  Maybe we even sang “Hanukkah Likhtelekh”.  Hanukkah was no Jewish Christmas at those parties.  Hanukkah was shminklending, a holiday not about presents but about being Jewish and having our traditions.  Ah, traditions.

Shminklending makes me think about the picture I have of my great grandparents who fledRussiaand went to Petach Tikvah.  They stayed in Palestinebut sent all five of their children to the New World, the Lower Eastside of New York City.  I like to think that they sang “Hanukkah Likhtelekh,” remembering the five children they sent away.  I look at that picture–my great grandfather with his dark beard, and my great grandmother with her hair completely covered.  Do I look like them?  It’s hard to tell; they are dressed all in black, but their eyes are dark like mine.  My great grandmother had my creamy skin. 

Shminklending makes me think of those years I worked at the Episcopal Divinity School and processed behind a cross down the aisle of a church at graduation, feeling as if I’d let down the entire Am Yisrael.  I was so proud of our graduating students and so ashamed of myself for doing what I had to do in a job I loved but one that challenged everything that made me Jewish.  Yes, living in a Christian world is shminklending.

Maybe someday I’ll look up shminklending in the dictionary and see what it really means, but for now, I don’t want to know.  Not Finklending, either.  Please don’t tell me if you know what these words mean.  Just sing them with all your heart.


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