Zach threw open the front door and slammed it shut, sending a shudder through the house. His parents, Scott and Naomi, who had been quietly watching television, were startled.

"Being Jewish stinks!" Zach shouted as he stomped up the stairs to his bedroom, kicking his bedroom door closed for punctuation.

Naomi clicked off the TV, and looked at her husband. Batting her hazel eyes, she motioned with her head toward the stairs.

"I think this is your department, Scott," she said.

Scott nodded and stood up. He tucked in his shirt and brushed back his thinning brown hair. He straightened himself to his full six-foot-two height, and headed for the stairs.

"You whispered something about being Jewish, and how it stinks, as you tiptoed quietly into the house"When he arrived at Zach's bedroom door, he knocked twice. Receiving no answer, he opened the door and entered what he fondly called "The Pigsty of Long Island—Massapequa Branch." A quick scan of the room revealed a bag of sweaty gym clothes that came home at the start of winter recess but had yet to find its way to the wash, two weeks worth of dirty clothes spilling out of the laundry basket in the closet corner, homework papers and schoolbooks in various stages of procrastination, and one brown-haired, twelve-year-old boy lying on his bed, his face buried under two pillows, ostrich style.

"What's wrong, Zach?"

"Nothing," came the muffled reply.

Scott removed the top pillow. Zach put a death grip on the one remaining.

"I believe you whispered something about being Jewish, and how it stinks, as you tiptoed quietly into the house."

"Leave me alone, Dad."

"Zach, I'm warning you. I was a tickle-a-holic before I married your mother. I mention this because your ticklish areas are exposed, and my fingers are beginning to twitch. I'm not sure how much longer I can resist if . . ."

When Zach shot his arms down to protect his sides, Scott pulled away the last pillow.

"Thank you, Zach. Now that I can see your sparkling blue eyes, I have the strength to resist tickling. Whew, that was close."

Scott waited for Zach to begin. When he didn't, Scott asked, seriously, "Come on, tell me, what's wrong?"

"I don't want to be Jewish anymore."

"I see. And what brought this about?"

"It stinks. I hate it."

"Is this 'stinking' pure coincidence or is it related to the fact that tonight is December 25th?"

"Yeah, maybe." Zach got up from the bed and pushed the power button on his computer.

"Zach, if you touch the mouse on that computer, instead of telling me what's bothering you, I promise, I'm going to tickle you within an inch of your life."

Zach swiveled around in the chair, away from his computer. "I was over at Orin's."

"Yes. And?"

"You should see their tree. It's huge. And he has a huge pile of presents underneath it."


"It's way better than Chanukah, any day."

Scott clenched his fists involuntarily. He tried to relax, but it wasn't working.

"Okay." Scott took out his wallet and pulled a bill free. "Here's twenty dollars. Go down to the big tent at the shopping center parking lot and buy a tree."

"You're kidding, right?"

The yard was a wonderland of lights and statues, with music playing softly on outside speakers"No. You should be able to get one real cheap. At midnight, which is about, oh, five hours away, there will be no market for them. If I were you, I'd make my first offer ten dollars. Oh, you want presents too? Okay . . . . Here's one, two, three hundred and ten, eleven, twelve dollars. It's all the money I have on me. Go out and buy some presents, too."

Scott laid the money on the bed and left the room. He didn't wait to see Zach's reaction. When he arrived at the bottom of the stairs, he opened the hall closest and took out his coat.

"I'm going for a walk," he said and was out the door before Naomi could ask questions.

As Scott walked, he studied the houses along Kinsella Avenue. Some were sparkling showcases; others were lit simply with a string or two of lights. He walked three blocks, to Cartwright Boulevard, where "The House" was.

The Baxter's lived there, but after twenty years, it stopped traffic for those who weren't aware of it and was a perennial visiting place for those who were. The yard was a wonderland of lights and statues, with music playing softly on outside speakers. Every square foot of tree and lawn was lit up. A newspaper article said the Baxter's spent $25,000 over the years on lights and accessories, and it took the whole month of November to set up.

A crowd of about thirty people was gathered outside when Scott arrived. Some were taking pictures, some were humming carols, and some just stared, transfixed by the blinking lights.

My son feels like the only Jew left in the world, Scott thought. He watched the crowd as disconnected and removed as if he were watching a television program.


Scott was startled from his thoughts.


Zach silently handed the money back to his father. Scott took the bills and tucked them into his jacket pocket.

They stood there together, without saying a word, watching the people come and go. Then Zach asked, "Dad, what are you doing here?"

"I don't know. Thinking, I guess. Right now, I'm wondering what it must be like to live next to this." Scott looked around, and then did a double-take.

"Zach, look at that. Over there, the house next door."

There was a small electric menorah in the window, its lights fully aglow.

"Poor little Chanukah. No way it can compete, huh, Zach?"

"Dad, I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said."

"Zach, do you know the story of Chanukah?"


"What is it?"

"Come on, Dad. Everyone knows it. We light candles because the oil in the Temple lasted eight days instead of one."

"That's the symbol, not the meaning."

Zach did not respond.

"Come on, Zach, ask me what the meaning is."

"Okay . . . so what's the meaning?"

Scott waited for his son to ask a question, but none came"It happened in about 150 BCE, when the Middle East was ruled by Syrian-Greeks. They were pagans who worshipped idols. Jews were the only people who believed in one G‑d. We were forbidden to teach Torah and forced to bow down to idols that were placed inside our Holy Temple."

Scott waited for his son to ask a question, but none came.

"Then a brave family called the Maccabees rose up and united the Jewish people against the Syrians. The Maccabees were outnumbered and out-weaponed. The Jewish people should have been annihilated, but we won because of our courage, and the miracles G‑d rewarded us. So Chanukah is really a celebration of being free to practice our religion."

Zach's interest was elsewhere. Scott clasped his son's shoulders and turned him toward the house next door.

"See that one little menorah? That menorah, and everything it stands for, existed way before any lit up house."

"Dad, you're hurting me."

Scott let his son go. Zach shook out his shoulders as his father studied him. Those are my eyes, my cheekbones, my lips, he thought.

"Zach, you know I'm kinda upset, don't you?"

"Yeah, Dad."

Scott smiled and tenderly touched his son's cheek. "I'm sorry. It's not your fault I'm angry. I'm angry because you're going through the same thing I had to go through. It's not easy to be a Jew living in a non-Jewish world, is it?"


"But you must remember, as I had to, that millions of our people died because of their belief in G‑d and the Torah. You have a great-grandfather who was put to death in a gas chamber, and a great-great grandfather who resisted persecution by Russian Cossacks. They chose not to change even when it cost them their lives. And today, you and I can live openly as Jews, without persecution."

Zach was silent.

"They chose not to change even when it cost them their lives""Our forefathers passed down some precious gifts: four thousand years of culture, eternal wisdom, and a courageous example. G‑d willing, I will pass these gifts down to you."

Zach thought about this until they were approached by a stranger who had perhaps imbibed too much in "holiday spirits." When they looked his way, the man called out, "Merry Xmas!"

Neither father nor son replied.

"Didn't you hear me?" the stranger asked. "I said, Merry Xmas!"

Zach looked up at his father. Then he turned to the man and said politely, "A happy holiday to you, but we're Jewish, mister."