It was the 25th of December, and when she closes her eyes she remembers just how it was. A Jewish girl from Queens, N.Y., had fulfilled her secret dreams, decorating that bright, forbidden tree. She helped hang the tinsel merrily.

Her boyfriend’s family was as friendly as could be. They grinned, watching her exuberance. Soon everyone gathered around the fireplace that night, singing carols. She knew almost every song by heart.

After that, they piled into a big station wagon, calling out holiday greetings to those they’d pass along the snow-covered road. It wasn’t a long drive. Each year, his family went to Midnight Mass.

She had fulfilled her secret dreams, decorating that bright, forbidden treeBut there in one of the center pews, with the lifelike figure nailed to the huge cross hanging in front of the Catholic church, she didn’t know what to do, as everyone else bent down to kneel. In those long moments, she felt as if her future was being sealed.

Alone, trembling, she stood, still uncertain if she should. What stopped her from kneeling in that place?

In a congregation of 500 people, she was the only one standing up. But as she felt the word “Jew” being stamped on her forehead for all to see, she realized that she had no idea what she was standing for.

Afterwards, nobody said one word to her about it. And it was still fun opening up the presents nestled under the tree the next morning and then going sledding down the big hill in their backyard during the next afternoon. These were things she had wanted to experience for years. But a certain glitter was gone after the first night. She had stood up for something that she couldn’t even explain, but still she knew that it was something real, deep within her.

After that, she had a yearning that wouldn’t ever go away entirely. Or maybe it had always been there, a yearning for something intangible that she didn’t have in her life. She kept feeling at the strangest of times that she was missing something—and it clearly wasn’t X-mas anymore.

Little by little, she started learning more about her own religion. A different way of life had seemed more exciting because she hadn’t really experienced the luminescence of Judaism. She started reading inspiring Torah books, and she sought out spiritually—nurturing Jewish mentors that kindled the tiny flame still flickering within her. Later, going on a trip to Israel she got to glimpse rays of the elusive enlightenment for which she had longed. And she realized that she had come close to discarding Judaism before seeing it.

At the time when the story of Chanukah first unfolded, many assimilated Jewish people, called the Hellenists, also did not really understand the value of a Jewish way of life. They were not just willing, but anxious to give it up for the Greek lifestyle.

She was a Hellenist left standing, who had once also chosen tinsel over gold.

During Chanukah, we remember how one tiny sanctified jar of oil was found in the Temple after it had been rampaged and desecrated. From this small amount of pure oil emerged a light that miraculously would not go out.

She realized that she had come close to discarding Judaism, before seeing itOver time she discovered that the tiny pure light within her also wouldn’t ever go away, no matter what. That inner spark kept yearning to grow stronger. And it was one more miracle that it did.

What she found out through the years was that the Jewish people stand for purity and joy—a pure joyous connection to G‑d with no intermediaries.

She also learned that flashing bulbs can’t come anywhere near the glow that the light emanating from a pure Jewish home can radiate to the world.

Many years have passed, with Chanukahs spinning by as quickly and colorfully as dreidels. When the family gathers together, her home resounds with lively songs of gratitude during each warm celebration. She hadn’t realized the source of what she loved so much. Her Jewish home shines with treasures she didn’t know.

As my grandchildren line up to light their menorahs, I stand behind them now, absorbing the illumination created by all these miraculous Jewish children who might never have been. I whisper thanks that I didn’t kneel.