Soon after my mother passed away on Nov. 13, 2016, the 12th of Cheshvan, something startling happened. Chanukah was still months away when I received a call from the newspaper I had written for for nearly 30 years. Usually, I’d pitch a story and they would say yes or no. So this was highly unusual. It was The Japan Times, asking me to write a story, and not just any story. They wanted a Chanukah story for an audience who, by and large, had never heard of Chanukah.

Would I write a sidebar? Just a few graphs explainingI wasn’t sure what I could write in a few paragraphs what Chanukah is about. It would be an appetizer to the main dish—a story about that holiday for which December is most known. At first, I wasn’t sure what I could write in just a few paragraphs. What flashed through my mind was the less than newsworthy memory of my father taking out the dreidel and a baggie filled with spare change he’d collected in the weeks leading up to Chanukah. I would spin the dreidel, hoping that the lucky letter gimmel would land face up so I could take the whole pot. Ho hum.

There had to be more that I could share with a Japanese audience. And luckily there was. A Chabad rabbi had first arrived in Tokyo on Chanukah, along with his bride, a suitcase, and $400 in his pocket. Years later, he would convince the owner of the largest international supermarket in Tokyo to not only put a menorah out in the parking lot but to serve customers free samples of latkes inside.

The unlikely Tokyo supermarket friendship made it to my Chanukah story. That childhood memory about spinning the dreidel never did. The game that dated back to the time before the Maccabees had become a hazy memory when my parents divorced and the teak dining table, covered with happy memories of the dreidel game, disappeared for good.

Well, never say for good, I’ve learned, because after my mother passed away, another long ago Chanukah memory surfaced.

My parents had met at a Chanukah party in Montreal in 1957, where they subsequently lived for the first few years after their marriage (and where I was born). Some time after I’d left home and gone to college, my mother penned an essay for college, where she was studying in the evenings while holding down a full-time job. She set the record straight about what really happened at that Chanukah party in Montreal.

In my mother’s own words: “Coming as I did from a very gentile and genteel part of London, I was astonished and delighted at the abundant evidence of a vibrant Jewish community in Montreal. I rejoiced in the myriad kosher butchers, the Jewish delis, the Judaica shops, the numerous synagogues and varied Jewish centers. Away from the harsh and critical atmosphere of my home in London, I felt like a bird let out of a cage. At last I was free to breathe. I was truly my own person and in charge of my own life. I knew that no matter what was in store for me on this huge new continent, the potential was vast and exciting and I was going to make a go of it.”

Reading between the lines now, I understand what “making a go” meant to my mother. Coming from a not especially observant background, Canada represented to her a chance to live proudly as a Jew—an act of pride that I struggled to relate to. Growing up in New York City, home to the second-largest Jewish population in the world, I just couldn’t appreciate what it must have been like for my mother to grow up in a city where you are the micro-minority—that is, until I moved to Tokyo.

She writes, “Friends of mine in London had urged me to contact a friend of theirs, who lived in Montreal. Not having anything much to do with my time, I soon gave him a ring. I loved his American-sounding accent! But we were never destined to meet. He told me he was engaged to be married. However, he had a friend called Peter. Could he give Peter my number? He could and he did and a few days later an equally charismatic sounding guy called me up. He had been invited to a Chanukah party at the weekend and would I like to come?

“We drove to somebody’s apartment in another part of town. There were young Jews from all over, I remember: America, Canada, England, Israel, France, Romania, Poland, etc. I took off my coat and stepped into the living room, absolutely packed with people. One of the first I laid eyes on was your father.”

What touches me now as I replay the events of this menorah-lit night was that both my parents had been raised in secular homes at opposite ends of Europe, roughly equidistant from Nazi Germany. They had both grown up in families physically and miraculously unscathed in the war years, but had internalized the dire lesson of survival passed down by their parents: blend in, give your kids gentile names, change your last name, get educated, read the newspaper and not Torah, but for heaven’s sake, marry a Jew!

As I look back now, I see that despite my parents not having much in the way of Torah learning, neither one of them would ever consider marriage to a non-Jew. For my parents, marriage was the red line; the chuppah the boundary.

A few days before my mother passed away, she had gone into a coma. I flew from Japan to be by her hospice bedside in Boca Raton, Fla., and days later I was back on Long Island for her funeral, alone. Standing at the foot of my mother’s open grave, the late-afternoon sky gloomy and the air bitingly cold, the full force of my life’s choices hit me. It was a teshuvah moment, or at least it sure seemed like one. I looked up,An involuntary chuckle came to my lips and an involuntary chuckle came to my lips. To my absolute amazement, two Chabad rabbis came hurrying towards the gravesite. As they got closer, I could see that one was my Tokyo rabbi—that very same rabbi who had arrived straight from his honeymoon to Tokyo, who brought with him a menorah to light up Japan with mitzvot and life-saving acts of kindness. My mother had been very fond of both the Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin, and met them several times at the Chabad House on her trips to Japan.

My Tokyo rabbi flew over to attend a kosher-food expo in northern New Jersey three hours away when his wife must have called him with the news of my mother’s death and funeral. I don’t know how he found out about the location of the cemetery. Truly, I thought I was seeing a mirage.

When the Chanukah article ran in The Japan Times, it ran on the top half of the back page of the newspaper, a stunning place of honor.

It ended with the words of the rabbi, “All are welcome to celebrate Chanukah with us in Japan. That’s why I drive around Tokyo with a menorah on my van. I want people to stop me and ask what it is. They see a connection between acts of kindness and the lights we kindle. The light we illuminate comes from our motivation to do goodness and kindness.”

I wonder how my mother would have reacted to the Chanukah story about a Tokyo rabbi who had appeared before her New York grave—the last to shovel dirt on her casket, the first to arrange for someone to recite Kaddish in her name for the year of mourning. Maybe it’s enough to be smiling up at her in thanks for another Chanukah miracle to grace my life.

Liane Grunberg Wakabayashi’s forthcoming memoir is about her 30 years in Japan, discovering a Torah way of life one Shabbat at a time. She made aliyah in 2017, where she writes and teaches art from her home in Jerusalem.