All of that changed on Friday when I went to the JCC Tot Shabbat. We are still new to the community here in Austin and everyone has been so welcoming. Even so, at the Tot Shabbat we are still the newbies. I was happy when my friend showed up with her son. She moved here around the same time we did from the New York area, and we immediately bonded. I asked her what she was doing for the the holiday and she replied, "not much." I got it. Boy, did I get it. There were two other new moms at the Tot Shabbat as well. Both had been in Austin only a couple of weeks. We newbies were hanging out, comparing notes about Austin, and getting to know one another. When the subject of Chanukah came up, it seemed no one had any plans that first night. My husband gave me a knowing look and I knew exactly what he was thinking. We invited the whole gang over to our place to celebrate the first night of Chanukah with us. Everyone seemed genuinely surprised and excited by the unexpected invitation. Most of all us.
And so, the frenzy began. In an instant we went from an intimate dinner of two couples to a small party of five couples and their kids. I planned a menu, went grocery shopping, and have generally been prepping for days. I didn't want to assume the other families had mounds of gifts for their kids, and I certainly did not want anyone to feel left out if Aiven opened a gift, so I bought a small gift for each of the children. I also picked up some decorations, chocolate gelt, and dreidls. My mother serendipitously sent a CD of Chanukah music so we'll even have some music to set the mood. I'm doing my best to make our humble little apartment freilich for everyone.
One snafu was that I had never actually cooked a single latke in my life! When my first latke fell apart, I sent out an SOS on Facebook. A friend blamed it on the latkes being vegan. Sadly, I couldn't use that as an excuse -- there was egg in them. My husband suggested putting flour in the batter to make it gooey, and after several people online validated his wacky idea, I relented. Of course, his hand slipped. Nevertheless, a few more eggs later and the latkes no longer tasted like knishes, nor were they falling apart. Success!
I love playing hostess and entertaining people in my home. But this Chanukah is especially meaningful. In the Chanukah story, there was only enough oil to light the eternal flame for one night, yet it miraculously lasted for eight. So too did we experience a Chanukah miracle of our own. We had planned a party for 6 and ended up with 15. Our home will be filled with much more light and laughter. It's a lot of work to put a party together, but it's the best kind of work. Opening our home to others is something my husband and I love to do. It is our way of paying forward the lovingkindness we've experienced in our community whenever we did not have a place to go. As we light the first Chanukah candle Tuesday night, we will be thanking Hashem for miracles both big and small.