Full Circle: The Hanukkah Sweater
’Twas the first day of Christmas

In this time of tinsel, in this season of solace, in poorer neighborhoods like mine, people without money made handcrafted gifts. My mother made cakes and cookies. My Aunt Esther knit. Esther had a hardy laugh and was built like a can of peas.

Come Hanukkah, Aunt Esther made me a blue and white patchwork sweater. With Hebrew letters. And a dreidel. All I could think was, “Please don’t fit, please don’t fit.” It fit. Except for the sleeves. The sleeves were long enough to fit my father. “That’s ok,” Aunt Esther said, “You can just roll them up.” She rolled them up. And up and up and up.

One thing I knew for sure. I was not going to wear this monstrosity to school. No way.

Mrs. Dingle was my second-grade teacher. Mrs. Dingle was 104 years old and resembled a hot water bottle with eyebrows.

“Now remember, boys and girls, tomorrow is Christmas sweater day. So wear your red and green, and I’ll be giving a special Christmas prize to the child with the best sweater.”

Christmas sweater? I didn’t have a Christmas sweater. Why don’t I just wear a big neon sign that says “JEW.”

By the time I got home, I was bawling. Digging deep for all the kindness she could muster, my mother said, “Now what?”

“We have to wear a Christmas sweater tomorrow. I think I’m going to be sick. I think I’m burning up with fever.”

She just shook her head. “You’re going to school tomorrow and you’re going to wear that beautiful Hanukkah sweater that Aunt Esther made for you.”

“But the kids will all make fun of me.”

“Listen here, boy, you’re a Jew, and you’re going to be proud of that even if it kills you.” Judaism was like that.

The next morning, I pulled it on.

“But it’s too big. And it’s too itchy.”

“Anything else, Goldilocks?” My mother always knew how to calm a situation.

I took the dead-man-walking way to school, hung up my brown tweed jacket in the coat room and left to go to my desk. I turned the corner and walked right into the Gimbels’ Christmas Parade. Red and green everywhere. Candy canes hanging from the ceiling on a crisscross of holiday ribbons.

“Hey, Levy,” Johnny Jasper said, “why are you wearing a blue and white sweater? Don’t you like Christmas? I don’t think Maury likes Christmas. He must be a grinch.” The kids all laughed.

“Now, now,” Mrs. Dingle said, “let’s all settle down, children. I’m going to have each of you stand and tell the class a story about your Christmas sweater.”

Kill me now. She really didn’t mean everybody, did she? And one by one, they stood.

“My sweater was made by Santa Claus. He brought it all the way from the North Pole.” Yeah, right.

“My sweater was made by little elves.” Blech.

And now it was my turn. My knees were shaking. I stood up and cleared my throat.

“This is my Hanukkah sweater that my Aunt Esther made me. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights where Jewish people celebrate and give each other presents. This little top on my sweater is called a dreidel. We spin this to see how many nuts or candies we can have.”

Nuts? Candies? Suddenly, the class was interested. Bobby Binderman asked if he could play with a dreidel, too. I sat down and took a deep breath. It was over. They weren’t making fun of me anymore.

“Alright, class, you all have lovely sweaters. Now, I’m going to give first prize to the person who told the best story.” Everyone waited, their eyes as big as sourballs.

“The best story prize goes to…Maury.”

What? It sounded like she said Maury.

I won. I had the ugliest sweater. I was the only Jewish kid, and I won. It was a Christmas miracle.

December 2020
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