by Sara Weisberg – Winner of the Candle Lighting Writing Contest
I shut the door softly. But it was too late.
“Where are you going?” nine year old Abby asked. Do little sisters need to know everything?
“Just to Jessica,” I said, quickly walking away from more questions.
My feet, by habit, turned to go right, but I quickly turned left towards the forest. Why should I go the long way and have time to think about all my troubling thoughts? The shortcut is a bit prickly and uneven, but it would distract me and get me there quicker.
I began walking quickly. And I tried–I really tried–not to think about my life, how it changed since Daddy died. It’s been ten whole years. I was just five. Why think about it now? But I knew why. Now that I reached the age of fifteen, I felt like I wanted to know where my life was headed. Maybe that’s why I chose Jessica, the life of the party, as my friend– to get away from my thoughts. But I could never run away from the future.
I tripped over a rock and it brought me back to reality. Where was I? The place was not familiar and it didn’t look like Jessica’s neighborhood. Uh oh! I was lost. And it was getting really dark. And I even forgot my phone. I looked around. There were a few small houses. I went to the one that looked the lightest. I knocked on the door. A man with a short beard and a black hat and jacket answered. He said something but I didn’t hear; I was focused on the captivating scene in front of me.
There ahead, were a lady and two girls with their eyes covered, standing in front of beautiful candlesticks with dancing flames. It was so beautiful. Suddenly a scene came to my mind. I was a girl of five with pigtails, ribbons and dresses. I was standing next to a lady who seemed to be Mom, but looked a bit different. Suddenly it hit me. Shabbat. Shabbat candles.
The mother and the girls by the candles were finished and were walking towards my pale face.
“Are you o.k.? Please sit down. What is your name?” the mother asked me.
I sat down at the edge of a chair.
“I’m Orlee,” I whispered hoarsely. “Sh-sh-Shabbat. C-candles.”
“You’re Jewish!” the younger girl said.
“Well, we used to be. But after my father died, ten years ago, my mother, well she didn’t really want to be religious anymore,” I explained.
“Orlee, you are a Jew and forever you will be one,” the mother told me.
The family did not seem to mind my mini skirt and short sleeves as they explained to me the gift of Shabbat. We had a long conversation until the father came home. They invited me to stay for the meal, but I had to digest everything. They gave me directions and I walked home, completely forgetting Jessica.
When I came home, Mom was sprawled on the couch, reading. Abby was at her side, explaining how she can go to sleep late because it’s the weekend and she knows how to sleep in like Orlee.
“Hello Orlee, glad you’re home. How was Jessica’s?” Mom asked me.
I kept quiet.
“Mom,” I said. “W-why why can’t we be Jewish? Why can’t we keep Shabbat? Why can’t we light Shabbat candles? I want to, Mom, I really want to light Shabbat candles. It’s so special, so-”
“NO, NO AND NO! No way are you lighting Shabbat candles in my home! And don’t you mention this again!” Mom yelled angrily, and marched up to her room.
I noticed Abby at the corner of the room, shocked, weeping quietly. She had never ever seen her calm mother like this. And she didn’t know what this was all about. She barely knew what it meant to be a Jew. One day she will, I promised myself, no matter what.
“Orlee, what did you do?!” she said, as if I had committed some kind of crime. She then ran up to her room too.
And then I, Orlee Segal, was all alone in the family room. But I felt like I was all alone in the world.
“Look at the sun starting to set. It’s stunning!” Abby exclaimed, exactly a week later.
My stomach twisted. I bet there were more knots in there than Abby’s old, tangled jump rope, still somewhere in the back of her closet.
I knew what this meant. It was time to light Shabbat candles. And that’s what I was about to do.
“Are you all right, Orlee? You look like a ghost!” Abby told me.
“One minute,” I said to her, running into the privacy of my room. Too bad the lock was broken, but at least Mom had gone shopping somewhere. Last week, after “it” happened, Mom acted regular, as if nothing had happened.
I searched through my purse, vaguely remembering the day around a month or two ago when I went to the mall with Jessica.
“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” someone had asked me.
“Uh, yeah,” I mumbled.
“Would you like to light Shabbat candles?” she asked.
“Oh, just come on, Orlee,” said an annoyed Jessica.
I grabbed the outstretched Shabbat candle kit and stuffed it in the back of my bag. I had totally forgotten about the treasure in my purse until now.
Ah! Here it is. I took the candle and set it out on my desk. I struck a small match and lit the candle. I read the blessing in English. With tears in my eyes, I added my own prayer to G-d.
“G-d, I don’t know why I want to, but I really, really want to be Jewish. I want to light the candles, the Shabbat candles. I never felt this way before, but I wish Mom, Abby and I would be lighting these candles together.”
At that point, I really was crying.
The door suddenly opened. My heart nearly stopped. Abby walked in and stopped short at the sight. The room smelled of strawberry shampoo. I didn’t turn around. I was still awed by the magnificent candle being rained on by my tears.
I thought Abby would shriek but she just stood there, mouth hanging open. She seemed to also be awed by the candle.
Suddenly there was a voice. I froze. If you would try to count how many times my heart beat in that one minute, you would have to create a new number.
“Hi, girls, the store was closed so I just went to the accessory store nearby. I also-” My mother stopped mid-sentence as she entered the room, shocked.
I glanced behind me. There was open-mouthed, frozen Abby. And behind her was Mom, standing there frozen as well. Her face was so white, whiter than the stack of tissues on the floor, whiter than my freshly washed sheet, pure, pure white.
It looked like she wanted to say something so I waited, and waited. And I waited. My heart slowed down to a normal pace and I even felt a feeling of calmness, serenity and tranquility. I waited a bit more until Mom said in the calmest, most pleasant of voices I have ever heard her speak in.