The Chanukah Pumpkin

Holly D. Pumpkin was lonely. The holidays Halloween and Thanksgiving had both come and gone. Yet, here she sat, still outside on the doorstep.

It was getting rather cold out now. Holly was wet, and sad. After all the days of bringing joy to the children, she did not understand how she could have been forgotten.

Young Morris was just as sad and confused as that pumpkin. He did not understand why the Rabinowitz family had left their home in Russia, even though his mother and aunt Raya had tried to explain it to him. He so missed his old town, school, and his best friends, Aaron and Hymie.

“It’s different here, Moishe,” his mother said. Seems she always used his Hebrew name, Moishe, when things were serious. “Here we can be Jews and worship openly. We have no troubles, no fears. In America, we have real freedom.”

At eight years old, Morris understood more about friends than religious freedom. He was thinking of his friends as he kicked a soda can along the block. The can clink-clanked its way into some grass. As Morris bent to pick it up, he spotted something shiny behind the bush. He pushed aside a branch and there was Holly D. Pumpkin.

How strange, Morris thought, to find a pumpkin out now. In school, he had heard about the American customs, and that pumpkins were for Halloween and Thanksgiving. He scratched his head through the curls. Now, though, it was the second week of December. Tomorrow, it would be his holiday, Chanukah.

“I know just how you feel,” Morris said out loud, as if a piece of squash could hear and understand. “I’m out of place too. I miss my old home, and my friends.”

Morris gave the pumpkin a pat on its head and walked on home, kicking his soda can as he went. When he came in the front door, he heard his mother and aunt yelling.

“I thought you had packed the silver,” Mrs. Rabinowitz shouted to her sister-in-law. Back when they were getting ready to leave for America, Raya had divided their important things from those that would be left behind. She had packed all their silver. Yet the family’s Menorah, their treasured Chanukah candleholder, was nowhere to be found.

“We have to light the first candle tomorrow,” Mrs. Rabinowitz said. “We won’t have time to buy a new Menorah. Even if we did, there’s no extra money.” She looked down at the floor and shrugged. Living in America had its good points, but New York had turned out to be very expensive.

Morris sat on his bed and thought about Chanukah. He tried to remember all his mother had taught him about the holiday. It all started many, many years ago, when the Jews had battled the Greek King. They’d fought for their religious freedom, and the right to be what they chose. It sounded like his own family struggles before they had come to America.

Morris recalled that when the Jewish soldiers, the Maccabees, had returned from war, they found their temple a terrible mess. The walls were cracked and dirty, the altar turned over. But the special lamp of God still shone strong.

A miracle had occurred: their little bit of oil had lasted for eight whole days. That is why the Rabinowitz family lit their Menorah for eight nights each year at Chanukah. Along with the candelabra, they ate foods cooked in oil to celebrate.

The next morning, Morris was wondering how he could help his family. He did not like to see them fight. They had come here to America to be happy, and happiness was even more important on a holiday.

Morris was so deep in his thoughts that he tripped on a bump in the sidewalk. He lifted his scratched chin and was staring right at that pumpkin again. “That’s it,” Morris said, and built his plan as he walked on to school.

He skipped lunch that day, and, instead, spent his money over at Avi’s store. He bought a nice big, fat candle from the man with the black beard and kind eyes.

Morris stuffed the candle into his book-bag and ran home, giggling over his secret.

When he got back home, Morris helped his family prepare for the holiday. They wiped down counters, swept the floor and made the kitchen shine. Then they grated potatoes for their latkes. They chopped a lot of onions too, and Morris didn’t know if it was the onions or something else that made his mom cry.

When Mrs. Rabinowitz was busy over at the stove, Morris snuck out. He got the candle out and set up his surprise in the front window.

Mrs. Rabinowitz was making her way to the table, with a huge silver platter in her hands. It was piled high with chicken and latkes. A flicker of light caught her eye, and she turned. It was coming from a large pumpkin, with a face carved in it. The warm glow of candlelight shone through its crooked smile.

“Surprise,” Morris shouted. “I got us a new Menorah. Well, um, sort of…” he grinned up at his mom.

Mrs. Rabinowitz hugged her son. So sweet, so thoughtful, and he was creative too. “Our own little holiday miracle,” she observed as she kissed Morris on his forehead.

Two minutes later, their doorbell rang. “Are we expecting any more guests?” Raya asked.

Morris went to the door and found a blond haired boy there. He looked to be about his own age.

“Hi, I’m Tony.” The young man introduced himself. “I live around the corner. I saw your jack-o-lantern in the window and I thought it was cool.”

Morris did not want to correct him, and say the pumpkin was a Menorah. Instead, he told his young neighbor to come on in.

Tony was from an Italian family and had never tasted a latke before. He licked the oil from his fingers and said he liked it. He also liked to play with toy cars and trucks as Morris soon found out.

“Our own little holiday miracle,” Mrs. Rabinowitz said again, smiling as she watched her son. Morris was laughing , and having such fun with his new friend.