Dec 2, 2011

Chag haBanot, Festival of the Daughters

Story excerpted from Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

It’s cold and wet on the streets of Paris, but Jacqueline, Geannette, Danielle, and Margot are enjoying the toasty warmth of their Grand-mere’s home. The cousins have already lit the candles for the seventh night of Hanukkah. Grand-mere explains that this night is for girls only, the way it was in Nabeul, Tunisia, where she grew up.
“Hanukkah is the only holiday that starts in one Hebrew month, Kislev, and ends in another, Tevet," Grand-mere explains. “Tonight is Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new month. When I grew up, the Rosh Chodesh that fell during Hanukkah was a holiday within a holiday. It was called Chag haBanot, Festival of the Daughters.
“And you slept over at your Grand-mere’s house?” asks Jacqueline.
“We did more than that. While the candles burned, we relaxed. No one went into the kitchen. The next day we had a feast for women and girls only.”
“No annoying boys?” asks a wide-eyed Geannette.
“We did serve them a snack after candlelighting—an artichoke, olive spread, or a hard-boiled egg. But the really delicious food was saved for the women’s feast, where young and old gathered to honor Judith, the Hanukkah heroine.”
“I don’t remember a Maccabee named Judith,” insists Margot.
“Aha! I knew one of you would say that. Legend has it that the Maccabees were inspired by Judith’s bravery. Who knows her story?”
“I do,” says Danielle. “Judith fed a Syrian Greek general salty cheese that made him thirsty, so she gave him wine to drink. He got drunk and then she…”
“Stop,” insists Grand-mere. I’ll tell you the whole story tomorrow at the celebration. And I want each one of you to tell a story, too—about a different Jewish heroine.”
“Is that what you did?” asks Jacqueline.
“Oui,” answers Grand-mere. “We had heard enough stories about heroes. On the seventh day of Hanukkah we honored only our heroines: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Miriam, Judith, Hannah, and…”
“And that’s it?” interrupts Geannette rudely. Danielle frowns at her. Geannette frowns back.
“That reminds me of another thing we did,” adds Grand-mere. “We settled all fights and apologized to one another.”
“Sorry,” says a half-hearted Danielle.
“Anything else?” continues Geannette.
“At the end of the meal we at special Debla cookies. We’ll bake some tomorrow.”
“No entertainment?” asks Margot.
“Of course,” smiles Grand-mere. “We danced and listened to all the popular songs.”
“Sung by women?”
Grand-mere pauses, gets up from her seat, and goes over to a table with drawers. “One last thing. One year my Grand-mere gave me four pieces of her favorite jewelry. Guess who’s going to get them tonight?”
Buy Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

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