A Wild, WILD Hanukkah is a tribute to the Hanukkah celebrations of my childhood, full of laughter, love, and joy. Growing up, we lived on a block that had only one other Jewish family, so most of the surrounding houses were full of Christmas trees and outside light displays. But my parents made Hanukkah so special that there was never any question of wishing we celebrated the holiday of our neighbors.
Early on, to pre-empt the squabbling over whose turn it was to light the candles, my two brothers and I were each given our own menorah. Presents were very small except for the last night, and through all the years my favorite was a stuffed horse that was big enough to ride when placed on a bench. I could imagine riding a real horse --always my first wish for a present.
Friends and family came over to celebrate. We would eat latkes and play dreidel at the large dining room table. Underneath, our dog stole napkins off laps, and chased the cat, weaving through feet and chair legs. It was a delightful tumult of warmth and noise and love. When we were older, our family dedicated one night when my mom made each person’s favorite appetizer, and our family would stuff ourselves by the living room fireplace, playing dreidel and talking by fire and candle light. A Wild, WILD Hanukkah celebrates all of those childhood memories – the laughter, the singing, the smells, the tastes, the feeling of being surrounded by love and family. The book’s story becomes a rollicking, increasingly chaotic celebration that quiets down at the end as the animals listen, entranced, to the little boy reading the Hanukkah story aloud.
Over the past four years, I’ve thought a lot about children whose family celebrations were curtailed during the epidemic, whose parents might be working late shifts as medical personnel, of more lonely Hanukkah nights than I remember. If I had been alone, I think I might have wished all of these animal companions from the story might share the holiday with me, my beloved stuffed animals come to life. So do these animals truly come to visit a solitary child, or is it a wish or a dream—that is up to you.
One note about the animals in this book: Since I first began thinking about this story some twelve years ago, five populations have become threatened, vulnerable or endangered--polar bears, tigers, chimpanzees, white rhinos, and northern rockhopper penguins. Some populations of the American crocodile are growing, but many other types of crocodiles are endangered. Saw-whet owls and nine-banded armadillos are stable for the moment. Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates a miracle. Perhaps through our compassion and action, we can help these animals miraculously survive against the odds.