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From a toddler, the light of life

A 17-month-old dispels much darkness for her great-grandmother.

By Ilene Munetz Pachman

My granddaughter Jessica is 17 months old; my mother, Alice, is one month shy of 92. What Jessica brings to her great-grandmother reminds me of the 22-centuries-old "miracle of oil" at the center of Hanukkah, the far-reaching sacredness of a single, "pure" light.

When I drive from my home in Bucks County to the senior residential facility in Philadelphia where my mother lives, I feel reassured at those times when I know Jessica will be visiting there, too. Photos of Jessica - some showing her cuddled on the lap of her frail, adoring great-grandmother - fill my mother's apartment.

Borrowing words from the Hebrew blessing,


my mother expressed her thanks to God for her "having reached this day" when the baby was born. She still appreciates her countless, ongoing blessings.

Sometimes, her days are saddened by shades of darkness: the profound loss of her husband and life-partner (four years later, the pain is still raw); the deaths of nearly all of her "decades-dear" and closest friends; and her unnecessary, but relentless, fear of being "a burden" to her children. But immediately after little Jessica arrives with her parents, all darkness recedes. It is replaced by the light and energy of young life.

Rabbis today say, as those throughout the centuries have said, "A little light will dispel much darkness." Each of Jessica's visits brings new light, like each Hanukkah candle added to the menorah.

When she visits, Jessica goes right to my mother's waiting embrace. It is the embrace of a tired woman with white hair and skin sometimes pale. But then my mother is transformed by joy and sprinkles Jessica's arms with kisses before the toddler squirms away.

I recall my rabbi, Eliott N. Perlstein, spiritual leader of Ohev Shalom of Bucks County, commenting on the sacred steps individuals take to "bring light into the world." It is action he hopes is increased by the inspiration of Hanukkah and includes those invaluable steps (literally Jessica's!) toward someone who is emotionally needy.

Jessica gave my mother an early Hanukkah present this year. Although the name "Great-grandmom Alice" (our family's nickname for my mother) is too hard for Jessica to say, the little girl recently pointed to a photo of my mother. In the softest, clearest of voices she said, "Alice." The very word was wrapped in light.