One for Each Night: The Great­est Chanukah Sto­ries of All Time

  • Review
By – May 13, 2024

Open­ing this book, one might expect to find famil­iar tales about the Fes­ti­val of Lights. But in fact, over half of the twen­ty-one pieces have nev­er been pub­lished in Eng­lish before. The anthol­o­gy includes sto­ries and excerpts, mem­oirs, essays, and poems. They explore a wide vari­ety of set­tings and per­spec­tives on being Jew­ish, as well as on Chanukah itself. Some con­tain bit­ter­ness; oth­ers, won­der and tri­umph. Two use the Chanukah time peri­od as a back­ground to tell sto­ries of rela­tion­ships. (In one from 1914, hos­pi­tal­i­ty is extend­ed to an acquain­tance who ends up run­ning off with the narrator’s wife.) The col­lec­tion is less a cel­e­bra­tion and more an explo­ration of Jew­ish behav­ior dur­ing the hol­i­day season.

Mark Strand’s poem, The Com­ing of Light,” Chaim Potok’s sto­ry, Mir­a­cles for a Bro­ken Plan­et,” and Elie Wiesels remem­brance from Auschwitz, Light­ing Chanukah Can­dles in Death’s King­dom” — each of these speaks to the core mean­ing of the hol­i­day. By con­trast, Emma Green’s essay, Chanukah, Why?”, cri­tiques how the mod­ern cel­e­bra­tion of the hol­i­day cen­ters eat­ing mediocre choco­late and play­ing dreidel.

In an excerpt from Friend­ly Fire by A. B. Yehoshua, an old­er Israeli man finds him­self liv­ing in East Africa, want­i­ng a time-out from his coun­try after his son was killed by friend­ly fire in the West Bank. He throws the can­dles his sis­ter-in-law has brought him into the fire. The piece that clos­es the book, Rebec­ca New­berg­er Goldstein’s Gifts of the Last Night,” describes the chance encounter between an old­er man — a writer rem­i­nisc­ing about how his par­ents’ gifts to him esca­lat­ed in val­ue toward the last night of Chanukah each year — and an old­er woman, the daugh­ter of an anar­chist pub­lish­er who ducks into a cof­fee shop on Broad­way on this last night of Chanukah to escape the cold wind.

The unnamed edi­tors threw a wide net in gath­er­ing their great­est.” The book includes every­thing from Emma Lazaruss 1882 poem, The Feast of Lights,” to Curt Leviants 2020 sto­ry, A Chanukah Tale from Old Rus­sia.” Oth­er wide­ly rec­og­nized authors include Theodor Her­zl, Sholom Ale­ichem, I. L. Peretz, and Shmuel Yosef Agnon. 

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions