There’s something purely Christmas about Michigan Avenue in December.
Maybe it’s the commerce, or the reckless consumption. Maybe it’s the dedication to swindling people out of their savings and shaming them for trying to choose food and shelter and maybe their kids’ education over bric-a-brac and baubles made for 12 cents in Shenzhen and sold for $12,000 in Chicago’s Disneyland of future debt.
Add a fat guy in red and a big meal and that’s Christmas in a big ribbony wrapper. And it’s Chicago — a fat guy is never far behind.
That’s why the Hasid-looking kid and the Hanukkah pickup truck charmed me so much.
The truck was a regular gray pickup, magnetic sign from Lubavitch Chabad on the side and four-foot electric menorah strapped to the bed. As my little excursion down the holy road of pay-as-you-go financing happened on 1 or 2 Tevet (never quite sure how that works) only the center curvy LED bulb and seven around it were screwed in.
A loudspeaker blasted the Dreidel Song, Sevivon and the third Hanukkah classic.
The Hasid-looking kid was, well, a kid who looked like a Hasid. Skinny. Brown hair. A black fedora-style hat of the type people think makes them look like Humphrey Bogart but really makes them look like a passel of cosplayers en route to a particularly feisty D&D match at Dragon Con.
He had staked out an area of the sidewalk with his giant satchel and was pestering passersby. I walked up to see what was the hubbub, bub.
“Are you Jewish?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, which surprised him. I favor my Irish Catholic dad to my Jewish mom.
“Do you have a menorah?” he continued.
“Yes,” I said.
There was a brief pause.
“Do you want another one?”
And he handed me a brightly pasteled box about the size of a two-pounder of budget pasta.
“Thank you,” I said, hefting it.
He looked at me for a moment.
“Do you want another one?”
“Like another one another one?”
“Are you sure?”
I considered for a moment.
“Nah, better save it for someone else.”
“No, it’s fine,” he said.
“Oh, you have one left! You can go after this.”
“No, I have a whole bunch more in the car.”
That admission and a nod on my part left me with two menorahs for the night.
Lubavitch Chabad, I learned from a few of my Jewish friends on Facebook that night, has been going around trying to get Jews to celebrate being Jewish. No conversion, no strong-arming “Have you accepted guilt and flavorful brisket as your personal lord and savior?” Just trying to get members of the tribe to actually celebrate the rituals and the holidays that make us a thing.
It’s passing out Christmas trees to the treeless. In this simple, silly and, in the grand scheme of Jewish holidays, meaningless little piffle of dreidels and gelt, he wanted Jews to enjoy being Jewish.
I thanked him and returned to the Christly commerce, the flashing spectacle of sales, debt, brand names and “Come unto me the little children for 10 percent off and free layaway if you act now, now, now!” I went back to the greed and Jesus that marks the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
After a brief, joyous moment of wonder, love and Hanukkah, I stumbled debt-plagued into the vampire Christmas.