The genie in the chanukiyah
Alan Dean was the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of Chanukah menorahs.
“You what!” Zoe’s father was yelling at her. Again. “You traded my lamp?”
Nothing Zoe did seemed good enough for Dad. Her room was too messy. Her grades weren’t high enough. Her clothes were too expensive, too ratty or too “inappropriate.” He was always screaming at her.
“I didn’t mean …” Zoe began. She gazed into the first light burning on the new chanukiyah and tried to hold back the tears.
Ever since her mother had died, Zoe had tried to take good care of her father. Only 12 and a half, she wasn’t a good cook. She didn’t like cleaning the toilets. But all she wanted was to help.
Her dad’s office was a mess. The whole house was a mess. Alan Dean was the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of Chanukah menorahs. There were candelabras all over the place. They were in the bedrooms, the kitchen, dining room, living room, even in the bathrooms. Every single morning, there was shouting about something that had gone missing: a wallet, keys, a cellphone, a cleaning bill, a shoe.…
That morning, Zoe had taken a black plastic garbage bag into the office to clean out some clutter. Which was when she got a weird text on her phone.
“@Jenny.Hunter New Lamps for Old. Want to trade?”
Zoe happened to be staring at this old, dusty and tarnished chanukiyah on her father’s bookshelf. It was squat and primitive. Her father hadn’t touched it in years.
Before she could think too much, she replied and, a moment later, there was a knock at the door.
“I was in the neighborhood,” Jenny said, smiling into the video intercom. She was a well-dressed woman, a little old, and her teeth could use braces. “Do you have a lamp to trade?”
Zoe was careful. “Let me see yours.”
The woman opened an aluminum suitcase from which she pulled a beautiful stainless steel Chanukah menorah. It was very sharp and very shiny.
Zoe nodded and opened the door a crack. “Why would you trade that for an old lamp?”
The woman smiled again. “Call it a present. Or an almost free sample, with the hope that your father will buy more.”
Now Zoe smiled. Dad always liked a bargain. She nodded, took the steel menorah and gave the woman the old brass one.
“Finally it is mine!” the woman said with something that sounded like a cackle.
Before Zoe could change her mind, the woman was gone. It was as if she had vanished.
That evening, her father was distracted. He didn’t even notice the new chanukiyah until after they’d said the blessings and Zoe lit the candles.
Then he saw it. “Where did that come from?”
“I traded it for your old lamp,” Zoe answered, happily.
Her father rushed into the office. When he came back, he began yelling.
“You went into my private space and…. Don’t you start,” Dad shouted. “Don’t you start quivering that lower lip. Don’t you start tearing up.…”
Which was when Zoe lost it.
Alan Dean stared as his beautiful daughter cried.
He didn’t know what to do. He never knew what to do.
For seven generations, the Dean family had produced boys, and the story had been passed from father to son at the bar mitzvah. The lamp was found in a cave. A genie inside gave each owner three dangerous wishes – guard the magic lamp and use it well.
When his daughter was born, Alan was surprised, even upset.
His wife forbade him from calling her Aileen.
“It has to stop sometime,” Shana had said. “A new girl, a new beginning.”
And she was right. Al’s life, which was always about business, had broadened into a wonderful family, until Shana had passed.
Alan hadn’t told his daughter that their fortune was based on a magical lamp. Zoe wasn’t 13 yet, and he didn’t want her to laugh, but mostly because Shana had been the last one to touch it.
“Make enough so we are happy,” Shana had said as she rubbed the chanukiyah. “And not a single one more.”
The genie, which was now barely a flicker said, “Your wish is my command.”
Instantly, the entire factory was automated, with only enough jobs to keep all the existing employees busy, while increasing production tenfold. The whole system was computerized and efficient. Orders came in, and candlesticks went out. No one worked too hard. The bank accounts swelled. It was every businessman’s dream!
Then Shana had gotten sick and, in one day, she died.
Alan’s world collapsed. After a week of shiva, when he’d finally wandered into his office, he saw the lamp on the shelf and his heart broke.
Could a wish have saved her? In the mournful chaos, he had completely forgotten the power of the lamp. He couldn’t bear to touch it, and it had gathered dust on the shelf. His wife was gone, but he still had his work. He had thrown himself back into it, and barely had any time for his daughter.
Now the lamp that had sustained his family for centuries was gone, too, and he knew that the factory would soon go silent.
Zoe stood in front of him, tears running down her face.
How could he do this to her? Yes, he was unhappy, but his daughter didn’t have to be.
Shana had known. “Make enough so we are happy,” she had wished. “And not a single one more.”
Alan thought for a moment. His mind tallied the amounts in the bank, the value of the factory and the land. The good will of the Alan Dean brand name. He would sell it all. It would be enough.
Alan wrapped his arms around Zoe’s shoulders and pulled her close. He hadn’t done that in years.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Let me tell you the story of that lamp. It has always been a story of magic and wealth, greed and fear, but now I think for us there will be a happy ending.”
Zoe felt warm and safe in her father’s arms.
The lights from the Chanukah candles flickered.
Mark Binder is a Jewish author and storyteller who tours the world sharing stories for all ages. His life in Chelm stories and his latest collection, Transmit Joy! an audio storybook, are available on audio download and CD.