At our Hebrew school, we always celebrated the various holidays, both big and small. Hanukkah was a particular favorite since our class, being the eldest students, entertained the residents of a seniors' home. Each year the teacher would select eight students to sing and perform as Hanukkah candles and competition was fierce for the part of the shamash, or head candle. It was a very desirable position for all the students since the shamash person had a prominent place above all the rest.
Not blessed with a good singing voice or even mediocre singing ability, my chances were slim at best to play any candle, never mind the head candle. The ultimate rival for anyone aspiring to win the part was Zelig, who had the voice of an opera star. Not only did he have the best singing voice, he was also the top student, scholastically and the teacher's favorite. Whenever holiday games were played including spin the dreidel, Zelig won everything, which didn't exactly ingratiate him with his fellow students.
Auditions for parts were held a few weeks before the onset of the holiday and the best I could hope for was a minor part and only if the rest of the students had an off day. Each student auditioned and as expected, Zelig once again got the lead, which irritated me and all the students, no end. My resentment was eased somewhat by being assigned the role of a minor candle, probably out of pity more than anything else. Those who weren't chosen became part of a "tra-la-la" chorus doing their thing at the appropriate time.
There was a definite air of excitement when we arrived at the senior's home, ready to perform in front of a live audience who were, for the most part, walked in with the help of walkers or in wheelchairs into a large auditorium where we were lined up on stage, anxious to perform. Glancing around the room, many of the seniors appeared to be dozing. Undeterred, the first students opened the concert and sang well as did those who followed. It was my turn and my voice for a change, didn't fail me. Always the consummate performer, Zelig opened his mouth and it was if a chorus of angels had entered the room. His voice, strong and melodic, all attention was riveted on the young singer. Here we had put on the performance of our young lives and Zelig received all the acclaim, again. Cheers and clapping followed and he bowed taking it all in like the star he knew he was.
After performing a variety of Israeli dances and once the recital was over, we mingled with the audience but I was consumed with the memory of Zelig and the sound of the applause he received. My sulking was interrupted by an elderly woman with a trembling body wheeled over to talk to me, smiling, while making an effort to talk.
"Thank you, she uttered weakly and breathlessly. "You were all wonderful. How special you all are to visit us."
There was the sudden realization that it wasn't important who was the head candle or who had the best voice. It was significant to our audience that we had taken to time to come at all.
It wasn't long after our successful performance that Zelig's voice finally broke and he never knew whether he would sing soprano or alto. Tough luck for him. My voice, on the other hand, never changed and could always be depended upon to sing off-key.