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My doll was clothed in lessons of love

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By Judi Siegal

My Chanukah memory happened more than 50 years ago. It was a gentler time and much less technologically advanced. There were no cell phones, personal computers, fax machines or microwaves, and if you wanted a toy to do something, well, you had to do it yourself.

About the greatest toy for a girl in those days was a mamma doll, that is, a doll with a mechanism inside that cried “mamma” when you would pick it up. However, when it came time to choose a Chanukah gift it was not the mamma doll I chose but rather a simple 12-inch type that didn’t even have rooted hair, which was a big improvement over the ones that had wigs.

I don’t know why I chose such a simple doll. Maybe I identified with it at the time, maybe I didn’t want my parents to spend a lot of money but when I made my choice, my mother told me I would have to wait until Chanukah to receive my present. Here it was only August and I had to wait until December. I was angry at my mother for making me wait; I wanted that doll now!

But there was a reason for waiting, which I would learn about come Chanukah.

After what seemed like years to a 9-year-old, Chanukah finally arrived. I was really proud of myself that year because I knew all the Chanukah blessings and could even sing Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages), a Hebrew hymn sung after the candle blessings.

I wasn’t allowed any presents until the Jewish rituals were complete but I knew this year I would be well rewarded. My mother never figured it out, but I was a little sneak in those days.

She had a habit of hiding my presents in the living room closet and I had a habit of finding them, carefully unwrapping them, sneaking a peek and then rewrapping them with nary a bow missing.

To my credit, I found a deck of cards, talcum powder and bubble bath, small gifts, certainly unlike the ones children receive today. There was even a box of dried apricots, my favorite and a real treat since they were expensive at .75 cents a box!

When my parents presented me with my doll of choice, I, of course, was delighted. But the best was yet to come. On each ensuing night of the holiday, in addition to the items I had found, my mother presented me with an outfit for Penny, as I had named my new doll.

Now the reason for the wait became clear; my mother needed the time to make seven outfits for they were all handmade. When I think how she did this, it really was amazing.

She used bits of old socks which became sweaters and vests, leftover cotton from the kitchen curtains became pants, and a skirt and my dad’s old jacket became a coat, jacket and hat plus a matching purse. All this without a pattern or sewing machine.

She did all of this as a labor of love – and isn’t that what holidays are all about?

Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.