I was talking with a friend about the massacre of Jews in the Pittsburgh synagogue when I was suddenly overwhelmed by grief and could not talk. My friend tried to comfort me.  

“HaMakom yenachem et’chem b’toch shar avay’lay Tzion vee’Yerushalayim.”

“May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

The level of my grief surprised me, but during the night, out of the recesses of my mind crept the memory of a Jewish friend (brethren) who was destroyed (killed) mentally when he was a med student.

Shortly after graduation from a college in New Jersey, I assumed a job as a lab assistant in the biochemistry department of a medical school in Massachusetts. Part of my job was to set out supplies in the lab for medical students to perform experiments. Lo and behold, one of the med students turned out to be a classmate (friend) from my alma mater. Neither of us knew the other would be at this med school.

One day, my friend came to my lab and told me that he was having difficulty keeping kosher.  I volunteered to get kosher food for him because I lived near a kosher deli. This worked out well. Unfortunately, I learned later that my boss was having my friend come into his office and talk against him being kosher. Other med students came to me and said that they were concerned about my friend because he had started violating kosher practices and omitting his prayers. I tried to get my friend to ignore what my boss was telling him but to no avail. Sadly, after a bit of time passed, a med student reported that my friend was carried out of the dorm in a strait jacket.  It was painful news. It filled me with grief and sorrow that evidently only went into hiding and surfaced again with news of the massacre of the Jews in Pittsburgh.

My public school and college education was spent with Christians and Jews. They defined/created my life. A couple of weeks ago while in line at a grocery store checkout, I noticed that the woman in front of me was buying candles and gold coins (“gelt”). I asked her when Hanukkah was. She told me it was early this year, December 2, and added that the date was determined by a certain calendar. We wished each other a good day and I added an early Happy Hanukkah to her as she exited the line.

To all my Jewish brethren: Happy Hanukkah. “Chanukah sameach,” “joyous festival.” “A Freilichen Chanuka.”

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...