One hotel room, non-smoking, Anytown, U.S.A.

A book of matches with the words “Success Without Kollel” printed on the cover.

Eight small, braided candles; nine, if you count the shammes.

A battered prayer-book, its pages daubed with candle wax and stained with tears, said to have been presented to Jerome “Curly” Howard of the Three Stooges on the occasion of his bar-mitzvah.

One lonely Child of Abraham, mercilessly flogging his most recent publication and wondering if his daughter, his bas-mitzvah aged black-eyed daughter, will still know him when he returns to his wintry northland home.

A match is struck in the hotel room. The shammes is lit. Incantations are incanted, blessings are sung, supplementary paragraphs mumbled through.

It’s the last night of Chanukah. Nine candles burn in my room. I’m singing the six-verse complete version of Maoz Tsur in the voice of Curly when an angry knock is heard at my door.

“House detective, open up!” All my life I’ve longed to hear these words, but can’t figure out why I should be hearing them now.

He bursts into the room. “Shamus,” I say, gesturing to the Chanukah-lamp on the windowsill, “Meet shammes.”

“This is a non-smoking room!” he screams, grabbing the carafe of the coffee/tea machine and heading towards the candles with the boiling water. “You owe us $250 for smoking in a no-smoking room.”

I knock the carafe from his hand. “Hak mir nisht ka’ tchaynik,” I scream, “Knock me no teapots, and I’m not smoking. I was looking at the candles.”

“Candles, shmandles, it counts as smoking. One of your neighbors complained.”

It isn’t easy to be a Jew: my publisher is out $250 in the name of religious freedom.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.

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