M y birthday falls out around Chanukah.

When I was a kid, I thought that meant bundled presents. That doesn’t sound so bad in theory: Take the price of two gifts, combine it, and you get one BIG gift, like an American Girl doll. (I know kids get them regularly today, but growing up, we had to be happy with the catalog — I knew ONE person who owned one.) But as I got older and wiser I realized that no, that’s not what actually happened: I got one gift and was told it was for both.

I don’t totally blame my parents for this: Buying gifts isn’t rocket science, it’s harder. If they could find an excuse and get away with it, good for them. I was sorry for me, though. Then there was the party issue: Everyone is in Chanukah spirit already, they don’t need an excuse like my birthday to have a great time.

Don’t feel sorry for me yet — that’ll come soon.

There was one glorious bright spot of my Chanukah birthday. Every year at my maternal grandparents’ party there would be an ice cream cake to celebrate my birthday. It was always the same cake, from the Ice Cream Center on 13th Avenue. Vanilla on top, chocolate on bottom, cookie crumbs separating the two. It was decorated with plastic roses, one pink, one blue. Piped in gel was Happy Birthday Esther and Raphael. Yup, I had to share it with my cousin, born ten days after me. I didn’t mind, really, because I don’t think we would have celebrated if it were just me. And he was a boy, so there was no competition, just the pink rose for me, and the blue rose for… well, he didn’t care about the blue rose. One year my younger cousin took the pink rose for herself. I can still access the horror of that loss. Serious childhood trauma here.

To me, this was Chanukah: birthdays, ice cream cakes, and taking toothy-grinned pictures next to my cousin.

This went on for many years. My cousin and I grew up, married, had kids, but come Chanukah we’d still pose like chassan and kallah with a birthday cake. And then, two years ago, something happened.

I remember too clearly where I stood, in my aunt and uncle’s home in Monsey, near the bay window where the menorahs were displayed — I can feel the horror and protest rising like bile in my throat — they brought out the birthday cake, Esther and Raphael, like always, and then added on was written: Mutti.

“Who’s Mutti?” I demanded. My cousin’s fairly new husband smiled jovially in my direction.

“It’s his birthday around now, too,” my uncle said.

I scowled.

My sister Malky piped up. “In that case, my Yaakov Mordechai should be on there, his birthday is now, too.”

I shot her a look. Traitor! (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 571)