O ur family minhag was that my father distributed the Chanukah gelt on the fifth night. He explained that this was the minhag in Lita, as the fifth night is the only night that never falls on Shabbos, so you can always count on being able to distribute the gelt then.

My father was a photographer who traveled all over the Tristate area photographing newborns. He could be in Freehold on Monday, Stamford on Tuesday, and in the Bronx on Wednesday. He never arrived home before seven, but he would always call home, at six, from a device called a pay phone.

Money was tight in those years and if my father was in New Jersey — a long-distance call — he couldn’t afford the 95 cents required for the first three minutes. So my parents devised a system, a prearranged “coded ring.” He would call, and my mother wouldn’t answer the phone; rather she listened to the rings.

If he hung up after the first ring, that meant he’d be home within the hour.

However, if it rang twice that meant he wouldn’t be home for at least two hours.

After the “call” was completed, my father would press the coin return and retrieve his 95 cents.

On Chanukah my brother and I always got home early, and we’d be excited and want to immediately light the candles.

My usually easygoing mother wouldn’t hear of it. She was adamant that we wait for my father. “We light as a family!” she would insist. “The family that lights together stays together.”

As the phone rang I would daven, “Please, Hashem; make it ring only once… I can’t wait so long.” Yet Hashem runs the world, and often I impatiently waited hours for my father. Sometimes he wouldn’t return until nine, yet despite the whining of her sons, my mother always insisted we wait.

When I reached the age of shidduchim, I would frequently return home via subway from yeshivah to borrow the family car for the date. Back then, the idea of renting a car for a date wasn’t even on the radar screen.

One Chanukah, I had a date on the fifth night.

I had to leave early, so I told my parents I’d light when I returned.

The date went nowhere; however, I got lost on my way home, and by the time I got there, it was almost midnight.

I was about to light when I heard movement from upstairs. I couldn’t imagine who was walking around, as my parents were always asleep by ten.

Suddenly, a light went on and I saw the outline of my father in his robe followed by my mother coming down the stairs.

“I’m so sorry!” I stammered. “Did I wake you?”

My father laughed. “We waited for you. I remember how often you waited for me to light, so it’s only fair that tonight I waited for you. And anyway, I have to give you your Chanukah gelt!”

My mother was beaming as she said, “Remember, the family that lights together stays together.”

And indeed, that night as the clock neared midnight, my family lit the candles together and the house was radiant.

My date was nothing to remember; however, every year on the fifth night of Chanukah, as I distribute the Chanukah gelt to my own children, I still recall the happiness and contentment that filled me on that blissful night decades ago, when our family burned the midnight Chanukah oil together with love and affection.

My parents are no longer here to light with, yet the warmth and love I retain, cherish, and treasure from that special night continue to glow within me. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 689)