Tradition, Tradition

Hannah Rehak, Zachary Sigelko, and Nina Slesinger


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Dear Mom & Dad, 

I sat down to write about you and found out that I can’t. I mean I tried. I really tried — for hours. But, you’re still alive and something about writing about you feels wrong, like taking your aliveness for granted. So anyway, I’m writing to you, and I’ll write about you later, like… later… If I can. If I can, I will. 

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. For the last 25 years at least. I like you so much. It’s a shame really, I’ll never fit in with the other kids. 

You know, I turn 30 this month, just after Thanksgiving. We’ll have a family dinner to celebrate that kicks off our holiday season. The first of many winter meals in a short stretch of weeks that we’ll all gather over in our small dining room. I bet it will be fun and we won’t play games because we’re not a game family. I might cry about something and one of us may apologize. Is that a game?


I know I never get these stories right, but it’s something like this, isn’t it?

Sometime around 1985 you make the choice to marry and you decide you won’t convert for one another. It’s barely a conversation, right? Neither of you can think of a good enough reason to drop the traditions you come from. You can’t just change what you believe or who you are. So you don’t. Just like that. You don’t. 

Mom, when you tell Pop Pop that you’re going to marry, he almost drives the car off the road. Right? It’s not that he’s mad, but that he’s surprised. Not ready? Do you think he thought you’d wait even longer? Do you think it was a shock that his 27-year-old-daughter was really going to commit to a life with a leftist writer-activist from Addison, Illinois, who also happened to be a practicing Catholic?

The way you tell it, Pop Pop’s main concern was “the kids.” “What about the kids?” he said. Or was that Grandpa? Dad, was that your Dad? Who was it? Who was worried about us and G-d? Do you think they worried until they died? Or do you think they met us and stopped.


I pray every night. Did you know that? If it makes you feel better I’ve prayed almost every night since middle school. And almost the same words every time. I wrote my prayer 20 years ago when I was really sad and I think I nailed it. Who it’s directed to has changed over the years and sometimes it has no direction at all. But I do pray. 

I prayed a lot this year. I was really sad, again.  Like really, really sad. You know that. You saw a lot of it. Are you okay? I’m okay. Do you believe me? Mom, I think you do. Dad, I think you want to. 


But look, I’m excited for things again. I’m excited for the holidays. Like, I’m excited for when Dad lights the Hanukkah candles this year. As he always does, at least one night, and he seems nervous. You seem nervous, Dad, but maybe I’m just projecting or tuning into some small, tiny, minuscule feeling you have among all the others. I’m working on that. I promise. But I like that you seem nervous as you recite the prayer and I like that you light the candles every year and that you have for almost four decades and you still care about getting it right and you do it even though it’s a chanukiah you’re lighting and Hebrew you’re saying — and you were raised by nuns!

And I’m excited for Christmas. Mom, you’ll make sure we gather with Dad’s family. You’ll invite his siblings and their children and their children’s children into our home and everyone will make something to eat and it will be crowded and some people won’t be there but most people will be and you will carry on Grandma and Grandpa’s tradition by hosting and you’ll do it well and when everyone has left and the house is almost back in order, I will ask if you had a good time you’ll say “you know, I married into a great family” and I’ll say “I know.”


I’m excited for my birthday, too, though, can I tell you something? I’ve still been feeling kind of alone and a little old lately. I’ve been feeling a little like maybe I’ll never find someone who believes the same things as me. Which, if I’m being honest, is probably what I’ve been looking for—in friendships, romances, even in our own family for a long time… Do I sound like a child? I don’t feel like one. But I’m starting to suspect I will never find someone who is just like me and that no one ever really does, and that loving people isn’t about not feeling alone, but something else. I don’t quite have the words for that yet. 

Anyway, do me a favor. This year, on my birthday, after we’ve had cake and we’ve cleaned the kitchen, and you say “Thanks for coming to live with us,” and I say “Well, thanks for having me.” Know that this is what I mean: I mean thanks for having me in your home. Thanks for letting me be a guest in the life you two built. Thanks for teaching me how to pray. Because… 

After we’ve had our meal and everyone says nice things and you sing to me and we all go to our own beds to rest before the coming weeks of celebration after celebration of Hanukkah, and Christmas, and the New Year, I bet I’ll feel a little lonely and a little afraid about what happens once you’re not here anymore. And I’ll recite my prayer. The one I wrote

Only this year I’ll try to remember it’s just a tradition I have with myself. And maybe one day someone will offer me a different one. 


Music: Palms Down by Blue Dot Sessions

Hannah Rehak, Zachary Sigelko, and Nina Slesinger

Hannah Rehak is a writer, performer, filmmaker, and podcast producer. Zachary Sigelko is a director, editor, and cinematographer. Nina Slesinger is a Chicago-based writer and filmmaker.