“A Parakeet named Dreidel”

Chanukah is a great time to gather the family together, eat something tasty and share stories. This is one of my favorites!

A Parakeet Named Dreidel

It happened about ten years ago in Brooklyn, New York. All day long a heavy snow was falling. Toward evening the sky cleared and a few stars appeared. A frost set in. It was the eighth day of Chanukah, and my silver Chanukah lamp stood on our window sill with all the candles burning. It was mirrored on the window pane. And I imagined another lamp outside.

My wife, Esther, was frying latkes. I sat with my son, David, at a table and played dreidel with him. Suddenly David cried out, “Papa, look!” And he pointed to the window.
I looked up and saw something that seemed unbelievable. Outside on the windowsill stood a yellow-green bird watching the candles. In a moment, I understood what had happened. A parakeet had escaped from its home somewhere and had flown out into the cold street and landed on our windowsill, perhaps attracted by the light.

A parakeet’s native to a warm climate and it cannot stand the cold and frost for very long
I immediately took steps to keep the bird from freezing. First I carried away the Chanukah lamp so that the bird would not burn himself when entering. Then I opened the window and with a quick wave of my hand shooed the parakeet inside. The whole thing took only a few seconds.

In the beginning, the frightened bird flew from wall to wall. It hit itself against the ceiling and for a while hung from a crystal prism on the chandelier. David tried to calm it, “Don’t be afraid little bird, we are your friends.” Presently, the bird flew toward David and landed on his head, as though he had been trained and was accustomed to people. David began to dance and laugh with joy! My wife in the kitchen heard the noise and came out to see what had happened. When she saw the bird on David’s head, she asked, “Where did you get a bird all of a sudden?”

“Mama, it just came to our window.”
“To the window in the middle of winter?”
“Papa saved it’s life!”

The bird was not afraid of us. David lifted his hand to his forehead and the bird settled on his finger. Esther placed a saucer of millet and a dish of water on the table and the parakeet ate and drank. It saw the dreidel and began to push it with its beak. David exclaimed, “Look, the bird plays dreidel!”

David soon began to talk about buying a cage for the bird and also about giving it a name, but Esther and I reminded him that the bird was not ours. We would try to find the owners who were probably missed their pet and were very worried about what had happened to it in the icy weather. David said, “Meanwhile, let’s call it Dreidel.”

That night Dreidel slept on a picture frame and woke us in the morning with its singing. The bird stood on the frame, its plumage brilliant in the purple light of the rising sun, shaking as in prayer, whistling, twittering and talking all at once at the same time. The parakeet must have belonged to a house where Yiddish was spoken, because we heard it say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” which means “Zeldele, go to sleep.” and these simple words uttered by the tiny creature filled us with wonder and delight.

The next day I posted a notice in the elevators of the neighborhood houses. It said we had found a Yiddish speaking parakeet. When a few days passed and none called, I advertised in the newspaper for which I wrote but a week went by and none claimed the bird. Only then did Dreidel become ours. We bought a large cage with all the fittings and toys that a bird might want, but because Chanukah is a festival of freedom, we resolved never to lock the cage.
Dreidel was free to fly around the house whenever he pleased. The man at the pet shop told us he was a male so we knew it was a “he”.

Nine years passed and Dreidel remained with us We became more and more attached to him. At our house he learned scores of Yiddish, English and Hebrew words. David taught him to sing a Chanukah song and there was always a wooden dreidel in his cage for him to play with. When I wrote on my Yiddish typewriter, Dreidel would cling to the index finger of either my right hand or my left, jumping acrobatically with every letter I wrote. Esther often joked that Dreidel was helping me write and that he should be entitled to half my earnings.

Our son, David, grew up and entered college. One winter night he went to a Chanukah party. He told us he would be home late and Esther and I went to bed early. We had just fallen asleep when the telephone rang. It was David. As a rule he is a quiet and composed young man.This time he spoke so excitedly that we could barely understand what he was saying. It seemed that David had told the story of our parakeet to his fellow students at the party and a girl named Zelda Rosen exclaimed, “I am this Zeldele! We lost our parakeet nine years ago.” Zelda and her parents lived not far from us but they had never seen the notice in the newspaper or the ones posted on the elevators. Zelda was now a student and a friend of David’s. She had never visited us before but our son often spoke about her to his mother.

We slept little that night. The next day, Zelda and her parents came to see their long-lost pet. Zelda was a beautiful and gifted girl. David often took her to the theater and museums. Not only did the Rosens recognize their bird, but he seemed to recognize his former owners. The Rosens used to call him, Tsip-Tsip, and when the parakeet heard say, “Tsip-Tsip”, he became flustered and began to fly from one member of the family to the other, screeching and flapping his wings. Both Zelda and her mother cried when they saw their beloved bird alive. The father stared silently. Then he quietly said, “We have never forgotten our Tsip-tsip.”

I was ready to return the parakeet to its original owners, but Esther and David said they could never part with Dreidel. It was also not necessary because that day, David and Zelda decided to get married after graduation from college. So Dreidel is still with us, always eager to learn new words and new games. When David and Zelda marry, they will take Dreidel with them to their new home. Zelda has often said, “Dreidel was our matchmaker.”

On Chanukah he always gets a gift – a mirror, a ladder, a bathtub, a swing or a jingle bell. He has even developed a taste for potato pancakes, as befits a parakeet named Dreidel!

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Chappy Chanukah!

This story is one of eight – one for each night – for Chanukah, written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, from the book called “The Power of Light”. A Sunburst Book written in 1980. # 80-20263

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