Holiday Reflections: My First Hanukkah In Laramie

Dec 21, 2017


6th Night of Hanukkah at Cooper's House
Credit Cooper McKim

This holiday season, the Wyoming Public Radio news team is sharing stories about memories and traditions that stand out to them.

Wyoming isn’t known for having the largest Jewish community and that means some religious supplies aren’t as easy to come by. I learned that the hard way on the first day of Hanukkah this year - my first festival of lights celebration in Wyoming.  

When I moved to Laramie seven months ago, friends and family asked “Is there much of a Jewish community there?” I said I didn’t know, but I would find out! Finding a local Jewish community is like finding a doctor — it’s not something you’ll need right away, but it’s good to know where they are. After all, what would I do for Passover, the high holidays, or Hanukkah?

So, I started asking around. Was there a synagogue in town? Nada. Were there any Jews? Well, yes! But not many. The high holidays came and went in September. I had my tallit, my kippah — in short, all the supplies I needed, I had. Heading to the masonic temple in town, I celebrated with all the local Jews and made some good contacts.

A few months went by and Hanukkah was here. The festival of lights… a time to remind the Jews to be grateful for being able to practice religion freely, study torah, and perform mitzvot, or good deeds. To do that, I needed supplies. I had my menorah, but I still needed candles, dreidels, and gelt - chocolate dressed as a coin. 

On that Tuesday, December 12th, hours before sunset when the holiday began, I realized I still didn’t have any of those. I was getting ready to leave for lunch so I decided I would just run to the market. I’m from New Jersey, where any C-V-S, market, or five and dime would have this stuff.

Then I thought, “Wait, I only have an hour. This isn’t Jersey. What if I go to Safeway and there’s nothing there?” So I called up, “Do you have any Hanukkah supplies? Candles, dreidels, gelt?”. They said no. Undeterred, I called up the local co-op… no luck there. Walmart? Yes!

I jumped in my car and rushed over, overheating in my heavy coat. I walked in, stopped the first person I saw… “Where are you Hanukkah supplies” “Hmmmm… yeah I’m not sure if we have those.” I said, “I was just on the phone with someone who said you did. Are they in that giant holiday section over there?” We walked over, he asked another employee, who said - “We’ve had about 40 people come in and ask for Hanukkah candles, but we do not have any.” But more than 40 people wanted that poop emoji pillow I just walked by? I kept that comment to myself. He adds, "Have you tried the hallmark downtown?” Next stop.

In the car, I e-mailed Sherri, a local woman who I'd celebrated other Jewish holidays with… I wrote, “You know where I can find Hanukkah supplies?” I jumped in my car and tried another market in town. While I’m walking through the aisles, my phone pings with an e-mail, “Oh Cooper… the 50 million dollar question. I have plenty and can give you a box… I’m heading into town, can you meet me?” Then I spotted the first item my supplies list, gelt! A bag of golden chocolate… Sherri called me, “Let’s meet soon!” I said, "I can make a trade! Candles for gelt.” I grabbed ten bags and checked out.

Back in the car, I ripped my coat off, dizzy from how this “errand" turned into such an adventure. After all, I had checked now with four stores, heading to my fifth with only one item off my list. My hour long lunch break had already blown by so I sent a message to co-workers that I’d be in late: “Running around town trying to find Hanukkah supplies… they don’t exist. Be in soon!” No one seemed surprised at my difficulty. I kept thinking, I’m not in New Jersey any more.

Still in the market’s parking lot, I opened the window to let the cool air rush in and headed to Hallmark. I had gelt. Candles were on the way thanks to Sherri, but what about dreidels? I desperately hoped Hallmark would have some. I parked in downtown Laramie, jumped out of the car and headed inside. Fifth try for supplies. I randomly chose aisles to walk through. Wrapping paper, fake trees, trinkets, holiday cards… then, in the back of the store, my eye caught something colorful. I leaned down and found two buckets full of dreidels… thank goodness. I picked up the wooden toy: Gimmel, Hay, Shin, Nun. The Hebrew letters… one on each face of the spinner. I filled my arms with them to buy and spotted Sherri. 

Approaching each other, we reached into our pockets to take out our respective gelt and Hanukkah candles… both laughing, acknowledging how ridiculous this was. Why should it be so hard that we have to meet downtown to trade supplies?

I walked up to the counter at Hallmark. I’d finished my task, even if it went a little differently than expected. I said, “I didn’t realize it would be so hard to find Hanukkah supplies in Wyoming.” The cashier smiled and said, “Well, happy… umm… uh… have a good day!"