Susan Ferguson is Christian, but she knew what she wanted to give her Jewish friend, Andrea Litaker.
Litaker had been in medical treatment for eight weeks. Ferguson wanted to celebrate her return to work and her birthday in September 2007.
The candle holders in Andrea's ceramic Hanukkah menorah are placed at the tips of three bright blue shins. The letter shin begins the Hebrew words for "peace," Sabbath" and "heavens." It begins one of God's names: Shaddai.
The letters stand against a yellow-and-rose-colored sky. The sun is setting in the background. Balloons rise toward the tip of each shin in blue, green, yellow, gold, pink, coral, rose.
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For a few weeks, Andrea's Hanukkah menorah took up residence on my desk.
Litaker must have used her menorah last year. A little wax remains in the holders.
It was not an easy time for her, Ferguson told me. She was struggling with her health, fighting off a despair she had carried her whole life.
Litaker was only 6 when her mother died. She and her older sister, Toni, were sent to two different orphanages.
"Despite it all," Ferguson said, "she was always the life of the party. ... People just naturally gravitated toward her. But she never felt like someone truly loved her. She never felt worthy deep down inside."
In January, Litaker seemed to be doing all right. Then she lost her job. Her bank began foreclosure proceedings.
She holed up in her house and wouldn't see anyone. The bright, outgoing spirit who made everyone laugh became a recluse. She lost weight. She stopped eating.
Her body was found April 2, her two dogs nestled around her legs.
Her sister, Toni Dykstra, asked Ferguson whether she wanted anything of Andrea's, to remember her friend. Ferguson took the menorah.
"I brought it home and had it out on my little china cabinet," Ferguson said. "But I knew Andrea would want it to be used and enjoyed."
So Ferguson told me her story. The funny, outgoing woman she described matched the picture she showed me. In it, Andrea Litaker is grinning, radiating an ebullience that seems as colorful and bright as the balloons on her menorah.
"Everyone loved Andrea," Ferguson told me. "People would come into work and wait for her window to open so they could see her."
Last Sunday, Ferguson came to Temple Or Olam, Cabarrus County's Jewish congregation, for its annual Hanukkah party.
She brought a picture of Andrea and told the children her story - how funny and outgoing she was. She said her dear friend had died. She said she was giving them the menorah, and Andrea would have wanted them to have it.
The children unpacked it and gasped in delight. They held it high for the adults to see. Folks smiled at the playful design, the brilliant colors.
A committed Christian woman mourns her Jewish friend. But her friend's memory is nourished by a gift given twice: once to her, and once again to a new generation of Jewish children.
Susan taught us the lesson of this season. We can love each other no matter who we are or where we come from, with respect and affection, with care and consideration.
With goodwill to all.