Submitted Date 12/09/2019

I come from an impressive line of Firestarters. We don't mean to be, but we are. It must be part and parcel with the red hair and feisty tempers. Let me give you an example:

The night in question, Mom was lighting the Sabbath candles on the Bimah (synagogue stage). My mother was beautiful and hard to forget with her bright red hair and twinkling blue eyes. That particular night, she wore a lavender dress, probably highly flammable. It was the seventies. I wore a hairband. The family had been to IHOP for dinner (a Friday night tradition), and we were ready to pray.

The night started out okay – minimal fighting among the siblings. No one was expecting what happened next. I sat in the last row of seats with my sister and brother.

No major faux pas had occurred like the time my sister lets one rip in the middle of a sermon.

Or the time my brother fell asleep, tumbling out of the pew into the center aisle with a soul-shaking clunk.

Or the time I tripped in Mom's borrowed heels, inadvertently performing the Heimlich maneuver over a seatback, to hurl scrambled eggs and pancakes over the entire row.

You get the idea. Mine is a long line of the etiquette-challenged. But that is not the same thing as starting a fire.

Back to my memory, Mom was standing on the Bimah about to light the last candle on the Shabbat menorah (think ornate candelabra) when her sleeve caught fire on an already burning candle. Trying to pat it out with a certain je ne sais quoi, she knocked the candle out of her hand.

The lit candle sailed end over end, pole vaulting over the waist-high gate separating the people on the Bimah from the rabble. The flaming missile landed on the new burgundy carpet. Not quite shag. Flammable. Near the audience (congregation).

A little curl of smoke started up towards the ceiling. Mom's eyes opened very wide. Her shiny polyester dress smoldered. My sister nudged me in the ribs. I sat up straight. Paid attention. My little brother snorted.

The curl ate the nylon carpet in a zigzag pattern turning into a flame zipping around the Bimah. I thought, Ah, a burnt sacrifice.

Mom was yelling, "Oops, please somebody do something," in her perfect British boarding school voice used only in situations of 'I am in so much shit,' or 'you are in so much shit.'

I knew the family was in TROUBLE.

The President of the Temple rushed down from the Bimah into the fire. He stamped and stamped. The head of the religious school came over to spit on the fire. The fire continued despite the stamping and spitting. My mother threw the ceremonial wine on the holy fire. Poof. The President's tie caught on fire.

By my count, two people and one carpet were on fire. One woman was out of spit. I sucked in my gut trying not to laugh too conspicuously. With a unified Oy Vey, people in the front pews hastily moved towards the back of the sanctuary.

At the point when it looked like either the fire department or a miracle was called for, the Rabbi pulled a fire extinguisher from under the podium. With a few oaths unseemly for a spiritual leader, he jumped over the gate and sprayed the fire into submission. The Rabbi turned to the congregation.

"Please be seated. Let us continue with our service on page … "he said motioning my mother off the Bimah. She was never asked to perform another thing, read another line, or get anywhere near an open flame on synagogue grounds.

That would have been enough, but then the sprinklers turned on.

The three of us kids sat in awe, sweat-producing awe, of yet another Young family fuck-up. After a furtive glance at each other, we doubled over with laughter. And a little embarrassment as the Jewish community's wrath rained down upon us.

As I join a different synagogue, I resolve to smother my Firestarter tendencies. Maybe dye my hair strawberry blonde.

I hope your religious services are full of laughter and light but no fires.


(Image courtesy of Designworks at


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