By Julia Gergely
BROOKLYN — Chanukah, commemorating the triumph of Judah Maccabee and the miracle of long-lasting oil, has plenty of heroes to celebrate. But in one Brooklyn family’s home, the hero is the “Chanukah Fairy” — or at least the mom behind it.
Starting some 25 years ago, Gail Nalven Fuchs and her husband, David Fuchs, stayed up late the night before Chanukah began to completely decorate the interior of their Midwood house in tinsel, dreidels and blue and white decor.
When their two kids awoke wide-eyed at the wonder, the Fuchs explained that the Chanukah Fairy, who came to decorate and spread the light and joy of the holiday, had paid their house a visit.
Over the years, what began as a lark has grown into a grand tradition: Eye-catching, illuminated Chanukah decorations can be found on the home’s exterior and front lawn, too, including an oversized menorah, Jewish stars and inflatables, such as a giant teddy bear wearing a Chanukah sweater and a spinning dreidel.
The “Chanukah House” is now a bona fide neighborhood treasure, attracting neighbors, visitors and children from around Brooklyn.
The tradition started in 1997 when the Fuchs’ kids, Alyson and Harrison, were seven and five. “Isn’t Chanukah called the Festival of Lights?” her son, Harrison — now a playwright whose “A Chanukah Carol, or GELT TRIP! The Musical” is playing at The Green Room in Manhattan — asked one year? Fuchs confirmed it was.
“Then why don’t I see any Chanukah lights?” he asked. “Everything is Christmas themed.”
Fuchs tried to explain to her son that even though the lights are Christmas themed, they are for everyone to enjoy. “He said, ‘I would enjoy it so much more. If I saw something that I know about. I don’t know about Christmas,’” she recalled.
It was a moment of realization for Fuchs. “New Yorkers always say we live in a melting pot,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “It didn’t feel that way at Christmastime.”
In response to Harrison’s questions, she helped him pen a letter to the New York Post. “It’s very hard to be a five-year-old Jewish boy at this time of year,” the letter, which was published in 1997, opens.
“I get very sad when I am driving the car in Brooklyn and I look at all the lights and decorations hanging across the avenues.”
Harrison then goes on to request more Chanukah decorations in the years to come.
The next year, a few weeks before Chanukah, someone from the New York Post called to let Fuchs and her family know that there would be a large public menorah on Avenue U — sure enough, there it was.
“We drove by and Harrison was so excited. He went home and drew the menorah with paint and we hung it on our wall and he would look at it every day.”
Seeing how happy her kids were when they saw their holiday represented, Fuchs decided to start decorating her home with dreidels, menorahs, candles, Chanukah art and tinsel.
Enter the Chanukah Fairy, who Fuchs created to add a sense of magic and wonder to the holiday — and to surprise her young kids.
“Every year there were more and more Chanukah decorations from the Chanukah Fairy,” Fuchs said. “The kids used to write letters to her before the holiday saying ‘Hi Chanukah Fairy, I hope you had a nice year, I cannot wait to see my home decorated this Chanukah.’”
The exterior decorating began slowly: David Fuchs, who owns a handmade steel manufacturing and distribution business, built the giant menorah. Over the years, the “Chanukah Elf,” as he’s known by his family, has since built Jewish stars and various signs for the house. They also try to add a Chanukah-themed inflatable to their collection every year — this year’s newbie is a dinosaur wearing a Chanukah sweater.
Harrison and Alyson are now 30 and 32, respectively, but the tradition has carried on. The decorations start going up about a week before the holiday starts, and stay up until a week after it ends.
While Fuchs considers herself a Conservative Jew, many of her neighbors in Midwood are Orthodox. Still, she’s noticed that many in the area are eager to take pics with the inflatables — some years, a school bus from a nearby yeshiva even stops in front of the house so kids can look.
“I love sitting back on my porch — nobody sees me and I love watching all the people go by,” she said. “It’s just a joy.”
The Fuchs family has always celebrated Chanukah to the nines — four generations of the extended family gather at their home for a Chanukah party.
Fuchs’ adult children will help decorate the house, and Alyson Fuchs now also puts up decor in her apartment in Carroll Gardens, where her two daughters, who are two-and-a-half years old and seven months old, now carry on the wonder and delight at the Chanukah Fairy.
“We have Chanukah pride,” she said. “But it’s not so much ‘Hey, I’m Jewish. Here’s my house, too.’ It’s ‘Hey, I have a holiday that’s really a lot of fun. Look how pretty it is.’”
It’s a tradition that’s become so important to the family that the “Chanukah Fairy” even features in Harrison Fuchs’ new musical.
Harrison, who uses the stage name Harrison Bryan, told the New York Jewish Week, “To me, this magical entity was just as real as the Tooth Fairy, or Santa to other kids. It was amazing waking up on Chanukah morning — my sister and I would marvel at all the decorations — blue and white everywhere, and to such an extent that it felt impossible for this to have been done without actual magic.”
“It was only when I got a little bit older that I realized, it was real magic — the magic of having incredibly imaginative parents who wanted their children to feel loved and proud of their cultural identity.”
Bryan made “The Chanukah Fairy” a character in his musical because “even though it may have been a tradition my parents made up, it was always meant to spark joy in others too,” Bryan added. “And with the show, alongside the Chanukah Fairy, we hope to do just that.”