"Do you have travel menorahs?" I asked the owner of my neighborhood stationery store last December, before our winter trip to St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I've heard of travel alarm clocks," he said. "But menorahs?"
He showed me a flimsy model made in Taiwan. It was not candelabra style, but long and narrow, with holders for a line of nine candles. The first holder -- for the shamash, or lighting candle -- was taller than the others. The menorah was painted garish gold.
"You can't go wrong for $1.98," he said.
"I'll take it," I said. "And a box of candles."
I should have remembered that relying on one box of candles is foolish. Contrary to the spirit of Hanukah, a holiday that arose because blind faith kept a short supply of oil burning for eight days, two boxes of candles are usually needed to get through one Festival of Lights. Invariably, some candles arrive broken, or their wicks are buried in wax.
These colorful candles with their decorative twists, made by the same firm year after year, prove as challenging to modern Jews observing Hanukah as to those who relied on oil 2,000 years ago. It's a wonder that frustration hasn't dulled our enthusiasm. But something in our nature renews faith every winter, sending us in search of lasting light.
"That menorah is tacky," said my 15-year-old daughter Allissa when I brought it home.
It's better than traveling with our heavy brass one, or skipping the holiday altogether, I explained.
My husband David agreed, but wondered if the airport security system would blow its circuits when its scanner hit a Star of David embossed on golden tin. We passed through, however, without incident.
I had wrapped the 44 candles and menorah in tissue paper, placing them at the top of my carry-on bag for protection. As I unpacked in our St. Petersburg hotel room, I was optimistic when I didn't hear the rattle of broken pieces. The menorah emerged without a dent.
"It needs a few scars to make it look authentic," Allissa said, as I set up the candles for the first night.
Every evening, after the day's activities -- trips to Disney World or Busch Gardens, shopping sprees at after-Christmas sales, or strawberry-daiquiri drinking on the beach -- we returned to our room and lit Hanukah candles before going to dinner.
As each night went by, smoke blackened the menorah, and streams of red, blue, green, white and yellow wax dribbled down the lower portion. Allissa was pleased that it was losing its dime-store shine and taking on the look of old Jerusalem.
Bringing out candles on the last night, I noticed one had no wick. At 6 p.m., not knowing where to find Hanukah candles in St. Petersburg, I suggested running to the nearest mall to buy birthday candles.
"No way," my husband said. "Did Judah Maccabee use birthday candles?" If we could find some string, he said, he'd get the candle burning.
Like Noah's Ark, my toiletry kit is famous for carrying everything from home in twos. As I pulled out dental floss, David found a kitchen knife large enough to be a prop from "Fatal Attraction." Next to it, the candle appeared tiny and vulnerable. Allissa held both ends while David made an incision. In seconds, he had split the candle down the middle.
"I'm a surgeon," he said, beaming.
Allissa cut a piece of dental floss, which she laid on one of the candle's halves, letting a quarter of an inch dangle for a wick. Then she placed the other half on top. David ran a match up and down the candle's sides, joining them as the wax melted.
The candle, which had started out bright red, was now swirled with black. Its twists were burned away. Charred wax would be keeping tradition alive.
"Baruch ata Adonai." I recited the prayer, lighting the wick with the shamash, only to discover a well-kept secret: Dental floss doesn't burn.
I knew better than to suggest winging it minus one candle.
"With everything in that toiletry kit, don't you have some string?" David asked.
I didn't. Scanning the room for alternatives, I noticed a pile of shopping bags in a corner. "What about the handles?" I asked.
Allissa cut off the thinnest one. Using cuticle scissors, she snipped the width. Then she twisted the sides firmly and handed it back to David, who was opening the candle -- again. He placed the handle -- still too portly for our candle -- between its halves, and jammed them together.
"It will take more melting to get these to stick," he said. Holding a flame near its sides, he manipulated soft wax with his fingers. The candle endured.
It was now completely black. But David had made a fat and formidable specimen. With another match, he melted wax at the bottom so it would fit in the menorah. It was the meanest thing I'd ever seen.
"I hope it doesn't take off like a rocket," I said, lighting a match and starting the prayer for the second time that night. When fire hit the shopping bag handle, it sputtered for half a minute. Then it settled down, burning normally.
Dancing flames twinkled, creating a hearth in a place that wasn't ours. We stared in silence until they disappeared. Then I searched the shopping bags for tissue paper. I wasn't leaving our menorah behind.
Linda Morel is a freelance writer living in New York.