Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Great Miracle Happened Here

In the days before Hannukah began, I scrambled around the city in search of gifts for Daniel, wandering into the nooks and crannies of the city center to find just the right doodads and treasures - small enough that they can be taken in a suitcase back to the land of the free and the home of the brave, but fun, exciting, and useful nonetheless. I found myself in pottery stores, clothing stores, art stores, and Judaica stores, and the only department store in the city center, browsing through the Channukah sales and noting the disquieting lack of Christmas music in late December. My purchases made, I squirreled them away in the corner of the apartment, ready for the holiday to begin.

Daniel and I didn't expect much from Channukah in Israel, figuring that it wouldn't be a big to-do without the counterpart of Christmas as a motivator for families who didn't want their children to be left out. And, in fact, the 'holiday season' was considerably less pronounced here than it is in the States. Nevertheless it was charming and meaningful in surprising ways.

My only really Israeli experiences of Channukah included eating sufganiot that were being sold at every corner, enjoying the Hannukah decorations at Hebrew University, and attending a preschool Channukah party where kids wore hats with candles on them and danced for their grinning parents. I enjoyed much of the holiday in the warmth of our apartment.The above picture is of the preschool Hannukah party. No, those aren't Indian hats, they are candle hats.

The above picture is of a Channukah decoration at Hebrew University.

The week that Channukah began, winter cold also began in earnest. Rainy days were followed by sunless days with puddles remaining on the slippery Jerusalem stone. We're trying not to use too much energy, so without the space heaters on, we were roaming about our apartment in layer upon layer of sweatshirts and blankets, sipping tea for warmth. Daniel is in finals season and has been scrambling to reasearch for papers and study for tests. And what a relief that in the midst of all of this, we were able to light candles together every night, singing the prayers with our arms about each other, and watching the candles dance before the misted window pane. Each evening we gave each other a different present, and now we are both enjoying our gifts: warm winter gear, candy, clothing, games, Judaica, etc. For the eighth night of Channukah Daniel bought me a little statuette of a whippet, which has been sitting in the window of the Judaica store around the corner and which I have been waving to every day as I come home from school. He wished that the storekeeper spoke English so that he could have inquired, "How much is that doggie in the window?" Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity.

Two pictures of Channukah gifts: left: the doggie formerly in the window; right: pictionary and candy

On Friday, Daniel and I went to the apartment of some friends of mine from Hebrew University for a post-Christmas (I suppose Boxing Day) brunch. We baked a lemon poppyseed cake to bring to the apartment, and we ate terrific food - homemade biscuits, apple crumble, fritata, etc. The conversation was intense and informative, as we spent most of the time talking about religion to these students from all over the world who had converged in Jerusalem to study that very topic. We learned about the significance of place in Christianity (asking about whether Bethlehem was significant religiously to those who had traveled there for the holiday), about relics in the Catholic church, and a number of other interesting topics. The atmosphere was warm and the company was good. It's nice to spend time with non-HUC friends for a change.

That evening, on the Channukah evening that coincinded with Shabbat, we were welcomed into the apartment of some HUC students for Kabbalat Shabbat services. Sprawled out on couches, chairs, and pillows, Daniel's class prayed together, sang together, and demonstrated how close they have grown to each other this semester. It felt like a strong and loving community, and when we shared instances of light and darkness in our lives, in keeping with the theme of Channukah, I was impressed by the willingness of these students to open up to one another. I think it is terrific that these future Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators are becoming such fast friends, and I think that will be a strong asset to the Reform community for years to come.

On Shabbat afternoon, Daniel and I hosted his Hebrew class for lunch. We baked bagels, challah, and more lemon poppyseed cake, and in honor of the occasion, on Friday afternoon we went to a restaurant around the corner from our apartment that, on Fridays, turns into a place to buy Shabbat food. Trays and trays of prepared meals were spread throughout the room, and people would simply point and order the food, which was sold at a remarkably low price in order that families will have good food for the holiday. We bought a few salads and a mixed vegetable dish, and were very pleased. We'll probably go there again.

Having Daniel's class over was great. For one of his Channukah presents, Daniel had received Pictionary in Hebrew, and so we played a round with Daniel's class, searching through our Hebrew English dictionaries when we didn't know what the words meant. It was a great vocabulary building excercise, and a lot of fun!

My Channukah Miracle, I suppose, was that I discovered that a teacher at Daniel's school used to be my cantor when I was 11 years old. She has since changed her name and so I assumed that she was not the same person, but I recently learned that she was the selfsame cantor that I so admired as a young girl. This was a very emotional discovery for me, largely because I am a very emotional person, but also because this cantor was very important to me as a child - she really inspired me to become interested in Judaism and I think about her and her influence on me all of the time, so it was a tremendous surprise to learn that all this time I've been interacting with her, playing with her son at the preschool, etc., only now to find out that she is the cantor of my youth. It was an enthusiastic 'reunion' when I told her!

We're sad that the holiday was over, but we have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming week- HUC's New Years prom, our New Year's Day pot-luck dinner, a visit from Daniel's home synagogue, seeing people on the UVA Birthright trip, etc. We'll be busy for the next few days!

1 comment:

Elyse said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH, Jessica, for sharing your Chanukah with your readers. I LOVED hearing about your and Daniel's celebration, and it was great seeing your pictures.

You allowed me to see inisde your home and share the glow of the menorah, and the love between you and Daniel!

And the hope of Daniel's asking "How much is that doggie in the window?" was hilarious!!

Enjoy one another as the rainy season gives you the opportunity of dressing up like Eskimos and having cozy evenings at home. (Actually, Daniel ought to feel right at home in this temperature, as he is always cold in our house....)