December 13, 2012

Happy Chanukah -- 'There's No Place Like Home'

We arrived in Tsfat for the fifth candle of Chanukah. Snaking up hairpin turns, we ascended the mountain from Rosh Pina, leaving behind sweeping views of the Golan and Mount Hermon, whose crest was tinged flamingo pink from the setting sun. A tiny tip of its peak was blanketed in sparkling white. Was that snow?

When we reached Canaan, the town nestled above Tsfat, a crimson sun was sinking behind the mountains. A broad expanse of sky swept across our windshield, open as far as the eye could see.  It was crisp, and as I breathed in fresh dusk air, I immediately experienced an expansiveness that I feel nowhere else in the world. I felt calmer, renewed. This is the Tsfat that I crave.

Leaves crunched underfoot as we walked into the courtyard. The lemon tree rustled in the wind while the old, gnarled grape vine, twisting wisteria and brittle pomegranate trees shuddered, bare of leaves. Compared to the balmy weather in the center of Israel, it felt like winter up here (or fall to a Canadian).

We placed the Chanukiah outside our gate and lit the fifth candle. The town was hushed as the lights glowed inside the glass box, eerie shadows jumping across the stones. We sang the blessings and left the flickering oil lights, a symbol of the timeless miracle, and a testimony that we are still here, strong and proud.

Back to the mundane, we ran out to the grocery store, shopping list in hand. Pushing the cart through the vegetable aisle, we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker.  “You are invited to light the fifth candle of Hannukah with us.” 

I grinned at my husband across the pepper bin as he dropped a bag of potatoes into the cart. ‘An Israel moment,’ we both said at once, as he grabbed his iphone to capture it. We both speak the same lingo and are thrilled that we can still savor the magic of living in Israel. For where else in the world would such an announcement be made?

A crowd gathered at the service counter and the manager grabbed his siddur and belted out the brachot over the loud speaker. His words echoes across the dairy section and bounced into the fruit aisle before warming up the freezer section. The butcher in his dirtied white apron left his post, while the baker in his white hat stopped making sufganiot  (donuts) to stand by the small boy in a kippa who proudly lit the five candles. And whether we were watching at the boy's side or deciding which cut of meat to prepare on Shabbat or waiting in line at the cashier, we were all present.

These are the moments that keep me inspired and proud; and these are the small actions that fuel this country with a vibrant Jewish identity.

As Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

Hold on, are there sufganiot in our shopping cart?

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