December 13, 2015

Chanukah adventure

Lighting the eighth and last candle of Chanukah, Jews are bringing more light to the world. Here in Israel, this Chanukah holiday has been filled with light in the form of inspiration and togetherness, a sure sign that Israelis are united and strong.

It started at the hairdresser when my daughter donated her long locks to Zichron Menachem, an organization that makes wigs for women with cancer. Talya entered the salon with a wide smile, happy to donate her hair. The 'secular' hairdresser prepared her hair by weaving it in a long braid and then snipped the thick hair off in an even cut.

A friend of his was visiting the salon that morning. As the hairdresser picked up the cut braid, he explained to his buddy, “Giving like this reflects values, and these values come from the home. Dozens of girls in this community donate their hair. While many teenage girls care only about themselves and their looks, these girls understand life on a deeper level.”

I was speechless. His friend (no kippa) then searched the Internet and said,  “I love this week’s parsha. All about dreams. So interesting.”

The hairdresser snipped and he snipped.  “You want to know the best parsha ever? Shemot. Now that’s a good one. Anyone who has that for their bar mitzvah has the best.”

I was speechless again. It was as if they were discussing their favorite TV series. But the topic was a love of Torah. Can anyone imagine this scene happening at a hair salon anywhere else in the world?

As my daughter and I walked outside, the warm December sun glistening on her new short hairdo, the Na Nachman truck parked in front of us. A guy with a long beard and payes and a wide white kippa jumped out and started swirling to the blaring music. Everyone stopped in their tracks and took a break from their errands to smile, to swing, to sway. 

Chanukah was in the air. The streets were already festive, the line ups for buying donuts bursting out the bakery doors.  

The highest family menorah ever seen.
Come nightfall, people make an effort to place their menorahs right on the streets and in their apartment lobbies. We see this at our neighbour’s house. They take Chanukah so seriously,  they need a ladder in order to light their giant menorah. 

Their second menorah is made from Kassam rockets that were fired into Israel. When lit, this menorah turns terror into light. And since every child in their family of eight kids also has their own Chanukiah, they have a table laid out with eight menorahs on the street. Each evening, they light the olive lamps and they sing Chanukah songs together.
Each branch is made from a Kassam rocket that was fired into Israel.

I heard these songs in several other places over the last few days during our mini Chanukah adventure. 

On our Chanukah camping trip in the Negev, two hikers turned up at our campground. They had a tiny tent and were carrying all of their gear on their backs. Still, they had room for a menorah and some olive oil. They lit outside their tent and they sang together.

We had a brief stop at a hotel in Mitzpe Ramon.  Menorahs, boxes of candles and a plate of donuts were set out in the lobby for the guests. As we lit, the receptionist took out a silk white kippa and placed it on his head while we made our blessings over the candles, then placed it back in his pocket after we were done.

One night after, even deeper in the Negev Desert, we made our camp alongside three families. They arrived in three 4x4 vehicles and had set up a campsite par excellence complete with foam mattresses, a projector and garden lights powered by a generator. Israelis braving the plummeting temperatures of the desert in December are truly hardy (as Canadians, we come by this naturally).

And these Israeli families were having lots of fun. Aside from their campfire, they all lit menorahs and sang every Chanukah song that existed. Their menorahs flickered across the dunes and their song echoed in the still night as a resplendent canopy of stars twinkled above. 

Those stars shone above the Maccabbees nearly 2200 years ago, and now here we are, proudly celebrating in the same land. During my Chanukah adventure, I became more aware that here in Israel, it doesn't matter how we dress or whether we have a head covering or not. We all light menorahs, sing the same songs and rejoice in our traditions. In effect, we are lighting our souls and strengthening ourselves as a vibrant, united nation.

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