Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chanuka Sameach!!

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
Chinese Proverb

Chanuka has always been my favorite holiday. As a little girl, I would look forward to getting the chanukiya out from the back of some closet, and waiting very impatiently for my father to come home to light candles. We’d put the chanukiya as close to the kitchen window as we could, as we were taught in school, but my mother always moved it a) so the curtains wouldn't catch on fire and b) she didn't like it in the sink (which was right under the window). We ended up lighting it on the counter next to the radio. That was ok, as you couldn’t see anything out of or into the window anyways; windows in Winnipeg in December are always frosted over, if not actually blocked, by snow.

Unlike Israeli kids, we had to go to school on Chanuka. Some evil teacher would always give us a test during the week, but mostly we sang Chanuka songs and had parties.

When I came to Israel, Chanuka took on a whole new meaning. Not only can one see lit chanukiyot through the windows, one can actually light them outside

A Chanukiya outside a store
Chabad has huge candle lighting ceremonies everywhere, using gigantic larger-than-human chanukiyot and a ladder to light them (or they’re electric and the chanukiya – like cars in Winnipeg – is plugged in). 

Chabad Chanukiya

What a hoot. 
One (me) can also wear sandals during Chanuka. Truly, a holiday of liberation. Dreidels also come in all sizes and shapes here and are called sivivonim (tops). They have the letter pei [to symbolize the word here (i.e., Israel)] rather than the letter sheen [symbolizing the word there (i.e., Israel) as they have anywhere outside the Holy Land]. Seeing that pei still gives me a thrill. Dorky, I know.

Wooden Sivivon

Painted Sivivonim
A Winnipeg Dreidel

The most important part of an Israeli Chanuka, however, is this:

We never had soofganiyot in Canada. We had jambusters. And we could get them all year round. But they never looked that that.

Like all Jewish holidays, Chanuka is about family. When the kids were little, candle lighting time would take hours. The kids each lit their own chanukiya, and we would sing songs (for about 5 minutes – the kids don’t like singing, and they certainly don’t like hearing me sing) and play dreidel games (for about 5 minutes – they’re kinda boring). Thinking about it, the whole thing probably lasted about 10 minutes but seemed like hours. But still, it was fun.

The kids are mostly grown up now, and it’s extremely rare that everyone is home at the same time to light candles, so I now have to find my own fun. Window shopping for different soofganiyot is fun, but it also get boring quickly, so this year I did something very different.

I’ve been a member (is member the right word?) of Facebook, even before my kids joined. I’ve reconnected with many old friends from years long gone by and with family members I’d lost track of. It’s great fun. In the last few weeks, though, I’ve discovered a new use for Facebook, something I hadn’t considered before. I made new friends.

I was recently invited to join a group of women who communicate almost entirely through Facebook. Everyone in the group is friends in real life with only one or two members, but not the others. The women live various cities, towns, and villages mostly in Israel, but some live abroad, vary in age from about 40 to over 60, are of different marital statuses, different levels of religiosity, and different professions. They have two things in common however: they all speak English, and they all – even the ones abroad – love the Land and People of Israel.
I was honored to be made a member of this group – let’s call it the Early Morning Association (EMA – mother in Hebrew), though that’s not the name –  just before Operation Pillar of Defense (POD) took place, and throughout that mini-war I received many messages of support from these ladies, which helped me tremendously.
After the Operation POD, it was decided that we meet in person or, in Facebook language, F2F. The obvious site for the F2F meeting was somewhere in the South of Israel. The town of Netivot was agreed upon, and on Sunday, the first day of Chanuka, 15 women from around the country converged on a small restaurant to meet, most of us for the first time.

Netivot is a small town, about half an hour west of Beer Sheva. Founded in 1956 as a development town, the first residents were mostly refugees from Morocco and Tunisia. These were joined in the 1990s by Ethiopians and Russians. The town is noted for two things: its unemployment rate and relative poverty, which has vastly improved in the last several years, and as the burial site of the famed Moroccan Rabbi and Kabbalist, the Baba Sali. In addition, Netivot sustained heavy damage from Grad rocket attacks before and during Pillar of Defense.

The women of EMA decided that it was important to support the south. They traveled by car, bus, and train (and probably would have taken a camel if necessary) to come to a small town that had taken a beating during POD. They came early to do some shopping for things they could easily have bought at home. We sat chatting and getting to know one another for about two hours, before some of the women had to leave for the long trek home. Others, including me, decided to go visit the grave of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, better known as the Baba Sali. (Baba means father or papa, Sali is short of Yisrael.)

Born in 1890 in Tafilalt, Morocco to a prestigious family of Torah scholars, Rav Abuhatzeira made his way to then-Palestine in 1922. He lived in Jerusalem for one year, before leaving the country. He returned to live in 1949 a year after the establishment of the State of Israel,and died in 1984 at the age of 96. 100,000 people attended his funeral. Considered a Holy Man, his grave has become a site of pilgrimage, with as many as 600,000 people visiting annually. 

Small as Netivot is, I managed to get lost driving two other women to the grave, which is a large mausoleum separated into two for men and women. His wife is buried there too.

I’m not much of a grave person, so I spent my time outside the building saying Tehilim. The other women – none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, were born Moroccan – went inside to pay their respects and hear ‘Baba Sali Stories”. This blog is too short to record them, but some of these stories are simply amazing.

I had hesitated a great deal whether to go to Netivot and meet these women. I had only been a member of EMA for a few weeks, and didn’t want to impose myself on these ladies who seemed to know each other so well albeit only on Facebook. But my friend Bee asked for a lift to Netivot and I am so grateful.

I had been feeling depressed and tense since POD and for personal reasons, and these lovely ladies brightened me up. There was nothing specific, just knowing that there are people out there who cared, who are caring, and interested, and supportive, and listened; people who were happy to meet and see me, just because I was me. It certainly got me out of my rut as it was impossible to feel gloomy with the energy and love that abounded. 

I gave a couple of women a lift back to Beer Sheva to catch a bus to Jerusalem. I was so busy gabbing all the way home that I didn’t notice this.

Sunset between Netivot and Beer Sheva, second evening of Chanuka

Luckily my new Facebook friend caught it.
What a blessing to be living in this most Holy of Lands, surrounded by the most Holy of People.

Chag Urim Sameach everyone.
Happy Chanuka
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