I come again from the holy land with morsels of everyday life; it is strange that I have been here all this while and it still feels like a stranger! I guess the place has a lot to offer and it is not very difficult for it to spring surprises at me. However one must remember that strangers, too, can be good friends.
Life in Vancouver was nice and comfortable but in many senses boring. The city had little life to offer beyond the beautiful peaks and the cold beaches; the lack of history was conspicuous. I am not yet sure how comfortable life can be here at Tel Aviv but certainly the historical corridors are always open for exploration and to a curious mind like mine it is not less than a treasure trove. I hope that after my return from Boston I will have a lot more time to explore.
So what brings me here today? Yesterday (December 14th) was the last day of an eight-day festival called the Hannukah. Two other major festivals called Yom Kippur and Sukkot have already passed me by without much of a whisper; I was too occupied finding time and space to breathe. Finally I feel settled enough to see and hear some of what is going around. Sometime last week I was passing by a park and suddenly I saw a lot of children and a stand which can accommodate nine candles. Curious, I approached one of the adults to hear more about this, only to be offered a Sufganiyot (doughnuts filled with jelly) and a story in return. Such small things make life so much more livable.
Thousands of years ago, the last few fragments of Alexander, the Great (tormenter) still tormented the earth. One such fragment, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes banned practice of Jewish tradition, took over Jerusalem and looted and desecrated the holy temple in Jerusalem (called the second temple). At this time a small Jewish group revolted and using guerrilla tactics retook the city and the temple. In Jewish tradition, the menorah (lamp/candle) in the temple had to be lit every night but there was only enough (undesecrated) oil for a single night. The story goes that the oil instead lasted for eight nights; the time required for the new batch of oil to be prepared. Hence the eight days of celebration, with eight candles for each day (the ninth one is for lighting the others). The stand which can accommodate nine candles is called a Hanukkiah.
As all good tales should be, it too is a combination of many stories, sub-stories and rife with philosophical interpretations but I am not that well aware! What I am aware of are the many treats I had throughout the week. I had three super-warm invitation; I feel well fed and the sweet sound of children and adults singing the Hanukkah songs is still ringing in my ears. I find yet again, Israel to be closer to home than Vancouver despite such grave differences.
A Hanukkah Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gMTvGmpVbI (strangely I couldn’t find better versions and I don’t want to share videos from personal family gatherings that I attended) and who doesn’t want to hear an Acappella https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvbLJ-1jsrE .
One of the songs is the Ma’oz Tzur. One can see in the song how the seeds of mythology and history travel in verse down the ages (not much unlike our tradition). Here is the English translation from Wiki (Hanukkah is often translated as a dedication):
My refuge, my rock of salvation! ‘Tis pleasant to sing your praises.
Let our house of prayer be restored. And there we will offer you our thanks.
When You will have slaughtered the barking foe.
Then we will celebrate with song and psalm the altar’s dedication.
My soul was sated with misery, My strength was spent with grief.
They embittered my life with hardship, When enslaved under the rule of Egypt.
But God with his mighty power Brought out His treasured people;
While Pharaoh‘s host and followers Sank like a stone into the deep.
He brought me to His holy abode; Even there, I found no rest.
The oppressor came and exiled me, Because I served strange gods,
and drank poisonous wine. Yet scarcely had I gone into exile,
When Babylon fell and Zerubbabel took charge; Within seventy years I was saved.
The Agagite, son of Hammedatha, plotted to cut down the lofty fir;
But it proved a snare to him, and his insolence was silenced.
You raised the head of the Benjamite, but the enemy’s name You blotted out.
His numerous sons and his household You hanged upon the gallows.
The Greeks gathered against me, in days of the Hasmoneans.
They broke down the walls of my towers, and defiled all the oils.
But from the last remaining flask a miracle was wrought for the Jews.
Therefore the sages of the day ordained these eight for songs of praise.
O bare Your holy arm and hasten the time of salvation.
Wreak vengeance upon the wicked nation, On behalf of your faithful servants.
For deliverance has too long been delayed; And the evil days are endless.
O thrust the enemy into the shadows of death, and set up for us the seven shepherds.
I end now with some traditional Hanukkah fare (sorry for the poor quality of the photographs; you can hover over them to see the caption):