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TODAY in the Jewish World:

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December 1, 2017  RSS feed

Text: T T T

The holiday of light

Hanukkah has another name in Israel, “the Holiday of Light.” It is in this holiday that occurs about a month after we change the clocks to winter time (day light savings time as you call it here), when sunset is earlier and more time of the day is dark – when we celebrate light and its different meanings – hope, warmth, happiness and joy. I have had the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah in two very different ways.

I remember Hanukkah in my kibbutz, Giva’at Brenner. It’s one of our favorite holidays and not just because of the doughnuts (sufganiot). Kindergartens are filled with kids playing dreidel and singing Hanukkah songs. Elementary school kids decorate the dining hall windows with handmade hanukkiah and dreidel decorations, while the rest of the kibbutz members prepare themselves for the Hanukkah ceremony of ner rishon (first candle), in which everyone has a part. We gather around the dining hall square about an hour before the ceremony, eat sufganiot, have a handmade Hanukkiah contest, light up our lampions (portable “candle house”) and march toward the Hanukkah ceremony.

Yael’s nephew and niece holding handmade lampions Yael’s nephew and niece holding handmade lampions The tradition is that b’nai mitzvot kids leave early that morning by car for the city of Modi’in (the legendary home of the Maccabees, located about 12.5 miles west of our kibbutz). There they light a torch and start a relay race towards the Hanukkah ner rishon ceremony at the kibbutz, where all other members of the kibbutz are waiting for them. Each participant holds the torch for a segment of the race and then passes it on to another one. When the kids arrive sweating and tired from running, everyone cheers and applauds them. The race ends with the Hanukkah ceremony where we light the ner rishon with the relay race torch. We end the night with children’s performances and adult singing and dancing.

That is my childhood memory of Hanukkah, a very happy one with a clear sense of togetherness. However, during the last three years I wasn’t able to celebrate Hanukkah at the kibbutz, because I lived in Be’er Sheva studying for my bachelor’s degree in geography. During those years, Hanukkah got another meaning for me. I took part in a volunteer program called “One Day.” One Day’s main idea is to give people who want to volunteer, but can’t obligate for a long term, the opportunity to volunteer for one day at a time. Each day in the program has a different cause. Hanukkah’s cause was always the same – Holocaust survivors. This cause is close to my heart not just because I’m Jewish but also because both my grandfather and my grandmother (from my mother’s side) were Holocaust survivors who lost family members during that war.

On Hanukkah, “One day” gives each volunteer a small hanukkiah with some candles and sufganiot and matches him/her with a survivor who lives in the area. We, the volunteers, visit the survivor’s home, hear their stories and light ner rishon together. Every time I took part in this program I had the chance, and in my eyes the privilege, to meet someone new, a person who went through so much in his/her life but stayed strong to go through it all. I got the meaning of light in a whole different way. To see their faces light up when they open the door and to see how happy they are to meet and talk with someone new felt like a true and current miracle of Hanukkah.

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