Tag Archives: Chanukah

Sabbath Chanukah

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in the south of Israel

Most of us live in little homes, hidden away in the back streets of the city, or on the horizon, at the edge of the fields. We wish for rain in the right season, and the light of the sun at other times… privacy, and peace… quiet. To learn a little something each day… to enjoy the company of those we love… peace and freedom is reason enough for a holiday.

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little houses

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planting potatoes in the field

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a bicycle built for three

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the fifth day of Chanukah

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festival of lights

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tonight we light the first candle of Chanukah

escaping the ivory tower

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This week, in honor of the last day of the holiday, Chana and I took a trip. Not to the sea shore, nor to some ski resort up in the mountains… nor to some exotic foreign city… I didn’t choose to commune with nature in the desert, or among the tall trees of a forest. My heart’s desire was to go south to a small town in the northern Negev… where the sun always shines, and people live their lives more or less as they did fifty or a hundred years ago. You can buy a lunch there for less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you can talk to a stranger, and he’ll answer you. It was a thrilling trip; heart warming, and a pleasure to the senses.

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The getting there was a great delight too. Not only did we leave the rain behind in Jerusalem, as we rolled out into the country, but the traffic too, is so much easier as you move from the big city to ‘out in the sticks’, far from the crush of people going two blocks in their cars to pick up some groceries, or ferrying their children around… people rolling back and forth to visit friends and family members, tied up in traffic jams that have you crawling at snail’s pace in long lines of metal boxes… whose inhabitants are all engaged in conversation with one another, with one foot on the brake, gingerly releasing its hold every now and then to let the automatic transmission pull you another few centimeters to avoid an excess of space between cars…

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I buy roses every Friday to exalt the Sabbath, but I’d almost forgotten the smell of natural flowers grown in the fields… of hay stacked alongside the barn… of cow shit… ah, I love that smell; it brings back the finest memories… that, and the sight of prickly pears growing out the edge of cactus leaves. The old trees standing along the soft shoulders of the old fashioned highway, where you can cruise at a moderate speed… even at the pace of a country walk, the better to see the trees and smell the fields… unlike the super highways and the freeway, where you have to use an official exit in order to take a leak, and while driving along with the rest of the herd, are unable to get even a hint of the world outside the rapid transit system.

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When we got to Kiryat Gat, we easily found a parking spot not far from the roundabout near the commercial center, and I got a chance to take a long look at the sculpture in the middle of that roundabout. The sculpture depicts a man in a winter coat, politely tipping his hat, carrying a violin case in his right hand. The man has no head. The moment I saw the sculpture, I knew exactly who the subject was, of this work of art. I won’t mention his name, because I have to keep living in this country. But I will say that he plays the violin with magnificent expression. It’s just when he opens his mouth, that you realize he has no head at all. I love art.

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It was Wednesday, and that’s the day when the shuk is set up in tents and stalls across the wide plaza alongside the commercial center, and all the produce from the local farms in the area were on display as well as an exquisite collection of olives, and a wide variety of pickled vegetables, and endless products that might attract the interest of the locals, such as a couple of thousand bras in the colors of the rainbow, and handy tools from far away China, with the names of prestigious American factories printed on the front of the plastic packaging. I bought a vice grip pliers to give to a friend. I didn’t need anything I could think of at the time, but I didn’t want to pass up such a unique occasion to buy. I wanted that total experience of a visit to the shuk.

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We were on our way to buy lunch when I bumped into Benzion with his arm in a cast. I had never met him before in my life, but the moment our eyes met, we realized that we had been friends all our lives, and just hadn’t had the opportunity to meet till this moment. He asked me to take his picture. I could have died of happiness right then. But not before I’d snapped his photo. I asked him for his email address, so I could send the photo to him. He said, he didn’t have a connection to hi tech, but his children knew all about computers, and I could send the photo to them. I pulled a business card out of my pocket, and gave it to him, showing him where my email was engraved. Told him to tell his kids to send me their address and I would send the picture. And he promised to do so.

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Lunch was fantastic, and so was everything that followed. The people were as sweet as candy, and the cats were well fed, but willing to accept a few tributes, just to make us feel good. On the way back, we watched the sheep munching on some exceptionally green grass to the beat of fine country music, and some of the most beautiful clouds making their way across the heavens to Jerusalem. Ya lalai, ay yay yai. Ya lalai, ay yay yai.

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Image

the holiday spirit

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perpetual light

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Before I knew of the existence of the sexual urge, I had a passion for life… for the continuation of life. I came to this world at a time of existential threat to my people and culture. My childhood was associated with the systematic destruction and murder of my people, including members of my own family. Don’t talk to me about it. I am still traumatized after a lifetime.

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Yael in the kitchen

But I am mentioning this subject, so as to share with you some of the thoughts I had last night, when celebrating Chanukah with some of my younger grandchildren. I have older grandchildren too, adults, who are making their own choices, and living their own lives… a granddaughter who is soaking up culture and adventure in far away India. But the younger grandchildren were assembled last night in the home of Jonah and Yael, enjoying the festival of lights with music and games, good food and stories.

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Chagit with the kids

The holiday of lights, Chanukah, as we call it, goes back to the revolt of the Maccabees against the Greek occupation in the second century BCE. The holy temple had been desecrated. Jerusalem had been overrun and defeated. And yet, when the future of the Jewish people looked most bleak, a small group of idealists, led by a priest, succeeded in revolt against a powerful nation that had defeated us. The holy temple, which was a symbol of enlightenment to us, was once again consecrated, and the temple lamp which had gone out, was relit.

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Hillel on guitar

It was a miracle. That was the common consensus. But for those who wanted a more specific description of the miracle, there were differing opinions. Some felt that the miracle was that one flask of oil which should normally have lasted just a day, lasted eight days until more oil could be prepared for the temple lamp. Others saw the miracle in the fact that a little amateur army could overcome the prowess of a great nation. One of my favorite rabbis, said the miracle was that Jews were willing to fight at all. For me, the miracle is that even after total devastation, we are able to reorganize, fight evil, clean up the mess, and find what is sacred and holy.

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David on keyboard

If you’re wondering why it took eight days to prepare the oil for the temple lamp, this is how they would do it. They would take a sack of olives, and squeeze each one. The first drop that came out of the olives was collected. And that was the oil they used for the temple lamp. The lamp symbolized the temple. In our days it is the symbol of the State of Israel. Some of our sages saw the tending of the lamp as even more important than the activities surrounding sacrifices. At our family celebration, all of the children lit their own candles.

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Arieh

As a young man, I was greatly attracted to the arts. In part because the arts connect to values which are more lasting than our own individual lives. Knowing without doubt that I personally would eventually die, I wanted to be part of something that would last longer than I did. Afterwards, when I had children of my own, I started thinking of my children as a continuation of myself. Even after I’d die, my children would continue to live, and my blood would continue in them.

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Ruth

Last night, as I sat in a comfortable chair and watched my grandchildren playing, reading, making music… I asked myself, was I pleased? So many grandchildren… living and learning… healthier and happier than I was at their age. I looked at them all. And each one was different. Each was a world in himself or herself. Each with a distinct and separate personality. Not one of them was me. But there was comfort in the fact that these children are a part of this culture I love. And that they are continuing in their own way along the path I have walked. They’re starting where I got as an old man. And they’ll get further than I ever dreamed.

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Carmel

There have been ups and downs along the way, And I’m sure that they too will have their ups and downs. Honestly, most of them are more interested in sharing with me what they are learning these days, than listening to what I’ve learned through life. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. I see a continuation of the same values I love. And that’s enough for me. We ate potato pancakes and pizza. You know, potato pancakes are part of our tradition for this holiday. And pizza… well, pizza is always a good thing…

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sharing the light 5

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the eighth day of chanukah
Chanukah menorah by Sandra Kravitz

the golden path

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the first candle of the holiday

This holiday of ours, which started on Thursday, and will last for eight days, is all about values. Historically, it’s about the revolution led by the Jewish priests against the foreign Greek influence in Israel, about two thousand, one hundred and seventy years ago. Usually, the focus is on the re-sanctification of the holy temple. The name of the holiday, tells of the reopening of the temple after it had been defiled. Children enjoy acting out the rebellion of the Jews against the Greek presence in the holy land, and the victory of a dedicated few against superior forces; the few against many, bows and arrows against sophisticated weapons, with the Greek army mounted on elephants.

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pour out your heart like water…

Back in those days, the Greeks were considered the most powerful and up to date nation in the world. Its influence trickled down to everyone living in the western world of that day. Those who have read stories of the Greek mythology will understand something of their morals. They are heralded to this day for introducing democracy, though their society consisted of a small proportion of free citizens and a vast majority of slaves. Despite great differences in attitudes regarding morality, sexuality, cleanliness, and sanctity, there were many of our people, even here in Israel, who adopted the Greek manner. The Greeks were admired for their knowledge of science and mathematics, philosophy and astronomy, and of course, physical fitness. The Olympic sport competitions of today are a continuation of that tradition.

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the symbol of Israel’s youth

But in many ways, their view of life, and the way they related to some human beings, and some animals, were repugnant to us. While there were those of us who adopted everything Greek with enthusiasm, others who couldn’t stand their influence. After a period during which the Greek life style and wisdom became more and more prevalent in Israel, a family of Jewish priests led a rebellion against the Greek influence and military presence in our country. They won the battle. The ancient holy temple was cleaned, and once again sanctified. And we returned to our ancient customs and rules; and to our traditional values.

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Georgia at Janne’s home

So, in honor of the holiday, I would like to share with you a a few thoughts on values. Like many here in Israel, I consider myself a student of, our great philosopher, Maimonides, who was born in Spain in the middle ages. He was a great torah scholar and physician. He taught us that in order to right a wrong, we have to go to the opposite extreme of that wrong, until we are able to return to moderation, to the middle path… the golden path we call it.

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Nechama awaits the move in Jerusalem

And even though I admit that I myself have a tendency towards extremism, I recognize that the best and most proper way to live one’s life is to embrace moderation. We accept the differences between human beings. There are strong and week; those with great aspirations, and those who’re willing to go along with the crowd. There are the rich and the poor. But in every field, it’s not in the interest of either society or the individual to go to extremes. The rich should not have too many houses or too many cars. And the poor should not be starving. It is our responsibility, as a society to care for the poor, and especially to care for the sick and the disabled, for the orphan and the widow. We believe in a concept called spiritual cleanliness, and this was an important part of our work in the holy temple. The separation of areas of human activity into categories is also a part of what we understand as sanctity.

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for inspiration

There are those who claim that all that happens in this world is for the good. That every cloud has its silver lining, and that even when something terrible happens, we should still look for the good that is included with the bad. Personally, I believe that it is best at times to weep over the bad and to ache in sorrow, and not to smile whatever happens ,but to fully experience sadness as well. That, in my opinion, is the essential experience and knowledge of this life, including both the ups and the downs.

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a self portrait

Our forefathers said, turn your home into a study hall for the wise, and learn from everyone. For everyone has something to teach us. And the Rebbe of Breslev said, life is a narrow bridge, and in crossing it, it’s most important not to fear. And his followers said, the most important good deed is to be happy. I do try to be happy with my lot, and not to fear. I am not always successful. But when I’m unable to smile, I don’t pretend. I would like to be the Buddha, with a constant smile on my face, but I’m not made of stone. Just flesh and blood, knowing both failure and success.

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riding the bus in Jerusalem

In honor of the holiday, I’m visiting Jerusalem, even though I feel somewhat homeless in my beloved city these days. Coming up the mountain to Jerusalem is one of my oldest memories… always different, but including, every time, a very special delight… the joy of knowing that I am home again. There were times when I would be pulling a load up the mountain, one eye on the thermometer all the time, watching the engine heat up as we continued to rise, switching from second to third and then back to second again, on a four gear little car. Sometimes dead tired, with the window open so that the cold air would keep me wide awake… fearing for the brakes on the down slopes. Today it’s easy. We have a modern highway leading to the city, and I drive a car with an automatic transmission. But the delight of approaching the holy city hasn’t changed at all.

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a modern miracle

And from Jerusalem, I will continue on today, to spend the Chanukah Sabbath in the village of the holy fire, where I will celebrate this happy and holy day with children and grandchildren. And we will thank god together for the miracles that happened long ago, and the miracles that are still happening today. And you know, my friends, that I really don’t care much for miracles. We’re always half way into hell when we start thinking about a miracle. I just want to be cruising down the road, not too fast, on my way to the holy fire, with a flower over my ear, and a smile on my lips… listening to the songs of Reb Shlomo. Whether this is your holiday or not, my best wishes to all my friends, may we be truly happy.