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Chanukah in the Kibbutz


To end the year and the decade on a positive note, here are my recollections of how beautiful, how meaningful, how special celebrating Chanukah was in the kibbutz when I was growing up. As a ten-year-old kid, let’s say, we classmates we’ll be very excited all day ahead of lighting the first candle of the menorah. We’ll get ready for it in our class, which—you may or may not know—was at the common house where we all lived together. We did not live with our parents, but in our house where we studied, played, ate, and slept. On that day we would decorate the classroom with our holiday ‘artworks,’ and of course will study the story of the Maccabees, their heroic revolt against the Syrian-Greco army, the capture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple, and the miracle of the oil that lit the menorah for eight straight days.

Later that afternoon all the kibbutz schoolkids will get together in one large hall, where we will sing all the Chanukah songs, light menorahs with the first candle, play games and eat latkes. The big deal would be that we actually would cook the latkes ourselves. Following that, we will walk to our parents’ home, which was called a ‘room,’ where we again would light the menorah, turn off the lights and sing the songs. We will wait anxiously, because along the main dirt-road of the kibbutz a tractor will pass with a cart, and volunteers will deliver carefully counted sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) to each home. We’ll devour them, as they were a real ‘expensive’ treat. We’ll then play the dreidel some, and leave our homes to a main gathering place. From there we will walk with flaming torches leading the way to the big swimming pool on the slope of the mountain. It was Mount Gilboa, the Biblical Mount where Saul and his sons fought the Philistines and where they died.

In later years, the flaming torch procession would include especially made water lanterns kids and adults created, with bright colors cellophane paper surrounding a lit candle. Upon arriving at the swimming pool these torches would be placed in the water, and float there majestically during the ceremony. There will be a choir singing, and readings about the glory of the Maccabees. Coincidingly, signs and a large menorah would be lit up on the mountain. I was lucky once to be on the mountain, in the dark and cold, waiting anxiously to put fire to one of these signs. Oh boy, it was the most beautiful sight: the fire and light, up on the dark mountain.

Following this ceremony we will go down to the bottom of the kibbutz, where the main asphalt road passed. By that time, eight o’clock already, there will be a torch race competition, involving runners from other kibbutzim and from different age groups. It will start somewhere far from the kibbutz, and runners will race along the road carrying a lit, fiery torch. The whole kibbutz will wait anxiously to see who will arrive first, carrying the torch. Obviously, if he would arrive and the torch is not lit, then it’s not a win. But again, it was a glorious sight waiting for runners to appear carrying the torches, as I myself did once or twice.

We will then go up to the outside basketball court, where the people of the kibbutz would gather with their kids. There will be all kinds of games and races involving the adults and kids. Looking back now, I believe our parents brought those type of games from Europe. We will jump inside empty potato sacks, for instance; men would carry children on their shoulders and will race from one end of the court to the other. Games like that, involving food too, were fun galore.

At this point there will be an announcement, probably some singing, to close the first day of Chanukah. Schoolkids will disperse to their houses, with or without their parents, depend on age. The parents might go home, or might go down to the common dining room for an adult only party. We kids could hardly sleep, of course, following all the fun we had in this long day of celebration, and the good food we ate.

The next day, whether it would be a regular school day or a holiday vacation, we kids will have the greatest pleasure of all. As I said in the beginning, I was a ten-year-old kid. And so, together with my friends we’ll go down to a bomb-shelter, located not far from our building. By that time we were already able to snatch away quite a number of Chanukah candles, and some matches too. We will light the candles and will collect the colorful burning wax in the palm of our hands. It was a test of bravery, of resisting pain. The trick was to see who could be the toughest of us boys, and be able to collect the most candlewax in hand and knead it into the biggest, most colorful ball of wax. We will hang on to these wax balls, for games and decoration, long after the holiday was already over.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

The War of Light against Darkness

kalamardream.com

kalamardream.com

As my favorite Jewish Holiday – Chanukah, the holiday of lights – is about to begin, I was struck by the fact that the Maccabees of this world are still fighting against oppression; and the forces of good are still fighting against the forces of evil; and freedom lovers everywhere are still fighting against freedom haters. The comparison to Chanukah ends here, however, as the tables have turned in many ways and in some aspects, and it is difficult sometimes to know who is on this side, and who is on the other side.

The forces of darkness, forever true, are opposed to any compromise. And since their hearts and souls are filled with the urge for violence, they hate peace. They cherish war and the use of power. Bomb, they say, no matter what; let’s get mobilized against any attempt to reach an understanding, and to find a resolution that avert war. Upon hearing of an agreement reached to reduce the possibility of further development of nuclear weapons, they see red, and – since they already possess such weapons – they even see their best, old friends, suddenly as their new enemies. If we will kill some innocent people while bombing, never mind, more will soon be born. They are the master of revenge, the forces of darkness, but never of forgiveness.

The forces of light see things differently, of course. They believe that any conflict, be it between individual persons or adversary countries, has the potential of being resolved peacefully. And that in order to be resolved, all sides involved must reach an understanding. And that any such understanding on the road to solving an issue – even as complicated and as threatening as nuclear weapons – must start with a compromise. These forces believe that no stone should remain unturned in order to find a nonmilitary end to such conflict. They also believe that denigrating one side, humiliating it, will never bring the desire results.

The forces of darkness further believe that their religion is the only true religion. That their god is the only true god. They believe, therefore, that if you don’t believe in their god, you are destined for death. You are an infidel; you are heretic; you are not one of us and should not live. They do believe in martyrdom, the forces of darkness, and certainly of dying for their cause. Liberty is theirs alone; freedom is theirs alone. Oppression and coercion of other people are acceptable means for their desired ends. You do as I say, or you are dead. I’m the ruler here; I’m the justice here; I’ve got the guns and the cannons. I will build what I want, wherever I want. The water is mine, and the olive trees are mine too. God is on my side, and has given me this land.

The people who seek to spread light around the world see it quite differently. “That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow,” as Hillel said, is a cornerstone of their belief. If you, as a people, want and need a country of your own, you most definitely deserve it. But so also are the other people who share this land with you. They furthermore believe in sharing (and not only on Facebook and Twitter); sharing the land; sharing the water; sharing the air and keeping it clean. They see nature, even more than god, as the source of all life. And they certainly don’t mind it if other people don’t believe the way they do. There is room for everybody in this world, they say.

The forces of darkness are keen on oppression. In their view, only when one side is being oppressed, and being threatened, they can achieve their goals. Their thirst for command and control, for having the upper hand, is second to none. Freedom of speech is important, they would tell you, as long as you don’t disagree with me. Only we, the Darth Vaders of this world, can say whatever we like with impunity. As long as you are with us, you can also say whatever you like. But if you think otherwise, you are no longer allowed to express your views freely. You are a traitor. You undermine your country and your people. You are not one of us anymore.

Against Shammai, Hillel always worked for understanding, moderation, and inclusiveness. That’s why they had called Hillel the elder, and the wise man. He understood that violence will never bring peace. He always preached for compromise. For sharing the city on the hill and the fertile land with others. Solving problems with weapons was never his way. He used words, not weapons, and teaching, not torturing. While the forces of darkness taught intolerance, he was teaching tolerance; when they were calling for war; he was preaching peace; when they put the value on death and destruction; he spoke of peace and rebuilding. The House of Shammai held, as the story goes, that on the first night eight lights should be lit, and then they should decrease on each successive night, ending with one on the last night; while the House of Hillel held that one should start with one light and increase the number on each night, ending with eight. No wonder we celebrate Chanukah the Hillel’s way, to increase the light.

And so, as I reach my eighth candle – and this post’s eighth paragraph – I will tell you that it is up to you to identify who is on this side and who is on the other side. More importantly, it is up to you to decide which side you are on: light or dark; life or death; love or hate; honesty or dishonesty; war or peace. Choose wisely, my friend. I am here to help you, and to let you know that the war of the Maccabees against the rule of the Greeks wasn’t just a war of religious freedom, which it most certainly was; it was a war of liberation; a war against oppressions in all forms and by all means. And that the miracle of Chanukah was not only a miracle of god and religion, if it was that at all. Rather, it was a miracle of light against darkness.

* Published first on “The Times of Israel.”
** “Leave a comment” link is the last tag, in blue.

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