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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.

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After Israel

Hayarkon River - Tel Aviv

Hayarkon River – Tel Aviv

As promised before my trip to Israel, here are some of my reflections and observations following that long-awaited visit. But since that previous blogpost was mostly of the personal nature, as opposed to the political one, allow me to start by saying – it won’t be long, don’t worry – that on that score, and on all fronts, the visit was outstanding. Above and beyond all my expectations, or as we say in Hebrew: מעל ומעבר. My family and my friends, males and females, embraced me with love and showered me with kindness; my mother turned 90-year-old and my one-year-old granddaughter learned how to climb steps on her own; I visited the places I wanted to visit, and – on a wintry, cold and cloudy day – I jumped head on into the natural spring pool I call my “fountain of youth,” as I’d used to do as a kid; I found Tel Aviv to be modern, vibrant, full of zest for life with so many young children and dogs in the streets and in the parks, like no other city I know (and I know quite a few). My only worry on this front, for the city and the country, is that this fast-paced growth and development will one day soon leave no piece of land without humans living on it, roads and building built on it; which would be a pity. But to surmise, I tell you this: I sent an email just before leaving the country to my younger son in America, and without thinking much wrote this in the Subject Line: “Leaving Home – Coming Home.” That’s how I feel and, of course, I would have to deal with the implications of that statement in the days and years ahead.

Now to the political situation in Israel. While admittedly I hardly watched the news on TV, three events/ developments had occurred while I was there – the saying “Never a dull moment” was invented with Israel in mind – that did not escape my attention. I didn’t invest a lot of reading on these three occurrences, but nonetheless here are my observations. First to shoot into news headlines prominence were the rapid developments related to PM Netanyahu two-pronged police investigation, which concerns claims that he and his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury gifts from businessmen, and a case deals with recordings of conversations between Netanyahu and Israeli media mogul Arnon Mozes in which the pair allegedly negotiated an illicit quid pro quo. You all heard about it by now, and know that “power corrupts.” No surprise here. It is surprising, however, that it is happening to the most astute, experienced politician there is in the country and on the global stage (together with Putin), and that he has allowed it to burst into the forefront before he had managed to have a full dictatorial control over Israel and its people (as his friend Putin has in Russia). What’s my prediction as to the outcome of this investigation you ask? How can I know. But roughly, I give it fifty-fifty chance that Netanyahu would be forced to resign and pay a substantial political price for his follies. No matter the outcome of this investigation, however, I believe it signals that his political career – a long career of a leader without any vison, or courage, other than hunger for power – may be coming to an end. In the sense that even if he would somehow, miraculously, finish his current term as Prime Minister, he will not be elected again. This is not a prediction, as predictions are meant for fools, but more like an assessment based on gut feeling. Needless to say, though, the damage he has caused to Israel and its people – from Rabin’s assassination to the victory of the settlers’ movement – would be a lasting one.

The second event to take place in Israel while I was there was the unanimous guilty verdict in the trial of the soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria. Now, while his guilt – that of a coldblooded murderer – was clear to anyone with functioning eyes and working brain, the eruption of the blood-thirsty crowd in the streets, and the cacophony of corrupt and softheaded politicians – Netanyahu of course leading the way – in defense of the murderer, and in opposition of the long, studious verdict by the three-judge panel of distinguished army judges, was deafening (but maybe expected too). Though the trial has reached its conclusion, this matter is not yet over by any stretch of the imagination. Let me leave you with this thought: The most appalling, frightening slogan I’d heard being chanted in the streets was this: “Run, Gadi, run; Rabin needs a friend!” Gadi is the first name of the current Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot. The implications are obvious, of course: You’re next! Don’t be surprise, then, when another such political assassination does occur. You shouldn’t be surprised that Netanyahu didn’t really condemn these hooligans in the streets. Just as he hadn’t done a thing to calm down the crowds in the streets of Jerusalem when they shouted similar things against Rabin.

The third thing to occur was the terrible terrorist attack in Jerusalem on the cadets of an IDF Officers Course, with four of them dead as result, and seventeen others injured. What stood out to me, together with the deep sadness of the loss of young, innocent lives, and apart from the repulsion at the government officials and ministers who didn’t find the time to attend any of the funerals, as is the custom in Israel, was the clear, prominent thought that no matter how strong Israel and its army are; no matter how many nuclear bombs Israel possess; no matter how sophisticated the fighter planes and the submarines are – all it takes is a simple, basic truck with a driver to cause that much horror and grief. The only thing that can prevent these things from happening again – and they will, of course – is peace. Yes, that five-letter dirty word. But peace, and the future of the Zionist dream, that’s another story for another post.

Basel - Switzerland

Basel – Switzerland

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