Elul awakens us to the Yamim Norim with shofarot, Pesach has its cleaning frenzy then we count down to Shavout. Adar vivaciously announces Purim 14 days in advance. But Chanukah comes in softly. The first signs are the fluffy sufganiot, demurely appearing as the last lulav stands disappear. Tables full of round pillows, blanketed with white powder tempt us at the doorways of bakeries and sandwich shops. Even though I am a Krispy Kreme devotee, my mouth still waters a bit as I pass them by.
Soon enough, decorations follow. Hanging high on electric poles, identical menorahs lit in hundreds of orange bulbs line thoroughfares like Bar Ilan and Canfei Nesharim. Glittery globes and strings of light emerge around town; just enough to remind us that it’s the festival of lights but not enough to distract us from street vendors now selling bottles of essentials: assortments of wicks, oil and bowls for the lights. These are the necessary accessories that outfit homely plain menorahs which Israelis insert into glass boxes that stand outside just about every doorway in the Old City these Chanukah nights.
Except ours. We shunned the austerity of this approach and continued to light our beautiful silver menorah in a window which looks out into a private courtyard, no publicizing the miracle in that. So we had to contort ourselves to light in a tiny ill placed window with a street view in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Until this year, that is.
The transformation happened like this: Just after havdala on the 2nd night, singing and dancing broke out on a street nearby. I grabbed our guests and we ran up to see the sweetest sight. In front of of a three-family courtyard lit with a dozen or so menorahs, fathers and a myriad of little ones sang and danced in a circle, mothers nearby held babies, smiling as two of their yeshiva bachurs skipped around the corner and literally slid, coattails flying, into the circle. “MaOtzur” and other songs echoed in the chilly air of winding Old City streets, as some have the custom to remain outside and sing for a half hour as the flames flicker. Others gathered in warm homes to eat a melave malke of latkes and sour cream.
Still others from all over Israel have the custom to trek into the Old City of Jerusalem during Chanukah. The city supplies free guides to help navigate the confusing alleyways, but some rely on transplants from Atlanta to show them the way. They come in extended families: saftas with wrinkled skin that tells the story of generations in the Land, grand children in Gap jeans and fathers with bare heads wearing t-shirts despite the winter cold. Hundreds and hundreds come every night. They make a lot of noise, leave a lot of trash and we absolutely love them.
We smile and greet them warmly because we are genuinely happy they want to come here. Many Rova families set up tables and serve tea and cookies to the visitors. One woman invites 10 at a time into her home where she has set her dining room table with plates and places for her surprised guests. She gives them cake and talks with them--maybe about her life, maybe about the miracles that brought her to Jerusalem and the Rova. Some of her visitors return year after year.
We view their enchantment with the Rova as an open miracle. Most Israelis never even venture out of the Kotel plaza if they come to Jerusalem at all. Most don’t even know that the Rova is populated, let alone with hundreds of Jews in hundreds of families, let alone with religious people, with olim-- who are really nice.
Imagine their surprise when they ask directions of a resident wearing black and white who barely speaks Hebrew. Our guests want to know how to get to the Kotel, the restaurants, the Churva. They want to find Aish HaTorah’s rooftop Temple display where one can visualize, from this vantage-point overlooking the Temple mount, the Temple itself standing in its rightful place. They pass and gaze at the giant golden Menorah with 7 cups that waits impatiently on the Kotel stairs to assume its vital function in the Bais HaMikdash. All the while they seek out a simple pleasure, the glow of hundreds and hundreds of simple glass boxes holding a few bowls of light.
Now maybe you can understand why we got in a bus on Sunday afternoon to search out and buy one of the few remaining chanukia boxes and paraphernalia, hurrying to arrive home in time to light our own, just like the neighbors. Our chanukia is a little hard to find, we live under-ground and you have to be a bit of a scavenger hunter to find it. But I imagine the squeals of little Jewish children peering around the corner to see the unlikely light by our gate tonight.
I imagine too that it’s very unlikely we are even living here in the city of Yerushalayim behind that gate. And it’s also unlikely that Israeli tourists are drawn to our neighborhood to gaze into the flames of the menorah. Those lights, I am told, reveal miracles if we spend the time to look closely at them- and our lives. Then we begin to see that those things we call “unlikely” are actually the stuff of miracles.
Wishing you a Chanukah Sameyach~
Come home soon,
Renee and David