I have been really moved by Hanukkah this year. I'm trying to break down the reasons why that is.
First of all, being in Israel and celebrating a holiday that is about self-determination of the Jewish people is really something. This is what we were lacking until 63 years ago.
Also, as friendly as Santa and his reindeer are, in the US (and I am only speaking for myself, here) they are a reminder of my otherness. I never believed in Santa. I never had to discover that my mother and father were the ones buying my tea sets and perfume bottles (yeah, I really am that girly). I look at Christmas trees as pretty decor items that are so common, that people forget that they mean something to me. Nothing Christian, mind you, but a part of the macro-culture that doesn't include me.
I was talking to E. the other day about the lack of active-community churches in our area. She will have to take a bus, a train and then another bus to go to church on Christmas (it's a Shabbat by the way, so umm... there are no trains or buses). It occurred to me that most Americans have never experienced that. But it's something that I experienced all the time in the States. That is how I feel all the time.
But perhaps the most moving thing about Hanukkah in Israel is that it is PUBLIC. In the States we put our Hanukkiot in our windows. Here people put them outside, in the windows, outside of restaurants. I will post pictures soon, but there is someone in the corner store that lights a Hanukkiah on the stoop outside the store, on a cardboard box. As if it is the most normal thing in the world.
In our classes we talk about Jewish siege mentality. It really didn't hit home for me until I registered my reaction to that disposable Hanukkiah. My first reaction was fear.
Fear for the person that lights some candles in public. I was afraid that in the morning there would be graffiti on the wall, or broken windows, or something worse. It was so innate that I didn't know why I was so taken aback by it.
The more I think about it, the more I remember being warned away from open declarations of my faith. In college our Hillel was told not to put Stars of David on our sweatshirts. I remember being told by a classmate in elementary school that I was going to go to hell for being a Jew. I remember a professor in university posting Anti-Semitic posters in school buildings detailing the "true" aims of Zionism. I remember having to explain to my Girl Scout troop what the Holocaust was and why I had a problem with songs about Jesus being in sung around our campfire.
Not to be melodramatic, but when people heard that I was coming to school in Israel, they were concerned for my safety. But I think I might actually be safer here. I sure feel like I am.