Hanukkah Hustling

Tonight I head back to the United States for a visit with my family.  It will be the first time leaving Israel since making aliyah.  I will return on my (temporary) Israeli passport!  While I am looking forward to the trip, today typifies what I will miss.

Though I didn’t have too much planned in the way of a last hurrah, it ended up being like that.  After a good workout, I went off to a meeting.  As Israelis are apt to do, a women called out “slichah,” excuse me, as I was walking past, in order to ask me something.  It turned out that she was blind and needed to know when the Number 7 bus was coming.  I was in a rush, so I asked the Arab man standing next to her if he could help.  (I live in a neighborhood abutting Arab neighborhoods, so my bus stops are some of the only places where Jews and Arabs wait together.)  He replied with something I didn’t understand, which I chalked up to Arabic, and a shrug.  It was said with a half smile.

So then I wondered, is he saying, “Sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew”?  Or is the other half, which is not the smile, saying, “Go to hell”?

This was a big test of judging others favorably.  At the end of the day, I’m not sure what he meant, so I hung around an extra few minutes to help the lady.

My meeting was with a representative from a government agency that helps new immigrants find work.  At first I was skeptical, as I have found such things in the past be unuseful, but she gave lots of helpful hints of places to look for new freelance gigs and ways to improve my skill set and adapt my resume for Israel.

Then I had some other mundane errands to run, but while I was in the area, I checked out the Hanukkah happenings in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that I don’t usually find myself in.  Hanukkiot and oil lamps for sale out in the streets.

I got a late lunch of felafel, as I was ready to eat my arm off, and that’s not kosher, and there wasn’t exactly an organic salad bar around.  I felt proud of myself for dodging the doughnuts for sale EVERYWHERE on my long walk home.  I guess I got my fried food quotient in the felafel and fried eggplant slice (To my credit, I picked up some fruit at a stand for dessert).

Then the Jerusalem magic happened.  I realized that it was getting close to shgiah, sunset, which is the deadline for saying afternoon prayers.  I started hunting around for a good place to duck into on busy Yafo Street, and then a man came out and said, “Mincha, mincha!”  Now, what he was looking for was for some men to come in so that they could get the quorum of ten needed for a minyan. I couldn’t help him out, but I figured, you know what?  He could help me.

I asked if they had a women’s section.   He told me, “Not really, but you can stand outside.  I can even bring you a siddur.”  Oh, goody gumdrops.  Given that the alternative was worse, I wasn’t going to be intimidated and found my way to the synagogue tucked next to a garage, and to my pleasant surprise, there was a (nice!) women’s section in the back.  So, it was me and a bunch of middle-aged Sefardi men, praying together.

Now, this was nice because I practically never daven with a minyan for mincha, especially not during the week, but this being Hanukkah and all, it was nice to feel like I went the extra mile.  I think it was also good to represent women doing their thing and not being turned away at the door, even if they’re not needed for minyan!

There was also some entertainment.  The leader was praying so fast!  Now, at this point in time, I’m familiar enough with the prayers that I know what he was saying, but I was amazed that lips could physically move that fast.  It reminded me of the “small print” radio commercial readers say at the end of an advertisement.  “Please bless us with rain! (Taxes not included. May be combined with other offers. Other conditions may apply.)”  I also thought to myself that it is a blessing that Hebrew is my second language, because I have to actually try to figure out what I’m saying instead of instinctively spewing.

At the end, I started to make my way out the door, and then I got blocked! Uh oh, suddenly trapped among a group of men I wasn’t sure felt too welcoming of my presence.  Then, I realized why we stopped!  Hanukkiah lighting time!

From there it was off to Mahane Yehuda, “the shuk,” to pick up a last-minute gift.  I got some good haggling in there (they say they don’t haggle any more, but I proved that you still can!) and caught some dancing and big ol’ Hanukkiah lighting in the middle of the market, courtesy of Chabad. (Oh how I wish I could post photos, but my phone camera stinks.  I smell a Hanukkah gift…)

Then I went to a friend’s house to light Hanukkah candles and eat dinner before returning to my own home to light it there (The mitzvah is connected to your household, so the mitzvah only “counts” if done in your home – you can do it in a public setting with out the blessing).

I remember the last Hanukkah I spent in Washington, D.C., it was a huge hassle to find Hanukkah candles.  Here, they are found in the convenience store!

That said, it’s not as if everyone understands that “A great miracle happened here”.  A cousin recently told me that he didn’t understand why Chabad put up the big public Hanukkiot in Jerusalem, where households light their Hanukkiot outside.  Surely people see those and are aware of the holiday, he reasoned.

But, unless you’re out certain times of night, in certain neighborhoods, and are looking for it, it’s not so apparent, and yes, some Israelis I met were unaware when the holiday was (How do you not notice at least the sudden influx of doughnuts?).  Let’s keep publicizing the miracle!


1 Response to “Hanukkah Hustling”

  1. 1 Eric Samuels December 14, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    You think your camera phone stinks? Go to 1:32 of this video and be amazed

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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