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by Reesa Cohen Stone, November 15, 2021

Hanukkah is about the freedom to be true to what we believe without denying the freedom of those who believe otherwise.

—Rabbi Jonathan Sacks


And just like that, like a simple neighborhood event, a miracle is taking place.

—Mary Oliver


Makes me Proud to be an Israeli. NGL.

—Galit P. Stone


Of all the holidays of the Jewish year, Chanuka has always been my favorite. Courage, miracles, good guys, bad guys, donuts, chocolate coins, and a week off school. What could be bad?

Even while growing up in the wilds of the Old Country, Chanuka was my favorite. Minus 30 degrees outside but toasty warm inside, we kids would watch my father light the chanukiya as close to a windowsill, but still remain in the almost windowless kitchen, as he could. Dripping wax on the wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room with the floor-to-ceiling windows was never going to happen.

My mother always made potato latkes on the first night, which we would drown in applesauce.

We had dreidels, and while we had to go to school (even though I attended a Jewish school, Chanuka wasn’t vacation, but Christmas was), we played games and sang songs and enough of the regularly scheduled lessons were cancelled to make school almost, but not quite, fun.

Now I live in the wilds of the Negev, and while Chanuka is still Chanuka, details are somewhat different. Plus 30 degrees outside, absolutely freezing inside my house, we all gather around a row of chanukiyot that the kids light in front of the glass sliding door so as to publicize the miracles that occurred in the days of the Maccabim and watch wax drip on the tiles of the floor, to remain there until at least Pesach, but, more likely, forever.

The kids are older now, and most no longer live with me, so lighting the chanukiyot isn’t quite the ceremony it once was. When they were all at home, by the time the last one finished lighting her chanukiya, the candles on the first one's chanukiya had already burnt out, leaving the youngest 'the winner' in the nightly ‘whose chanukiya lasts the longest' contest. The older kids would never let that slide and they would give the youngest the handmade in kindergarten, wonky chanukiya made of bottle tops and pipe cleaners to light. She didn’t actually have a problem with that, except for the time the house almost burned down. But hey.

I still make latkes, sometimes on the first night, sometimes for Shabbat, sometimes both. But we call them ‘levivot’, and they aren't necessarily made of potatoes. There are 12 billion different recipes available today to please any palate. Livivot with apples, with cilantro and jalapeno peppers, grilled cheese livivot, and even levivot made of chocolate ice cream.

And who needs apple sauce when you have orange marmalade, tahina, and smoked salmon?

The kids still play with dreidels, which we now call sivivonim. They aren't quite the same as the ones I had. First, there is the letter 'pei' (which stands for ‘poh’[??] – here, i.e., in Israel) on the Israeli sivivon, rather than the 'shin' (which stands for ‘sham’[??] – there, i.e., in Israel) on the Old Country dreidel, which, no matter how many years have passed or how many sivivonim I have stepped on in my bare feet, gives me a thrill and a flush of pride. But more than that, today's sivivonim certainly aren't made of clay (or even plastic), but rather wirebulletsHershey Kissesmarshmallows or Lego. And they don't just spin. Oh no; they draw pictures, they play music, they create shapes, they come apart and turn into storage units for even smaller sivivonim, and ultimately, they can be eaten.

Back in the Old Country, sufganiyot were called 'jambusters', were available all year and were not particularly a Chanuka delicacy. I have only but recently come to understand that jambusters were unique to my hometown, and in much of the rest of the world, jambusters are called jelly donuts. (Jambusters are far more descriptive if you ask me. In fact, jelly donuts don't even sound that appetizing. But hey)

Sufganiyot, however, is a whole other ball game.

No longer limited to simple strawberry jelly (jam), sufganiyot come in all sizes and flavors: mint, lemon pie, olive – the sky's the limit.

And so is the calorie count. But hey.

In addition to the half dozen or so chanukiyot in our house (when the kids were home), , when one walks up and down the streets of just about any city, town, or village in Israel, one can see chanukiyot shining from almost every window in houses and apartments. There are chanukiyot on top of public buildings, in school yards, in hospitals, at the airport, in hotel lobbies. And every few blocks there are giant communal chanukiyot blazing, reminding us – as if we needed reminding – of the miracles that have occurred and are still occurring.

If one of the greatest miracles of Chanuka is not gaining weight from all the latkes and donuts, the other greatest miracle is that we are still, over 2000 years after Yehuda HaMaccabi, lighting candles, remembering the Holy Temple and – an even greater miracle – doing so, once again, in our Land.

The story of Chanuka is one, not of victory, as is usually assumed (the war was eventually lost), but of hope. When it's the darkest, even the smallest spark of light can dispel the gloom; we have only but to light it.

Israeli sufganiyot (along with only one seder at Pesach and two birthday), is an excellent reason to leave the Old Country and its jambusters behind and make Aliyah.

Because the miracles happen here.

The sivivon I just stepped on is right.

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