Every day coming home from work, I walk through the Christkindl market, that bastion of holiday cheer and wonder. Above the glittering lights, the mingling aromas of German food and mulled wine, the general buzz of effervescent cheer stands a steel menorah, courtesy of Chabad. The stark menorah in comparison to the intensely sparkly everything else makes for quite the juxtaposition. “Do you have Chanukah songs?,” non-Jewish co-workers ask me, “why, yes we do.” Songs sung in a minor key, far from the carefree jingle jangle of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. But when someone new asks me the story of Chanukah, the response shines as bright as the most shimmering decoration.
A holiday celebrating miracles. A holiday celebrating light in the midst of a very dark time. Chanukah (Hannukah, Hanukah...) gives us a reason to reflect on the miracles in our lives. I see it as an opportunity, looking at the horrific, senseless events of last week, to shed light on tragedies and try our best to discover within ourselves how we can face such horrible events with sympathy, empathy and caring. And it’s another moment to reflect on how faith factors into our everyday lives.
I encountered a little miracle while living in France a couple of years ago. My new friends had never celebrated the holiday before and didn’t know much about it, so I took it upon myself to throw a Grenoble Chanukah party. And what is a Chanukah party without latkes? I soon came to the daunting realization that no, I’ve never made latkes before and yes, the recipe called for boiling hot oil. This could only end in disaster, right?
I stood up to my fears and marched to the Makolette, the kosher market in town. Maybe I wanted to give the affair a little extra Jewish “umph” or maybe I was feeling incredibly lazy, but I walked out of the store with a box of Manischewitz latke mix, feeling happy as a clam.
A bottle of French Crisco and a few terrifying instances of burning oil flying off of the pan later, I had a pile of latkes any Jewish mother would be proud of (maybe). I set my table and added the necessary accoutrements of applesauce, sugar and the ever-present Chanukah classic, frozen pizza. As my friends started gathering at my apartment, we dined and delighted in the sounds of the “Hava Nagila” playlist I’d compiled prior to their arrival. My British, German and American guests fawned over my magnificent latkes (ha!) and it was an evening I’ll not soon forget. In a town entrenched in gorgeous, lavish Christmas spirit, the time I got to spend sharing my holiday and little bit of tradition with people who saw it all with new eyes is a memory I look upon fondly.
That night also marked the beginning of my first holiday season away from home, not to mention my first holiday season in a foreign country. Before signing a seven month contract to live in France over the course of a school year, I never considered just how lonely it would feel being away at holiday time. Even living in a town ensconced in light and cheer, surrounded by plenty of new friends, there’s something a little isolating about being away from one’s nearest and dearest that time of year. But being able to share a little bit of my upbringing and my Jewish life with my abroad family brought the little miracles of this holiday to light in a heartfelt way that took me by surprise.