Guilt-free and mobile!

27 Dec

Hanukkah is quickly overtaking Passover as my favourite holiday. What’s not to like? Mesmerizing flames, and no existential guilt or physical suffering. It’s a light, happy holiday. And the other holiday it to share airtime with doesn’t hurt its prestige.

Better yet, the holiday is mobile. Hanukkiot (the Hanukkah candelabras) are perfect for bringing with you anywhere. Have menorah, will travel. You can make latkes (potato pancakes) almost everywhere, too, as the ingredients (oil, potatoes, flour) are basic.

Hanukkah has been my most celebrated holiday abroad. Unlike “heavier” holidays like Yom Kippur or Passover, when it’s hard to celebrate without proper resources, comforts or community, Hanukkah can be done anywhere.  It is such an affable, benign holiday that it’s hard not to succumb to its charms.

In general it’s nicer to celebrate Jewish holidays in Israel; the atmosphere is rife with tradition, happiness, preparations, energy. But looking back, I’ve celebrated my most memorable Hanukkahs abroad.

When I lived in Bolivia 10 years ago, I threw three Hanukkah parties. There weren’t any other Jews there.  The first was at the shelter for teenage mothers in Tarija, where I volunteered. They rejoiced in yet another way to cook potatoes (there are 400 species of potatoes there) and things are so bleak in Bolivia that any excuse for a party was welcome. I hosted another potato-and-grease-fest at my apartment, and toward the end of the eight days, I lit the candles with friends in the market in Tarija, en route to the capital Sucre.

This year, we celebrate the holiday in beleaguered Athens, crisis capital of 2011. The irony of celebrating a holiday, in which we mark our victory over the Greeks, albeit 2,000 years ago, is latent. Perhaps even more ironically, we have had one of our most enjoyable Hanukkahs in a country to which we have no obvious connection, and where the Jewish community is nearly nonexistent.

We had a lovely Hanukkah party at Aharon’s school here in Athens (the American School of Classical Studies).  Aharon gave a talk on the holiday, and he made amazing donuts – on his first try.  The atmosphere at the school is warm all the time, so Hanukkah made it even more special. Our friends who attended seemed genuinely interested in learning about its origins and traditions.

On Sunday, we went to a party at Chabad. The couple who run the Athens branch of this global Jewish organization are warm, friendly people. They have set up a very child-friendly enterprise in the form of a Greek-Jewish kosher restaurant. What is more fun than making oily donuts with a bunch of cute children wearing chefs hats?

And another thing – growing up in Canada, Hanukkah was always cold. Really cold. I have many photos of the gold, blazing candles set beside the window overlooking mounds of white. And so the cold finally came to Athens. So Hanukkah seems as it should be this year, in the most unlikely of places.


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