The Festival of Lights

Channukah, also known as the Festival of Lights should be named “the festival of feasts.” Like any good Jewish holiday, the story of Channukah goes something like this: “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” Now multiply that times 8 for each night of Channukah. That equals a whole bunch of traditional doughnuts, chocolate coins and the occasional vegetable. With so many Jewish mothers to feed everyone, I find it hard to believe that this country doesn’t have a 100% obesity rate.

For the first night of Channukah, my teaching partner and I were invited to her host teacher’s, Arava’s, house for dinner. It was so much fun! I got to meet Arava’s husband and her cute little boys. 

I spent most of the holiday traveling with Israel Pathways (the company that runs my program and some other programs in Israel). We had a seminar about freedom and went to the West Bank, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea and Mount Masadad. It was so relaxing and I had such a great time!

Day 2: For the second day of Channukah, we left for the seminar. We went to our program director’s house in a settlement called Alon in the West Bank. The area was so beautiful and very calm – not at all what I would have expected from the West Bank. In fact, if they hadn’t told us that we were in the West Bank I would have never known that we were there. We toured the little settlement town, ate some delicious homemade cookies in our director’s house and had a short improv lesson, which was hilarious. I was laughing so hard that I was crying. Later that night, we got to meet with some Israeli students that just got out of the army and are studying general subjects, like religion and psychology in the town of Alon. We discussed some themes of freedom while eating dinner with the students. The girl that I happened to sit next to is actually from Netanya and she was so sweet! She even invited me over for Shabbat dinner tonight, so I’m excited to hang out with her!

Day 3: Ein Gedi is a national park/nature reserve on the Eastern part of Israel, near the Judean desert. It’s so unbelievably beautiful there that I didn’t want to leave. We spent 6 hours in the morning hiking around Ein Gedi. It was such a high when we reached the halfway point and overlooked the area that we had just hiked. 6 hours may seem like a lot of time, but the scenery was so diverse and breathtaking that the hike went by really quickly. In fact, I probably could have hiked for another 6 hours. Later that night, we had a talent show. I participated in the talent show with a girl from another Israel Pathways program. We had a “cawfee tawk” (coffee talk) skit where we both used our New Yorker Jewish mother accents and discussed our fictional children (did you know that my son Larry is a doctor??).

Day 4: The next morning we traveled to Mount Masada, where we heard each of the 4 madrichim tell us stories about their family and personal histories and we discussed why Mt. Masada is so important to us. One of the highlights was when we sang “Hatikvah” (the Israeli national anthem) on top of the mountain. After leaving Mt. Masada, we went to the Dead Sea! I love going to the Dead Sea because it such a unique and special place. We covered ourselves in Dead Sea mud, floated in the water, and did a little shopping. Later that night, we had kabbalt Shabbat services outside with the sun setting over the desert. 

Day 5: The next day, I went on an optional hike in Ein Gedi and walked through the oasis. It was so incredible – there were waterfalls in the middle of the desert and some new wildlife to see. We got back to Netanya late that night, around midnight, and I passed out immediately.

Day 6: For the 6th night of Channukah, Shlomy invited us over to his family’s house for dinner. We lit the menorah, played dreidel, and of course ate a ton of good food. I’m in love with his family!  His mom is the sweetest lady and she gives the best hugs, as if I am her daughter. His dad is so funny and his sister is awesome! And Shlomy’s not so bad himself. Someone in my program came up with the idea to play Secret Santa, so we exchanged our gifts that night. I picked my friend Colin’s name and I got him a journal to write in. On the cover I wrote “the works of Colin” and added some quotes about writing. He was so excited about the gift that he looked like he was going to cry. I received the best gift: a ₪50 gift card to Max Brenner (an Israeli chocolate boutique)! I can’t wait to use it! It was such a great night spent with wonderful people!

Day 7: The next day, Rosit invited me over to her house for lunch and I stayed for about 5 hours. She made something called s’fenj which is a Moroccan doughnut coated in sugar. Needless to say, it was one of the tastiest desserts I’ve ever eaten. I spent time chasing after her kids playing “duka duka” (tickle war), helped Rosit grade tests, and just spent time talking to Rosit about life. I am so lucky and grateful that I have such an amazing host teacher! I honestly feel like she is my second mother. In fact, yesterday, one of my students asked me if I am Rosit’s sister. When I told her that, she laughed and said, “well, I could adopt you.” Later that night, one of my student’s family invited me over for dinner. It was really cool to get to meet my student’s parents and to see her in a different setting. They were all so sweet, and of course, the food was delicious.

For the last night of Channukah, Colin’s Italian girlfriend flew into Israel to visit him. He threw a party for her and we had a Mexican dinner. We lit the menorah and I ate my bodyweight in guacamole. It was an all around good time.

After Channukah ended, I had a day off so I traveled with some of my friends to a town up north called Zichron Ya’akov. It was so gorgeous and I actually forgot that I was in Israel. Most of the places we wanted to go visit were closed by the time we found them, and we didn’t make reservations for the winery so we ended up strolling around the city and browsing the little boutiques. We met some religious Israeli girls that were also visiting for the day so we explored the city with them for a while. They were so friendly and they invited all of us (all 22 of us) to come stay with them for Shabbat some time. People here are so welcoming!

Now that the Channukah break is over, my schedule is back to normal. I went back to school yesterday and it was so great to see my kids again! My favorite little boy told me that he loves working with me and that I’m his favorite and best teacher. It made my week!

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so happy new year to everyone back home! New Years isn’t a big deal, so y’all should celebrate extra for me! 

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