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Display your lights!

It’s Saturday night, and I just realized that it is also Christmas Eve, but only because I looked at the date. Otherwise I may not have known.  That’s how it is here in Israel.

For Jews, of course, it is also the 7th night of Chanukah. My family takes Chanuka- and all the Jewish holidays, for that matter- seriously, and we light the chanukiah (menorah) as a family outside our front gate, for all to see. We say the brachot and sing all the songs that follow, loud enough for all the neighbors to hear. Every so often someone stops to watch with a smile and to say “Chag Sameach”. It’s actually quite nice, and my kids are used to it after all these years, so they aren’t embarrassed anymore. They then light their own chanukiot on a table just inside our gate. Soon the front of our house in our small, centrally-located town of Tel Mond is brightly lit up by Chanuka lights. It’s beautiful. 

But as I walked around my town this evening, I noticed that few houses had chanukiot displayed outside. There are two huge menorahs that are lit by our Moatza (city council) and Chabad, but other than those, I hardly saw any outside. It’s possible that people are lighting inside their houses, as is traditional and as I grew up doing. But since moving to Israel in 2005, my family has consistently lit outside. The climate permits it, and it’s safe. We use a large glass case, the kind sold in stores all over the country, and it prevents the flames from going out. This is something that we could not have done when we lived in Canada 17 years ago, or in New York before that. In fact, I laugh just thinking about it. We could hardly stand outside for more than a few minutes without freezing, and we certainly weren’t lighting any candles outside. We lit on the windowsill, and it was beautiful there too, especially when it was snowing outside. 

In the Diaspora, when Chanuka coincides with Christmas, it becomes somewhat of a joke for many Jews, especially for those who find themselves getting absorbed into the whole holiday spirit. And I must admit, it’s hard not to. Like most olim, I grew up in the “old country” with Christmas all around me. Nearly every house in my neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia was adorned with lights and other decorations, beginning right after Thanksgiving and lasting until after New Year’s. When I was older and moved to New York, I loved walking around Manhattan in December-even in the bitter cold- looking at the city all lit up. And there was nothing like the magnificent display windows of Lord & Taylor (sigh…RIP) and Macy’s department stores. 

But I have to say, I don’t miss that now at all. I love that we live in Israel, in the Jewish state, where we can celebrate our own festivals without feeling like they are “secondary” holidays. Our holidays come first, and are the prominent ones. I sometimes think about that and can’t believe it’s really true. We can observe Shabbat and the chagim in all their glory, without worrying about what our non-Jewish neighbors will think (or do!). 

I realize that although I’m not such a new immigrant to Israel, I still possess some of the “immigrant mentality”. Every year I am amazed at how the streets are closed on Yom Kippur, and I love that even secular Jews here build a sukkah and attend a Pesach seder. Having grown up in America, I do not take it for granted. Of course, religious Jews have always observed the holidays no matter where they lived. But it was done rather quietly, and low-key. Here in Israel we have the opportunity to celebrate “Befarhesiya”, publicly. 

That is why I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t more public displays of Chanukah as I walked around my neighborhood this evening. I’m not sure why secular or even moderately traditional Jews don’t take advantage of the fact that we can celebrate our heritage publicly, for all to see. We are so fortunate to live here in Israel, and having lived outside of Israel for most of my life, I know what it’s like to not have the luxury to do that.  Especially for a holiday such as this one, where the mitzva of lighting of the candles is “Pirsumei Nisa”, to publicize the miracles of Chanukah, I am surprised that every Jew in the country doesn’t take advantage of it. We are here as Jews, in our own country, why not let the world see it?

About the Author
Chana R. Pinto works at Eric Cohen Books in Ra’anana. She has a BA from Yeshiva University and an MsED from Bank Street College of Education. She made aliyah in 2005 and lives in the beautiful and picturesque town of Tel Mond in the Sharon area of Central Israel. Chana is also an amateur genealogist and has done extensive research on her family tree.
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