Melissa Beiser

My First Hanukkah in Israel.

Originally, I had somewhat epic plans to go home to Erad with my boyfriend to experience his Yemen family traditions (and cooking). I was really excited–but then, it turned out that my elementary school was putting on a Hanukkah show on that very Friday when we would already be at his parents’ house.

When I found out that the usual Hanukkah party with all of his aunts and uncles wasn’t happening and that instead, it was going to be a massive entire family party for his grandmother’s birthday, it was an even easier decision for me to make. I had made the decision as soon as I knew about it–my heart was in the school and I needed to come out to support those 6b boys and girls doing their Hip Hop Hanukkah routine if nothing else.

I was so pleased with my decision. I had an amazing time at the school. I never come in on Fridays and I came in especially for the show so the kids were very excited and the teachers and principal were impressed which made me happy.

It also marked the joyous occasion of my very first (of many) sufganiyot. It looked quite like an ordinary jelly donut but was infused with the miracle of Hanukkah or what my head English teacher said, “something that if you eat too much of, you’ll never find a husband.”

That was only the beginning of Hanukkah. It only got better as I went with one of my roommates to my host family’s house to light candles, a wonderful home of  much warmth. I loved the way they had their menorot on display in the halls of the apartment complexes. It was an absolutely beautiful sight at night. I learned how to actually spin a dreidel and what the letters mean (although I don’t promise to pass a pop quiz). I learned about the prayers and sang both old and new songs that just felt nice to sing in their cozy little dining room with their four adorable little girls.

Hanukkah ended with a brightness as well though, I wouldn’t say that it dwindled at all as it often did in America for me.

The whole eight days was just so satisfying, nice, warm, and festive in a non-overwhelming way. I also loved that the seminar for that month for my Israel Pathways program wrapped up the holiday nicely for the two nights that we had it. We played a lot of silly games but did some really nice and interesting things too. For me of course, the best thing will always be the trip to the Dead Sea because the Dead Sea is my favorite place in all of Israel.

I also had an amazing time with my boyfriend since on his one day off from University, he decided to spend it with me by treating me to a full day of fun in Tel Aviv, topped off by an extravagant and decidedly unkosher Mexican lunch with extra cheese. I would have never pictured myself on a beach in a summer dress in late December. I’m a girl originally from New York!

It was such a great Hanukkah, I will never forget it. Even after the candles died out and the menorot were dusted off and put away until next year, I think about those eight days of the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation and I can’t help but smile.


About the Author
Melissa Beiser has a bachelor's degree from SUNY New Paltz in English and creative writing. She hails from New York originally and recently relocated to Arizona with her family. Teaching English in Beersheba is her first experience living abroad.