Zehavit Meltzer

Far Away From Home

In September 1993, I moved with my parents and two younger brothers from Israel to Montreal, Canada. I was almost 16 years old then and have been living in Montreal ever since. I often get asked if it was challenging to move as a teenager. The answer is, no, it was not. At least not initially. In the beginning, everything seemed like an adventure: New school, new house, new weather, new friends. I embraced and enjoyed every new experience.  

Back in the early nineties, before smartphones and social media, when dial-up internet was just coming on the scene, I did not suffer from what is commonly known today as FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. The truth is Israel was not always on my mind as I immersed myself in my new reality. 

A few months went by and it was the holiday of Chanukkah. My favourite! The lighting of the Chanukiyah, eating yummy oily food and spending time with family. One evening my mom came home with a sevivon, and as I picked it up and was about to give it a spin, I had to take a second look. 

Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin… 

Shin? Shin?! What?!

Oh, Shin is for Sham. 

I took a deep breath and paused. At that moment, I realized I am no longer Po — here, in Eretz Israel. I now live Sham — there, in Canada. I stared at that Shin for a long time. With one little letter, I suddenly felt far away from home. 

Adapting the sevivon, a child’s toy, to fit with where we are in the world takes very little effort — just changing one letter. However, the meaning behind this action is tremendous. It represents the determination of the Jewish people to educate our children about our common heritage, traditions and history in spite of our physical location. 

As we use the Shamash to light the candles, it is evident that “a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” The passing of knowledge has the equivalent effect. When one shares their knowledge with others, not only do they not lose it, but they also guarantee that it will continue to exist long after they are gone. How fitting that the Hebrew word for tradition is Massoret. I believe it brings together two ideas within it: Messer – a message, and Limsor – to transmit something to someone else. Massoret, therefore, is transmitting a message from one generation to the next. A message we share through our customs, our values and, of course, through written text.

Channukah epitomizes the idea of Massoret. As the story is told, though the Greeks tried to erase the Jewish identity by condemning those who followed Jewish laws and traditions, a small group of Jews revolted so that they can continue to pass on the traditions to their children. Today, we continue this legacy by sharing our knowledge, our Massoret, with our children.

For many of us, this is the second Chanukah we are celebrating virtually with our loved ones due to COVID. For Jewish people around the world celebrating in their own homes, even those in Israel, it might feel like we are all Sham this year. But thanks to our determination to pass on Jewish knowledge and traditions to our children, along with modern technology which lets us connect remotely to one another, I realize more than ever that we are all part of a great nation, an Am which extends beyond the borders of one tiny country into many lands around the world. Together, we create a common Po. 

About the Author
Zehavit is the Director of Judaic Studies at JPPS-Bialik school in Montreal, Canada. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Israel Education from George Washington University in partnership with The iCenter and a Master's Degree from McGill University in Educational Leadership. Having previous experience working at Jewish overnight camps, Zehavit believes in providing learners of all ages with opportunities to connect to their Jewish identity, Eretz Israel and Am Israel through various educational opportunities.
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