Far away from the hustle and bustle of Berlin, our Ohelistas gathered their friends and families in the Remise in Gatow. The big iron stove churned out a calming warmth and light, shrouding the whole room in twilight and coziness despite the wintery weather outside.
One after another, they all arrived: Big and small, the children with their handmade Chanukkiot, the adults with their own, handed down to them by the trusty hands of tradition from their mother, father or other relatives.
It was wonderful to see that the ‘temple band’ prepared songs and handed out lyric sheets so all could sing along. As Jalda began the celebration, the room was packed with faces full of expectation – and ever more arrived.
The question was: Which candles to light first? Since it was also the beginning of Shabbat, nobody was quite sure of the answer… But soon came the solution: Of course you would have to light the Channukka lights before lighting the Shabbat candles, as you aren’t allowed to work – or light candles – on Shabbat. And as soon as this issue was sorted out, the children in particular couldn’t be stopped anymore – They wanted to see their beautiful Chanukkiot shine!
But wait! From what side do you start lighting the candles? Left to right? The other way around? The newest candle first? What’s with the ninth candle? Which Brachot are there to say? This time, Jalda didn’t leave us in the dark for too long and explained to us the purpose of the ‘Shamash’. Soon all was clear as day: left to right, ‘newest’ candle first.
And then we told the story of Chanukka. We told of our battle against the occupying forces, their decree forbidding the Jewish way of life and our rites of celebration, our commemoration days and our access to the temple. We told of our ruses to continue teaching in the Jeshiwa. We told of the Dreidel game as a deception during inspections. We heard of the strong women fighting for the resistance from the underground in acts of guerrilla warfare. Every war is ugly and gruesome, but at least in this case, it was inevitable. We heard of the role of women fighting side by side and on eye level with the men.
And of course, we told of the most important part; of success and victory, of ejection and the retreat of the enemy; of the restoration of the temple that was almost a complete reconstruction, so severe was its defilement. And then of the seeming impossibility of the temple’s candles burning long enough until new blessed oil could be produced – 8 long days, although the pitiful remaining rest was barely enough to light them for a single day.
We also discussed the apparent connection between Christmas and Chanukka, the superficial similarities, but also the grave differences and the impossibility of comparing the two.
All had gathered around the many burning Channukka candelabras and listened spellbound. It is a festival of lights, of joy even, but as so many of our holidays also one that was created by desperation and persecution. Between all the beauty and joy, there is also a more serious, contemplative note to it.
For every Jewish holiday, there has to be a tasty and expansive feast – again crowned by Rita’s delicious soup and the many different dishes that were brought. Not to forget the conversations between one another, as the opportunities to meet everyone are way too few and far between.
The temple band ensured good vibes and offered many songs to sing along to, ending a wonderfully bright and shiny evening. L’Chaim!
Text: Esther Trapp Translation: Joseph Rebling
Photos: Anna Adam and Esther Trapp