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Everyone Has a New Chanukah Experience

Read this story in The Times of Zion

A couple smiles.

A father cries.

A boy feels lucky.

Those words pretty much sum up the past three days in Kharkov.

Last week, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me that she had never lit a Chanukiah. She had never adequately celebrated Chanukah. I thought it would be nice to buy her and her husband a Chanukiah. I invited them over for Shabbat dinner and they were more than happy to be my guests. I presented them with the gift and I taught them how to light it and which blessings to recount. Over dinner they both said that this was the first time that they had had Shabbat dinner at someone’s home. Not theirs, not anyone else’s. They had celebrated plenty of Shabbat dinners but always at the Jewish Community Center or on Shabbatons. Never just with family or friends in the comfort of a house, with the taste of homemade food. They smiled.

For the past week Sha’alavim, one of the Jewish day schools in Kharkov, has been preparing for a Chanukah show for all the parents and family members of the students. On Saturday night, the first night of Chanukah, the school was packed. Students performed dances that they had practiced, plays that they had rehearsed, and lit the Chanukah candles to mark the celebration of a miracle that happened over two thousand years ago. While lighting the Chanukah candles a father who had known his entire life that he was Jewish wept. It was his first time performing this ancient Jewish tradition.

Today, I watched 18 Jewish teenagers participate in a program that their leaders planned that centered around Chanukah. They learned traditional Chanukah songs. They studied the story of Chanukah and they assembled their own candles from wax and wicks provided. The teenagers ate sufganiot and levivot. Then the surprise came. We Skype called a BBYO chapter in Chicago and lit the Chanukah candles together creating a link between Jews through seven times zones that would normally have no connections with one another. But for today while singing the blessings, ma’oz tzur, and sevivon sof sof sof the Jewish world got that much more connected and smaller. This boy felt lucky.

Happy Chanukah – From Kharkov.

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