It almost was not necessary to light candles this Hanuka. With a forest fire raging across northern Israel the eternal lesson of light amid the darkness was all too cruelly laid before my eyes. As I navigated through the Galilee woods on the second night of the eight day holiday, the western sky glowed a cheerless orange shade. A more reassuring fire was waiting at the end of the navigation. Tired and cold soldiers huddled around a late night campfire, a very different amber shine radiating off the faces of these modern Maccabees. The reflected light in the Galilean hills reminded me of the legacy of the original Maccabees, and the privilege I have to be serving in the defense force of the first Jewish state since Judah and his brothers took up arms against the Greeks so many centuries ago.
One night later and I was again seeking light amid the darkness. My unit spent the Hanukah weekend on the southern border with Egypt, charged with stopping infiltrators from crossing into Israel. Darkness is the border smugglers only hope for evading our watch and so the cold night hours required careful vigilance. For hours I looked for any sign of light, any indication that a Beduin smuggler may be silently approaching the flimsy border marking.
The light of a thousand distant suns provided a dazzling distraction from the repressive gloom. Another distraction came from a soaring fortress of light, a nighttime apparition formed from the red and green antenna beams of a distant IDF base. The most distracting lights, however, were kindled in my memories by the sight of the stubby Hanukah and shabbat candles, stalwart sentries whose flickering light guarded over us guardsmen. The candles reminded me of family and friends standing by my side on so many holiday and friday nights. My Hanukah on the Egyptian border became part of that continuum, new lights glowing along the dark pathways of my mind.
Theodore Herzl, the prophet and proponent of political Zionism, famously envisioned Arab and Jewish harmony in the future Jewish state. His utopia has yet to come to pass. Thanks to an innovative Arab pastry chef, however, this Hanukah some may get a taste of Herzl's vision by biting into a hummusganiah. The name says it all, a combination of the classic Hanukah sufgania (jelly doughnut) with the region's most famous spread, hummus. I cannot think of a better cross-cultural confection to embrace this holiday. With thanks to the Yediot Ahronot Hebrew newspaper for bringing the hummusganiah to my attention.
In Jewish folklore, 'Kefitzat Haderech,' the shortening of the way, is the ability to travel with unnatural speed, to be in one place and then suddenly appear in another.
Kefitzat Haderech is now the notes of a former grad student, no longer traveling across Asia as he prepares for life as an Israeli combat soldier. Insights on Garin Tzabar, Gibushim and the Israeli Army.