Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: 2003-Now

A Novel Idea Bookstore, Lincoln, NE || 2011
Back in 2003, at the urging of a friend, I went to A Novel Idea Bookstore -- my third favorite used bookstore of all time after Myopic in Chicago and the Antiquarium in Brownsville, NE -- and down the rickety stairs to this section pictured above: Judaica. It was there that I first bought Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant, and it was in front of this shelf of used books that my neshama arose from a weary sleep. The fire continues to burn bright, its shades of orange and red and yellow and amber waxing and waning each day.


Eight years ago, the first night of Chanukah fell on December 20; it was a Saturday. At that time, I wrote a lot about my dislike for Christmas and how it made me feel, and I kvelled about probably the first "Jewish" gift ever given to me, by my friend Melanie. It was a musical dreidel. I was a sophomore in college in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I knew I would be Jewish.

Seven years ago, the first night of Chanukah fell on December 7. By that point, I was a Jewish knowledge and observance machine. On December 6, I hopped on a city bus and schlepped over to a Walgreens near the Reform synagogue in order to buy my first menorah. It was a huge, important, ridiculous event for me. The next day, on the first day of Chanukah, I wrote:
Happy Hanukkah everyone! I bought my menorah, lit my candles, said my blessings, and then made some cookies that are shaped like driedels, megandavids, Judah Maccabee, shields, etc. Then I iced them, sprinkled them with blue and yellow sprinkles and brought them down to work. They were literally gone in about 5 minutes. Everyone crowded around them ... it was an amusing sight. Interestingly enough, though, I recieved an e-mail from DAN, the PRES of HILLEL, at 5:45 (though I didn't get it till tihs evening) that they will be lighting a menorah in the J.D. Edwards Kaufman building (where just about every Jew on campus lives ... the "super honors program") each night of Hanukkah. ... Although I don't have the blessing memorized ... mrr. They know I'm a Jew-in-training anyhow. Heh. Did I mention that my Jews in the Modern World prof (Alan Steinweis) played the VIDLIT Yiddish lesson in class today. Oh man ... it was hilarious. I think I enjoyed it more than the rest of the class. Then again, I have a passion for the Yiddish. 
On December 9, 2004, I wrote:
Tonight, after lighting candles with Dan, Cliff and Sari in Kauffman hall ... I definately felt a part of something there with them. Lonely Jews in Nebraska, ha. But Dan sang the blessing beautifully ... Sari lit the candles, and Cliff and I stared on. It was good times.
Shortly thereafter I started working on a paper on why I want to be Jewish for the then-rabbi of the synagogue who subsequently left. I waited another nine months for another rabbi to work with me, and by then I'd mastered so much. I converted Reform in April 2006 and in December 2006 I was in Washington D.C. for Chanukah; I made this video and wrote a lot of blog posts

Back in 2007, Chanukah was incredibly awesome, and then Christmas came and it was bad. A little old man accosted me while I was busy at work at the Spertus Museum's open house for Jews on Christmas. If you want to read it, I think it can give you some insight into what it's like to be a non-Orthodox convert.

And then? From 2008 up until last year, I was in Israel for Chanukah. It was a unique, mind-boggling experience where I felt so much like myself. No Christmas tunes, no expectations, just lots of latkes and sufganiyot and chanukiot everywhere. Walking up and down alleyways, menorahs dotted doorways and boxes outside of homes, parks and squares, restaurants even stopped what they were doing to light. In Israel, Chanukah feels right. In America? It feels strange. 

Perhaps it's because for the first time in so many years I'm back where I began, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Estranged from my mother, without a chanukiah, no latkes, no sufganiyot, nowhere to go. So for the sake of memory, I think, I might go over to that same Walgreens where I purchased my first chanukiah and buy another. Maybe when I get home I'll make Chanukah cookies or try out this Gluten-Free Sufganiyot recipe, but at least I'll be there with my chanukiah and my Jewish troll doll and all of my Judaica and my sunrise over the desert in Israel. 

It all began while I was living in Lincoln -- my Jewish journey, that is -- but it never stopped here, and I think that I've worn away all the memory that's here.