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of Jewishness and the holidays.

This week at work I have been teaching about Hannukah: the differences between celebrations in the States and in Israel. It is hard to explain to Israeli children, who have not had to fight for holiday attention. Hard to describe how my parents (bless them) had to compete with Christmas when trying to sell me on Hannukah when I was younger. I don't think I ever felt truly Jewish. Not because I didn't enjoy being Jewish, or that I wasn't proud of my heritage, but because in December it seemed much nicer to have a Christmas tree and get presents rather than spin a silly dreidel.

Hard to describe to them, these elementary school kids, what it means to me to be here in Israel during this time of year.

In class, I put a few YouTube song covers about Hannukah up on the projector and sat back. What I wasn't expecting was to be overcome with emotion. So much so that I had to turn away from my host teacher and my class for a few moments to hide the tears in my eyes. I am not much for any show of sensitivity, so it really did take me aback.

I teach in an Israeli school, I am surrounded by Hebrew every day. I have not appreciated this aspect of my new life, haven't even given it much thought except for when I buy the wrong things at the supermarket. (Side note: sour cream and cream cheese look oddly similar and are almost impossible to differentiate without a Hebrew vocabulary)

But hearing these kids sing along to old hymns and Hannukah songs touched me to my core. This music binds us together even though we have lived miles (and generations) apart. It was almost painful to hear them sing.

The fact that I can sit and listen to their beautiful voices singing to these old melodies, in the language that was so hard fought for...I feel a part of something bigger. Through genocide, through racism, through political complications and upheaval, we have made it. Our language has lived and so have we. We have created new generations of singing children who will teach their children these songs and traditions. They will carry on the legacy.

I wish our forefathers were here to see us so strong. That their sacrifices were worth it.

I wish my grandmother, who spoke Yiddish, could see it.

There is something special about being Israeli and Jewish. Jewish and Israeli. Because whatever is thrown at this little country, the people who live here will learn to take it and make it into something amazing. Because love conquers all, and peace is something to constantly strive for, peace at all cost.

This is being Jewish. Savoring life and celebrating everyone, because every life is worth millions of diamonds.

I am so happy to be here during the holidays, to see the menorahs in Jerusalem windows, sparkling and lighting the way. To hear my students singing and clapping and sharing sufganyiot (doughtnuts) and laughing. I have never felt so Jewish before and have never been surrounded by so many other Jews. It is magical, to me.

There is something primal in finding your roots, for everyone, I think.

This holiday season, I urge you to truly spend time with your families, talk about your histories, sing your hymns or carols or whatever it is you sing. Laugh a lot, eat a bunch, watch stupid movies, open presents, drink, and be merry!

Happy holidays, I wish you all the very best.

~your friendly neighborhood Jew

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