My Own Kind of Holiday

Before coming to Oman I got asked a lot of questions. They were mostly about where it was, and if I would be safe but also about how I would deal with being Jewish in a Muslim country. Seeing as I am one of about 10 (that’s a generous estimate) Jews in the entire country, this was a valid concern. Up until now Judaism has always been something inherent in my life. Every aspect of my life was in some way Jewish, whether it was school, extra curricular activities or summer camp.  Judaism is even present on vacation with my family; we’ve visited the old ghetto of Venice, the Jewish museum in Paris, and the Israeli neighborhood in Cusco, Peru.

So as Hanukkah approached I had to decide how I was going to celebrate my first major holiday abroad, in a place far from any of the traditions I’m familiar with. Luckily Hanukkah isn’t that hard to celebrate, it’s mostly just lighting the candles, and about a month ago my parents sent me a package with a travel menorah, candles and a bunch of other Hanukkah necessities, like dreidels and gelt (chocolate coins).

I had already explained the holiday to my host family after they asked me if I celebrated Christmas and their enthusiasm was very encouraging, so I figured that if I couldn’t be at home, I mine as well bring some of the traditions to Oman.

I started with introducing my family to latkes, the fried potato pancakes that have the magical ability to put everyone into a grease and oil induced good mood. I had actually never made them before (there has always been someone more experienced around to do it) so it was a bit of an experiment. And although the majority of them fell apart in the oil, I did manage to get a few to hold their shape, which I consider a success.

The results of my latke experiment

The results of my latke experiment

Although I have a calendar marked with all the Jewish holidays, because holidays start at sundown I wasn’t totally sure which night I should start lighting candles. I ended up started a day late by accident but I figure I was close enough.

Lighting candles with my family was a slightly stressful experience as I had to make sure my three-year-old brother Tariq didn’t burn anything, most importantly himself or the cat, but it was also an experience I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time. Not only was it exciting for me to introduce them to something totally new, it was empowering for me to realize that I was able to do it all on my own.

My sister Rayan watching the candles

My sister Rayan watching the candles

As I lit the candles and said the blessings that first night I felt proud that I was able to make the holiday my own. Although I love the communal aspect of holidays at home it was a bit of a revelation to realize that I didn’t need that community in order make the celebration meaningful to me. And in a way, being able to celebrate on my own made me more aware of that greater community I am so lucky to be a part of. Watching my own candles burn, I thought of all the other little flames flickering around the world and how I was finally able to add to that light. And I love knowing that there was at least one menorah burning in my little corner of the world.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Madame Graff
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 20:42:52

    Miriam, I was so proud to read your blog (for the first time). Aaron Boxerman shared it with me when we spoke about you in class (all good, no worries). I’m so glad that you are doing well and that this has been such a super experience.
    I miss the class and this was special because I could communicate with you.
    I have one more month at JDS. IT’s very much bitter sweet, but alas all good things have to come to an end.
    Madame G


  2. Larry gates
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 19:11:39

    Very nicely said! Happy Holidays.
    Larry (friend of your Grandmother)


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