By: Adi Ratzon
After my military service, I flew with three friends to South America - I visited five countries in a total of four months. It was the longest time I spent away from home, outside of Israel, away from my family. Now, four months have passed since I arrived in Baltimore and it is the longest period of time I have been away from my family. Luckily, geographical distance and time does not affect the feeling of togetherness or closeness, only challenging us to find another form of communication. My dear mother baked my favorite cookies and sent them to me as a surprise, just to warm my heart. Even though it took them almost two weeks to get here, they were insanely delicious and made me happy (exactly what my mom wanted).
Happiness is a word with huge meaning and a feeling that has accompanied me throughout my life on all levels, but it also changes from time to time. I feel that my home is one of the places that should bring me happiness. Right now, I still don't feel like my apartment here is a place I can call my home, but I'm getting close to it. It’s taking time to furnish the apartment, and I still do not have a sofa in the living room or any pictures. However, slowly I acquire more and more things to put on the walls and design the place as something I would be comfortable to return to at the end of the day.
I spend most of the week in the office, working with Caren and Arielle, and the feelings are good. The initial shock has passed, and my understanding of the community, the Jewish organizations in the area and the congregations increased. I love coming to the office and working on community projects. It's challenging to operate in an area I don't know, in a culture I don't know, with people I don't know enough yet. In the past month, I have felt how I approach people and can understand a little more the community with the help of the Maccabi Torch Relay delegation that we at the BZD were able to bring from Israel. These were eight days of round-the-clock work, investment, and education.
It was important to me to reach as many congregations, schools and people as possible and to enable the Israeli Maccabi experience of Hanukkah to the community. Maayan and Yovel, the girls whom we brought to Baltimore from Israel, were amazing, and they enjoyed instructing activities, the experience and meeting the people who welcomed them warmly. On Friday night, I chose to take the girls to a Reform synagogue for Shabbat. They had not previously been to a Reform synagogue, so it was especially for them to see and experience it. We were at Har Sinai - Oheb Shalom congregation, who welcomed us lovingly and also hosted us for dinner; there we got the chance to run a Hanukkah activity for the kids and it went great.
For me, this week was twice as significant - it was the first week I felt my contribution to the local community and it was the week I felt I was able to express being an educator. I had an audience of people I could positively influence with my experience, even if it was not a direct contact or only a brief experience. Beyond that, it was a week with a feeling of a sense of home. I was in my familiar environment for me - both with the girls here, with the language, and with the educational work - for me, it was perfect and just what I needed.
Maayan and Yovel, who came as part of the delegation are members of the youth movement where I grew up and worked for six years before I came here – “Maccabi Tzair”. As part of my job, I was responsible for three of the Torch Relay delegation that went to England. Therefore, I had the chance to experience Hanukkah in another Jewish community in the world. At the same time, I was very excited when it was the first night of Hanukkah and the time to light the first candle. I saw a group of people gather around one small menorah and greet and sing together. I felt it was amazing that we, as part of the Jewish people, have a long-standing tradition that unites everyone and requires us to all light the menorah (even if it is for a short time) wherever we are in the world.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that together with Hanukkah, Christmas is also celebrated. Hanukkah is a holiday of lights, and in Israel, that fact is clear as day. I find it interesting that here in Baltimore, Hanukkah has a serious rival to the title of the holiday of lights. Every street you pass, you will see lights decorating the Christmas trees, the doors, and houses and lots of bright decorations. It is undoubtedly one of the most amazing sights you can see; it is spectacular. What caused the girls and I feel even more excited was when we saw big Menorahs on the streets and in the stores. The most beautiful thing was to see how people decorate their houses with Hanukkah symbols. Usually in Israel, you definitely will see the lighted Menorahs in their windows, but as far as decorations go, that is about all there is. I was glad to see that a lot of families light more than one Menorah, and of course, happy to know that you can find original sufganiyot and not donuts, which are here regularly.
Last but not least- around the world people celebrate the New Year! even due we already had our Jewish new year, i wanted to wish everyone of as that 2020 will be a year of happiness, education in general and for Israel, success, laughter, equality, strong connection to Israel and a Zionist year without Anti-semitism or haram because our religion, nationality, race or gender.