Since traveling to Israel this past summer through Southern Adventist University's Institution of Archaeology to participate at the renewed Hazor Excavations, I have returned to my Jewish ethnicity by embracing the customs and traditions of Judaism. Whether it was an innate feeling of spiritual community felt while attending the Great Synagogue services or spending the hours of Shabbat in Jerusalem with my Israeli friends or welcoming Shabbat at the Western Wall and witnessing such humble devotion - since traveling to Israel my religious expression and experience with God has had a notable change of attitude.
Here at the campus of Southern I lead Shabbat services with my friends as we welcome the sanctuary in time - those blessed hours of Shabbat. We gather to recite the Hebrew prayers, light Shabbat candles, break challah bread, drink wine (unfermented), and wash our hands in the traditional Jewish ceremony. Afterwards we share fellowship with a meal and venture off to University vespers.
This year I felt compelled to join the Jewish community in celebrating Hanukkah, however, I didn't have a menorah. While I was home for Thanksgiving Break I was aware that there were several Judaic shops in and around the town that I lived, not to mention the fact that CVS, Wal-Mart, and our local grocery store all carried Hanukkah supplies. I foolishly thought that I would wait until I returned to the campus of Southern and go to the local CVS or Wal-Mart to purchase a menorah and candles.
"One need not assume anything when concerning Judaism," recounted one Rabbi to me when I asked him about certain beliefs and I think the same principle can be aptly applied to the South. I'm from the North - New Jersey and Pennsylvania to be exact, and there are many Jews in my community - Synagogues, Hebrew schools, Jewish Centers, Judaic shops, etc. I thought that most areas surrounding cities would have some presence of a metropolitan atmosphere, such as that which I experience home, but although Chattanooga may be the fastest growing city in Tennessee a strong Jewish understanding of its citizens is not present.
My journey - divine quest, even - to find a menorah brought me to Wal-Mart, Target, Barnes & Noble, Hamilton Mall, and several specialty shops - everywhere that I could think of. I went to Wal-Mart where one salesperson said that, "We don't celebrate that here, you might want to go to a party store."
"However," as I pointed out to that same person, "while you say that you may not celebrate 'that holiday' here, this Wal-Mart does carry dradles and Hanukkah candies - kosher even." She asked what kosher meant, I wasn't suppressed she didn't know.
I went to Barnes & Nobel and found books on Hanukkah, which one might very well expect, also found some wrapping paper, however, no menorah. By far, the most interesting and humorous encounter was with a cashier from Target. I asked the same awkward question for someone in the South - or maybe just Chattanooga - "do you have a menorah?" This was followed by the now expected question, "what's a menorah," although this time the salesperson thought she knew, "is that some kind of watch."
I know it's terrible, but I couldn't help but let out a laugh and respond, "a watch, no; it's a ceremonial candle stick used for the Festival of Lights - also know as Hanukkah." She directed me to the candle section past the holiday cards, I knew that a menorah wasn't going to be there, but I thought I'd amuse myself and continue the search only to find of all things one would expect in the South - a Buddha candle holder!
Luckily for me, there was a family on campus that had a menorah and let me borrow it to celebrate Hanukkah; while this is the middle of Hanukkah and things have been going quite well thus far, I can't help but think how memorable this year's Festival of Lights has been. Happy Sabbath and Happy Hanukkah - I'll have to purchase a menorah this summer in Israel.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/181