One thing you learn in Jerusalem is how much religious traditions have in common — like the hopeful practice of lighting candles in this, the darkest season of the year. Tonight is the first night of Hanukah. I walked home around 5:30 p.m. in the already-darkness, and the streets were lit with hanukiahs (menorahs) burning in almost every apartment. Gorgeous. This was the scene at the ultra-Orthodox synagogue a few blocks from our house. Even our super secular friends were planning to light the first candle tonight, not working until the taper burned out.
Last night we went to a carol service and Santa Lucia procession at St. George’s Cathedral. Another culture celebrates holy light. Beautiful music, young girls wearing crowns of candles, and a procession of little people (including H & M, who never met a parade they didn’t want to participate in) bearing lights through the dark cathedral. Again, gorgeous.
Tomorrow night, my parents will welcome back the light at their annual Solstice Ball, a black-tie dance/Mayan ritual (a combination only possible in Cambridge, MA). Hundreds of Cantabridgians will chant (in Mayan): “come back, Brother Sun” before spinning off into a frenzied snowball dance. I’m thinking about my parents and also my sister — for whom the Winter Solstice is a particularly holy day — because they will all be coming to Jerusalem this week to celebrate this season together as a family.
And when they are here I will show them my current favorite lights of the season: the single strand of white lights which we found in East Jerusalem and which currently is twinkling on our little, Charlie Brown tree. It’s not the most elegant light in the city, but it is home.