photo by Fraida Feldman

by Fraida Feldman

Hersh and Levi ran a shul for young adults. It was neither big, nor small. They ran programs at various universities throughout the city for Jewish students. They also hosted shiurim throughout the week and a minyan on Friday night, which they followed with a Shabbos dinner for all in need.

Of course, for Chanukah, they would be making a whopper Chanukah party that would impress all. After much planning, they decided on a Jewish movie screening. Levi hired out a cinema for the night and ordered 150 doughnuts, latkes, and dreidel kits for their expected guests. They emailed a mass invitation to the whole community, but they knew only a personal phone call to each person would be fully effective.

By the third night of Chanukah, the date of the event, Hersh had just gotten back from leading a birthright trip to Israel two days beforehand. His colleague Levi’s wife Chana had just given birth to a baby boy the week before.  Everyone was so busy that they either didn’t remember or were too busy to personally invite everyone through phone calls.

As Hersh, his wife Leah, and Levi rode the escalators through the shopping mall on their way to the cinema, they caught up on the latest news. “So, how was Israel; how are you recovering from jetlag?” “Israel was amazing, but don’t get me started on the jetlag… and how’s baby Shimon?”

They arrived to an empty cinema.

“Well, I guess it’s a few minutes early. The party only officially starts in 5 minutes,” suggested Levi. The guests did trickle slowly in. First Menashe, a 26 year old who worked as an accountant nearby, who showed up in a green t-shirt and jeans. Then Hanna, a 21 year old at university, then Jo, Debbie, Issabell, Michael, Noah, Dave, and a few more, but that was it! With only roughly 35 guests out of the expected 150, they didn’t even know what to think.

Suddenly, Levi sensed a problem! He ran over to Hersh, huddled near him, and quietly exclaimed, “What are we supposed to do with all this food?!”

“You’re right! I really don’t know,” replied Hersh, gently stroking his beard. “We don’t want it to go bad and we can’t get everyone to eat seven doughnuts each!” Hersh went over to Leah. “What do you think we should do with this food?” he asked his wife. She thought for a few moments until she came up with a brilliant idea.

As the film finished, Leah got up and announced, “I know that there are not many of us, and some of you may think that this party was a fail, but really it’s the greatest success. You are all so lucky to have come, because this will be an experience of a lifetime! For all who want, we are now going to take all these crates of food and take a train to a destination that will be disclosed shortly.” Everyone lit the menorah, and ate the bit they could.

As they prepared to leave to the train station, ten or fifteen people got up and went home. Maybe they weren’t adventurous enough. Maybe they thought it was a prank. Whatever the matter, everyone else stretched their legs and came along. Hersh directed who should carry what, and together, at 10:00 at night, the 20 or so remaining guests strolled the 5 minute walk to the train station.

Debbie and Hanna chatted as they walked, while Jo and Shmuel sang the most off key rendition of “david melech” ever sung. Michael was on his phone, as was Menashe, Issabell was trying to carry her breaking box of doughnuts, and everyone else was simply enjoying the great outdoors on this dark road.

Finally, everyone arrived at the train station. They trotted down the steps into the main area. “Ok people,” reported Levi, as Leah and Hersh bought the tickets. “The train fare is $2.50. Please pay when you can, and let’s get headed to Platform 5.”

Curiosity got the better of Noah, so she couldn’t help listening in to Leah as she asked the stationmaster which train went to Stonemount Station. Wild thoughts ran through her head. Stonemount Square was the site of a terror attack only a few days beforehand!

As everyone got off the train 15 minutes later, Hersh finally informed everyone what they were going to be doing. “So, here’s the thing. Today is Chanukah, a holiday commemorating the transformation of darkness to light. This was a place of great darkness, and we are here to spread some light. This place is teeming with people from all over the country who came to bring flowers and cards to put at the site of the attack.” Then he continued, “We are going to stand at the corner of this flower-and-card-filled Square, hand them all latkes, donuts, and dreidels and wish them all a happy Chanukah. Any questions?”

“Me?” “Stand and give out donuts on a street corner?” “I’m too shy to do that!” “What will everyone think of me?” These were the thoughts of most of the guests. But with a little encouragement, Dan, a tall, green eyed 22 year old decided to give it a shot. His bravery got a few others to follow, like the first popping popcorn in a pot.

Soon enough everyone was completely immersed in the immense joy of giving. They distributed doughnuts and latkes to policemen and homeless people, workers and tourists, men, women and children, young and old. “I feel so important, so valued, it’s so amazing to be a part of something,” remarked Issabell while handing out a donut to a homeless man and a latke to a deeply tanned tourist.

The mood at the square had been overturned. Everyone was giggling, chatting, singing, laughing, and chuckling as they spread the light and the message of Chanukah.

When they were finished, the participants were so excited by their adventure that many exclaimed that it was the best Chanukah party of their life!

And so, that was what they did at the “experience of a lifetime” (as Leah put it) Chanukah event that was overturned from an epic fail to a smashing success.

As the old saying goes, “It always works out good in the end; if it’s not good, it’s not the end.”

* Based on a true story. Names have been changed to protect the guilty :)