On the first night of Chanukah, I was in a coffee shop when the candles were lit; on the second night, I was in Ace hardware, awaiting the movers who would pick up my new bookcases and bring them to my home. I don’t know anywhere else in the world in which Chanukah candles are lit publicly at nightfall in coffee shops and hardware stores, but then again, there is no place in the world like Jerusalem.
I suppose I forgot, when I planned my week, that the custom in Jerusalem is to light candles immediately at nightfall. I forgot that everyone rushes home to light between the afternoon and evening service, “before the last feet have returned home from the market,” as the Talmud puts it. And so I was meeting my friend Daniel for our weekly date to read poetry together on Tuesday at 5pm in a coffee shop, when all of a sudden, a group of men burst through the door, placed a menorah on the counter next to the espresso machines, and began reciting the blessings over the candles. Everyone in the shop, from the freelance writers with their laptops to the awkward couples stammering through blind dates, looked up, and many sang along. I confess that I was mostly annoyed—we were in the middle of a Tennyson poem, and the rousing chorus of Maoz Tzur was ruining the rhythm!
When it was time to light candles on the second night, I was standing by the entrance of Ace hardware with a giant shopping cart filled with the wooden panels that will hopefully become my new bookcases. The movers were due to arrive at 5:30pm; I still had ten more minutes to kill. All of a sudden, a group of workers in their red overall uniforms passed by me with trays of jelly donuts….
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