Thankfully, my mother-in-law reminded me a few days ago that the first night fell on December 1. She was prepping gifts for her grandsons on the Jewish side of the family — my sister-in-law married a Nice Jewish Boy and ordered Hanuka candles from Israel. The box arrived a few days ago, my mother-in-law reported, which was a nice reminder to me to go find some here in Stockholm.
So, Matt and I stopped at the Judiska Centret, near Östermamlstorg on Wednesday morning. This place has a dayschool, a mikveh (ritual bath), a tiny kosher food shop, and more. It’s tucked away in an unmarked courtyard, and as we tried to access the double-gated entryway, a security guy poked his head out the window to ask us gruffly who we were.
He grilled us as to how we were related to each other, where we were from, why we were there, and asked to see our passports or id cards (we had just picked ours up that morning — exciting!). His rapid-fire questions made me feel rather paranoid and I laughed out loud at some, but Matt said later that he could understand it, considering there was a school on the premises. Who wants weird adults hanging around their kids?
Still, it made me wonder about the Jewish community here and how they feel — embattled? Protected in a safe harbor? What’s anti-Semitism like here? Or is all the xenophobia directed towards other foreigners with darker skin, as evidenced by the shootings in Malmö that came to a head in October?
We passed muster in the end, and as we gained entry to the hallway, the most delicious smell of latkes (potato pancakes deep-fried in oil to represent the oil of the temple lamps that lasted for 8 days) wafted over us. Another woman in the gift shop seemed to be asking the proprietor about her family tree, and they were pouring over old black and white photographs of people and places in Stockholm. I bought a box of candles at the gift shop for 25 kronor (about $4 — yipe! I am betting they are $1 at home!).
Timing is everything, and in addition to the reminder from my mother-in-law (and a call from my mom), a package came in the mail just in time from my friend KK to help us celebrate. Among other things, she sent the most amazing hanukiyah (candelabra for hanuka, or menorah) made of recycled bicycle chain that she knew I had been coveting last year.
The menorah fits with our theme for this year’s holiday: recycle, recycle, recycle! Matt said the other day that Hanuka was stressing him out: so many nights, so many gifts to give! So we went to Myrorna and picked up some lovely little goodies. We are giving each other a coffee thermos, a metal measuring cup, and some other little trinkets, all less than 100 kronor each.
However, I did buy Matt something new: long underwear (100 kronor a pair!), which he opened the first night so he could wear them today. Yesterday’s low hit around -15 degrees C (that’s about 5 degrees F, I think), and today the high is -9 degrees C.
The cold has been a bit overwhelming, but Stockholm is rising to the occasion. And Jul season has started here with a vengeance. Along with my own Jewish holiday lights, the neighbors have put up their electric Advent candles, so the early afternoon December gloom is glowing with this warm light. (I’m wondering about electricity and heating costs… !)
I’ve been itching to buy a paper star lantern to hang in the window, but Matt says it makes him think of the Bethlehem Star, which is not exactly a Jewish symbol. I’ve refrained, for now, but will probably get one someday, as they are so festive (and most likely made in Buddhist/Hindu/Muslim/Christian/religious-melting-pot India!).
Last night, Matt was joking about Hanuka-Claus, and I had to set him straight about Hanuka Harry, a Jewish rendition of Santa Claus that I never really learned about until I was an adult. I grew up with a candle-lighting festival that was a celebration of religious freedom — the right to observe your own religion, however and wherever and whenever you like. Right now, in wintry Stockholm, I am happy to have the lights, no matter what the occasion.