If you’ve been following the news, there’s been at least as much darkness this Chanukah as there has been light. In recent weeks there has been a slew of anti-Semitic attacks, including the destruction of a Torah scroll in a Persian synagogue in Los Angeles, anti-Semitic graffiti on the 6th and I historic synagogue in Washington, D.C., the murder of three people at a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, and just today, the stabbing of five people at a rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York.
It’s enough to make anyone’s Chanukah flame flicker. May the memories of the deceased be for a blessing, and may the Creator send healing to the wounded- and serve justice to those who did us harm. May we find ourselves safer, with non-Jewish allies standing at our side like we so desperately need them.
On days like this, I often find myself in need of a bit of hope. Which brings me to an old story from one of my adventures.
I found myself alone in Budapest. I was backpacking through Europe and had spent the first part of my trip in Romania. It’s not the most gay-friendly country in the world, especially not some of the rural areas I visited, although they were very interesting.
In need of some company, I opened up the CouchSurfing App. It’s an app better known for finding a place to crash for free, but I was just using it to meet some new friends.
I found one woman, let’s call her Ayesha since she’s not out of the closet and the internet makes our world smaller by the day. She had written “Looking for someone to go to a gay bar with”. I immediately wrote her.
Now keep in mind my profile said I was from Israel. Ayesha’s said she was from Amman, Jordan. Two countries technically at peace, but whose populaces have almost no interaction. A huge percentage of Jordanians are actually Palestinians, so the potential for a hostile interaction was not hard to imagine.
But Ayesha wasn’t like that. She was excited to have someone to join her at the club, and I was just as enthused.
I walked in, we hit it off, and ordered some pizza together.
We got to talking and it turns out Ayesha was bi and this was her first time in a gay bar- ever. Also, she was not out to her family. Also, apparently I was about to participate in her first gay DATE! Yes, you read that right. Ayesha didn’t just invite me to the bar. She also invited a Macedonian rugby player with whom she hoped to rumble in the pitch (I have no idea if that’s a rugby metaphor, but you get the point).
Turns out, it was one of the best nights ever. The Macedonian rugby player brought her teammate and the four of us had a blast. We talked about our different countries, the good, bad, and ugly (Macedonia is not a gay paradise either- but apparently has a growing scene!). We talked about being queer, about music, about our shitty pizza and Hungarian customs.
And after the two Macedonian women had to leave, Ayesha and I just danced. Danced and danced and danced. None of the stress of the Middle East or its various conflicts mattered. We laughed, we sang, we lip synced, we lived.
It was one of the best nights of my life.
Not because of the night club (it was ok), or the pizza (can I say again how shitty it was?), or the cute boys (c’mon Budapest, I thought you could do better!).
It was because for one night life stood still. All the world’s conflicts and shouting and arguing didn’t matter. Because one Jewish gay guy and one bi Jordanian woman had a great night together. Despite it all.
I hope this holiday season, whatever your religion or traditions, you find your Ayesha. Someone who is essentially curious about the world more than seeking conflict. Someone fun who brings out the best in you. And that you find your inner strength to take a bit of a risk. To reach out to someone you don’t know. And to send a tiny bit of warmth their way to light the path to a better reality.
Chag sameach, happy Chanukah, and shanah tovah- to a happy New Year!
Cover photo is of a mural in Haifa near the railroad that once connected Amman, Jordan to Haifa, Israel. What was once may yet be once more.