“I don’t care if they don’t learn anything,” I divulged to Lance, grinning, while seated on the tiny hard kid-size bench at Sebastian’s gan. We were partaking in the annual class Hanukkah party, watching 27 preschoolers sing and motion rhythmically, and my heart was overflowing with joy. “This,” I exclaimed, “makes it all worthwhile.”
There are few things more heartwarming than seeing your child sing, tap, clap, hip-sway, spin like a dreydl, and perform a rendition of a Ukrainian dance, small hands placed tentatively, stiffly, and proudly, on narrow hips.
The preparations for the Hanukkah party at Sebastian’s gan have been going on for about a week now. I’ve echoed the expectant mood with my own “preparations” — walking the city streets singing, accompanied by a zealous and spirited little vocalist naturally, in search of sufganyot (the traditional holiday jelly beignets). The search itself is not taxing — sufganyot grace nearly every storefront – but the selection is tricky. Nowadays, sufganyot range from basic to deluxe, chocolate to apple caramel. ‘Tis the season here this warm and sunny winter and the sights and sounds are sweet.
At home, the sights and sounds reflect their own variety of new traditions. When Sebastian was asked to bring in a Hanukkiah to school accompanied by an explanation of where it came from (i.e. my grandfather gave it to me), we knew we had to get creative. And so we did. Creative, messy, and colorful.
Here, the time-honored songs also incur a creative spin. At the dinner table, Sebastian deliberately sets the mood by singing a handful of traditional Hanukkah songs before a glimmer flashes in his eye and he giddily begins to sing what he calls the “mixed up” version — the one that lives on the streets and in the ganim (plural of gan). By a wily sleight of the imagination that is commonly the property of children, the songs of praise over “the miracles and the wonders that the Maccabees performed” are craftily transformed: “I got zero on an exam; my mom will kill me and my dad will strangle me, and that’ll be the end of the world.” Innocence and spoil are joined in a hazy glow.
I would be quite surprised if my four year old knew what an exam is and am quite certain he has no idea what getting a zero on one suggests. But he’s grinning. He learnt this version of the song from his friends. He feels a part of a social group. And he’s beaming. If this is his Israeli education, let it be.