Living on a Prayer: Gaza evacuees celebrate Hanukka [pg. 6]

Hotel regulations create dilemma over where to light candles.

Every year, Rina and Eli Akerman and their children used to drive 90 minutes from Gush Katif to Jerusalem to light the first Hanukka light at Eli's mother's home and to celebrate the birthdays of Eli's mother and one of their daughters. This year, the journey took only five minutes - from the Jerusalem hotel where the Akermans are still living while they wait for mobile homes to be built in Amatzia. Upon their return to the hotel after candle lighting on Sunday, the Akermans were stunned to find the hotel receptionist wearing a Santa Claus hat. "She was probably wearing it in honor of the many Christian visitors who are staying in the hotel, but it was the first time my children have seen such a thing," Rina says. "The younger ones didn't understand, but my older children started joking that we should have brought with us the two large pine trees that we planted on each side of our garden gate in Neveh Dekalim. "Because we both come from France, we have always avoided purchasing all the tinsel and Christmas decorations that many Israelis use to adorn their succa, which we associate with non-Jewish holidays. So this really came as a shock." Rina still hasn't decided where the family should light their candles for the rest of the holiday. "According to Jewish tradition, we should light the hanukkia in our home - but we really don't have a home," she says. "The closest thing to it is our hotel room, but for safety reasons it is forbidden to light candles in the rooms. The hotel has asked us to light in the lobby - but a hotel lobby is not my home, though perhaps it would provide a public demonstration of who we are and what we believe in. Maybe we'll just light at Savta [grandma] every night - that at least is a home." Fellow evacuees Shai and Chana Cohen had a similar experience. They found their hotel lobby decorated in a "half-Hanukka and half-Christmas" manner, Chana says, adding: "At least there was no Christmas tree, that would have been too hard." Many of the Neveh Dekalim evacuees gathered on the first night of Hanukka in the Hyatt Regency Hotel for a community candle-lighting with clowns, magicians and other entertainment for the children. One hanukkia lit by one of the evacuees, a high-school girl who had made it from glass, was adorned with a photograph of a Gush Katif sunset at the beach. Cohen says she found it hard to join in the festivities. "I kept thinking of last year, when we lit our hanukkia together in our home and expected to do so this year too," she says. "But our family hanukkia is locked up in a container." Ella Hoffman doesn't expect to be able to move to a mobile home in Amatzia before Purim. She says despite the efforts made to arrange activities and trips for the evacuees in the hotels, "there's not much Hanukka spirit… it doesn't even feel like Hanukka to me. Back in Gush Katif the whole community got together and partied." Ella and her husband David went to do their laundry at their friends' home on Sunday and lit Hanukka candles there. "I offered to fry latkes and we ended up staying," says Ella, a former caterer. "I was remembering that two years ago, back in Canada, I sold a thousand latkes on Hanukka. Last year I was engaged to David and stayed in Neveh Dekalim in the home of Sylvia Mandelbaum, who at 92 years old is the oldest evacuee." This Hanukkah will be the Cohen family's last week in the Hyatt Regency, which they have called home since losing their house in August. Their intended caravilla community in Ein Tzurim has not yet been built and their family of 13 will be moving - again temporarily - to the Ashkelon Vacation Village together with Moshav Katif evacuees. Back in September, when the Cohens decided to commute daily to their teaching jobs in Ashkelon, they expected it to be a short-term arrangement. They have found it increasingly difficult to handle the long trip, which further impacts on an already unsettled family life. Another factor in their decision to move now is the reason they initially chose Jerusalem, the children's schooling. "When we were expelled we wanted our younger children to remain with their friends in an appropriate educational framework," Chana says, adding: "The two special schools set up for the Neveh Dekalim children in Jerusalem provided the most secure environment. Now that many families have moved to Nitzan, the remaining classes are so small that after Hanukka the children will... be placed inside regular classes. "My daughters do not want to be in yet another new environment, having to make new friends but knowing they will be moved again in a few months... and I don't think we can ask this of them... "When we move to Ashkelon, we will bus them to the Atzmona School [currently in the City of Faith near Netivot and due to move to Shomriya] where they can continue their education." "It will be difficult to pack and move again to yet another temporary lodging," Chana Cohen says, adding: "It brings back the pain of the loss of our home."