Spreading the Light (and the sand)

When you live in a rural place, word travels fast.

“I hear you’re having a Chanuka party!” said our UPS man when he slogged up our driveway to deliver a package.

Our UPS man is a genuinely nice guy.  He always has a smile on his face, and is a great shmoozer.  Our dog loves him, too – he always gets a biscuit or two from the UPS man.  But our UPS man is not Jewish, so I couldn’t figure out how he would have heard about our party.

“Oh yeah, the G’s (two towns away) were talking about how excited they were, to be going to a Chanuka party.  So I asked them where it was, and they told me it was in your town.  I told them I didn’t know anyone was Jewish here and they told me your name, and I said, ‘oh yeah, the ones with the steep driveway and the poodle.’ They are very excited about coming, by the way!  Really nice people, too!”

Since most of the people heard about our party via word of mouth (I told the few Jewish families I knew to feel free to invite other Jews they might know) or from a display ad I put in the local newspaper, I hadn’t met the majority of attendees beforehand.  I was worried that they would not find us at night, since we live on a dark, unlit rural road ten miles from any sort of town center.  So I bought some reflective tape from an auto parts store, and taped a Star of David shape with the reflective tape onto an old cookie sheet which we nailed to a tree where the bottom of our driveway met the road:

My idea worked! (click to enlarge)

Our party preparations were somewhat unusual.  The night before,  temperatures plummeted to 4 degrees and the morning of the party there was light snowfall.  Unfortunately that meant that our driveway was impossibly slippery, so I had to notify all the party goers by phone and email that unless they had 4WD, they would have to wait at the bottom of the driveway and honk.  My husband would meet them at the bottom with our SUV and lead them a mile up the road to the Inn, where they could park and my husband would shuttle them back to our house, up the driveway.  Around 1 pm the temperature had risen to 15 degrees but still no sun to melt the driveway, and we were low on road salt.  So we drove slowly to the Maine Department of Transportation’s sand lot, where we filled up the back of our car with sand and then drove back to our house.

The town sandlot.

It was about 17 degrees outside and snowing lightly when we started digging.

we loaded the sand into bags in the back of the car - about 250 lbs' worth

Cupful by cupful (I used a negel vasser cup) we spread the sand along the bottom third of the driveway, hoping it would provide traction for those brave enough to attempt the climb.  We knew that we could not depend on our snowplow guy to come – he was probably with his family celebrating Xmas dinner and watching televised sports events on a very full stomach.

About 2 hours before the party, we got a call from our friend two mountaintops over.  “How’s your driveway?’ he asked.  Which is ironic because P’s driveway is not plowed in winter, so he and his wife hike to the bottom every day to their car parked at the road below so they can get to work.  That means that whenever they need to replenish their perishable food supply, they have to haul it up their mountaintop with backpacks – frequently in below-zero temperatures.  But precisely because P empathized with our driveway situation, he offered to be the “valet parking service” for those guests unable to drive to the top.  Indeed, he sat at the bottom of our driveway in his car in the freezing cold for over 30 minutes, waiting for the first guests to arrive, and he chauffeured many of our guests to our house.

We got several panicked calls from guests who were lost; what made it worse is that they were in zones that had little or no cell reception so their calls were being dropped just as new directions were given.  Many people came from quite far away, and due to the bad weather, what should have been a 90 minute trip took 2 hours.

At last all the guests arrived, or so we thought (we would end up with a total of 27 people!).  It was quite a mix of people; young, middle-aged, and elderly.  Everyone was extremely friendly and enthusiastic.  We set up our menorahs on the porch and did a group candle-lighting.

We returned inside and sang a rousing rendition of Ma’oz Tzur.  Fortunately I had pre-printed stapled song sheets with the blessings and songs in transliterated Hebrew, so everyone was able to follow along.

All 72 latkes went quickly, but there were homemade chalav yisrael enchiladas, the usual chips, crackers, nuts and pretzels, plus lots of different salads: quinoa, spinach, corn relish, curried rice, hummus.  There were dozens of decorated sugar cookies (my daughter had mailed me Chanuka-themed cookie cutters earlier in the month) that I made the week before and stored on the porch (where they stayed fresh due to freezing temperatures), as well as 2 dozen sufganiyot that I brought from a bakery in our home town two days previously.

I was able to buy Chanuka-themed paper goods at a local discount store ironically named "Christmas Tree Shops." Unfortunately, boxes of Chanuka candles were nowhere to be found, no matter where I shopped. Luckily I had brought some extra boxes of Chanuka candles from my home town.

As everyone sat around our living room in a circle, people introduced themselves and then my husband gave a dvar Torah about Chanuka.  Immediately afterwards there was a knock on the door and we welcomed Rabbi Wilansky, the Chabad rabbi who drove 2 hours from Portland to attend.  He surprised us with six yeshiva bochrim who helped liven things up.  They lugged their ubiquitous giant menorah along (the same one they had used at the Portland Mall during a public candle lighting earlier in the week)  and lit it at our house (although when he saw the numerous menorahs already lit on our porch, I think Rabbi Wilansky was surprised we had beaten him to the punch!)

Rabbi Wilansky, the Chabad rabbi from Portland, is second from right. The fellow on the far left is from Australia. The others are some of Rabbi Wilansky's sons, on Chanuka vacation from their yeshiva in Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

They danced around our living room to the amusement of our Maine guests, and as the hour grew late, people began saying their goodbyes.

We felt very blessed that we had a maariv minyan in our home.  It was a night of so many “firsts” and we are very glad we had returned to Maine for the remainder of Chanuka so we could make this party happen.  It was also our first opportunity to have our own Chanukat HaBayit, to celebrate our new home.  It also enabled us to meet many new potential friends and affirm that right now we are in the right place at the right time.

We’ve experienced and celebrated  so many little miracles since we’ve made this crazy move to Maine.

The large windows of our porch are aglow with the Chanuka lights kindled from so many menorahs

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tiger Mike on December 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Wow. I wish I could have come. My Channuka seems to have consisted of lighting the lights the first night and then leaving the country. (Although ALL of my children were home fo rthe first time in years)


  2. Posted by Rachel on December 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I was eagerly waiting to hear about your party! It looks like it was so nice and the food set up looked delicious! Chanukah Sameach!


  3. Posted by Riva on December 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    It was nice reading all about it even before hearing all the details. It sounds like it was amazing. I’m so happy it worked out so well for everyone!


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