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The definition of serenity. Photo by Hannah Richter (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Finalist), Indonesia Semester.

Langnukah

There is so much I loved about Langa that it is hard for me to pinpoint what experience I want to write about: the charm of the village, the supportiveness of the community, the beauty of being up in the mountains… There was so much going on every day –  from hikes to coffee farms to cultural ceremonies – that time just flew. It all just feels like a whirlwind of events, people, and places. But, there was an 8 night period in the middle of our stay in Langa that gave some consistency to my day…

On the first day of Chanukah, it occurred to me that among all the commotion of leaving, we had left the menorah in Jogja. Well, I thought to myself, you can’t celebrate Chanukah without a menorah – guess I’m not celebrating this year.

On the evening of the first night of Chanukah, we were at a celebration for Hari Ibu – Mother’s Day. Although Mother’s Day has many different connotations in Indonesia, this gathering used the day as an opportunity to empower migrant mothers who had to leave their families to work abroad. There was a cake to celebrate their sacrifice, and candles were lit. Over the burning of the candles, I thought to myself, Happy Chanukah! The glowing candles seemed to also trigger the memory of other group members, because someone asked “Isn’t it Chanukah? Should we celebrate?”

Taking the left-over candles from the cake, we found a place on the side of the road that had an open clearing to watch the sunset. We found a rock on the side of the road, lining up the candles to create a menorah of sorts (a rocknorah, if you will). As the fire melted away at the candles, splattering the wax across the rock, the sun followed, melting into the clouds and sinking beneath the horizon. The sky lit up in a fiery array of pinks and oranges, mirroring the candles thawing before us. And thus, a new 8-night tradition was born: Langnukah.

The nights of Chanukah marked the end of each day during our stay in Langa. The second night, we set up in front of the traditional monuments in the middle of one of the village squares. We had just finished cooking a traditional chicken dish where we had bought the chicken live from the market and killed it ourselves! A wild day, where I was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone, concluded with a tradition of familiarity. Again, the sky seemed to be on fire as the orange and yellows melted into the sky, mirroring the candles melting across the rocknorah.

The week continued like this – crazy days including shooting bamboo cannons, trekking across volcanos, hot springs, wedding ceremonies, animal sacrifices… Days filled with learning and exposure to different traditions and practices, all ended with a cultural touchstone of my own. Every night as the group ventured out, candles and a rock in hand, onlookers would express intrigue and ask us what we were doing. The interest and tolerance that I felt from the community was unparalleled to anything I’ve ever felt abroad. Always a little hesitant to review my religious identity, I always gauge the response to see if I shared too much. But every time I took the time to explain Chanukah, I was only met with genuine curiosity and acceptance.

One night, we left a wedding early to light candles. As I explained to one of the bapaks why we were leaving, he insisted that we come back – as it was part of their tradition that when you observe an animal sacrifice and partake in the ceremony, you must sit for a meal. It didn’t seem to faze him at all – the fact that I was Jewish – he just wanted me to return after I was finished. My homestay family and I started using analogies between Judaism and both Catholicism and their local religion as I tried to explain Chanukah. It allowed us to draw similarities and differences between my beliefs and theirs, yet always uniting in our common bond of tradition. Jacqueline’s homestay sister was so interested that she had me type “Chanukah” into her phone so she could google it later. Eva’s homestay sister eagerly listened to me explain how to light the candles. She climbed up a heap of stones to find the perfect rocknorah, then helped me line up the candles. It began to storm, but instead of running inside, she stayed out with me, the both of us using our hands to shield the candles from the rain.

My Langnukah adventure allowed me to access all parts of Langa: from the natural beauty as we explored a different picturesque spot every night to light the rocknorah to the sense of community and acceptance I felt with my family for sharing traditions – even if it looked a little different. I’m not sure why I was so stringent upon lighting candles every night. At home, while there may be more celebrations and general Chanukah cheer in the air, my family often forgot or got too busy to light the menorah every night. But there’s something about being abroad – in a new place with new people – the things about my identity that I once didn’t think much about, I now find myself clinging to. Especially in a place like Langa, where religion and tradition ruled the way of life, it felt nice to honor a tradition of my own.