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Hannukah in Bet'Hatikva

Chapter Text

Tzachi waits, but this time not for the phone to ring. Now he waits for the bus, for Amina to arrive in the flesh. She is coming back, just for this week, just for the holiday, and he cannot breathe.

He waits at the stop, as he waits by the phone booth, and he thinks: what if she doesn’t arrive, what if the bus has broken down. He fears, constantly, that she will get tired of him, with the pull of the big city. 

But the bus does arrive, and with it the woman whose voice he craves to hear on the other end of a payphone.

Amina has red curly hair, and he spots it as soon as she gets off the bus. He begins to run towards her, but then slows his pace, trying not to appear desperate- but, well, he is.

Tzachi shouldn’t have worried though, because as soon as they are face to face, she embraces him. “My life, my soul,” she says, and these terms are just slang that everyoneb says, but he hopes she really means them. As usual, he doesn’t know. 

“I missed you, I missed you,” he says, and he is crying a bit, he cannot help it. It has been over a year since he has seen her. Tzachi doesn’t want to let her go; she may disappear, but he takes her takes her bag and they walk back towards his apartment. “How is school?” I love you. 

“Amazing!t! Iis so different, so alive. Here, nothing has changed since I left.” 

“Is that bad? I don’t mind it."

Later, he looks at her across the table, the light of the first candle of the holiday shining on her face. Tzachi thinks of ring he has in a drawer in his room. He bought it ages ago; he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her since they were in highschool. She deserves a finer one, a bigger diamond, but it is the best he can offer. 

But not tonight. He will not ask tonight. Amina just arrived here, and should she say no, they still would have a week together. Besides, he is nervous.

On the final night, Tzachi tells himself, he’ll propose then. He looks at the menorah, the one lit candle standing for a miracle against great odds. Please, let her say yes.

Chapter Text

There is a holiday in Israel this week. The last letter that Dina wrote to him, received a few days ago said: “Dear General,” (she always writes that) soon we have a holiday here, Hanukkah. Maybe you know it? Some candles, fancy food…”

He can hear her voice in the letters. It has been six months since the band arrived at the wrong town, and yet they are still writing to each other. Tewfiq pictures her, sitting in her apartment, writing, writing to him.

Whenever there is a longer gap between her letters arriving, he always worries- that there has been a failure in Bet'Hatikva’s mail system, or worse that she has lost interest.But they always have arrived, eventually- so far

tHe thinksabout her when he conducts. “Tell me Tewfiq, how does it feel to do music?” she asked him, and he answered her inadequately. It feels beautiful, Dina, he thinks as he calls forth the orchestra's sounds.

He thinks about her when he listens to Oum Kalthoum, and he wonders what the garden she said the music made her see looked like.

He thinks about her when he goes to the sea and watches the men fishing, and the children playing in the surf, and the ocean itself. "Do you hear the sea?" She had said.

"Dear Madam, I wish you a good holiday…" Tewfiq writes back.

He wonders about bus ticket prices to Israel.

Chapter Text

Dina has no guests for Hanukkah. As usual, she has no one to invite.  But she does have a menorah, of course, one of the nicest ones in town, probably, she thinks. It was from her mother, and she polishes it every year before putting the nine tall candles in the holders.

 It makes her lonely, to sit at home by herself and say the prayers, and light the candles, three now, plus the one helper candle that is used to light the others, sitting in its holder, set a little higher than the others in the middle of the menorah.

"Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam…"

 The ritual reminds her of her mother, who used to insist on doing everything properly. That woman is long gone, and Dina was not grateful for everything her mother did for her. Young Dina left Bet' Hatikva and swore she would never return, that she had no need for antique menorahs, but now it is all that Dina has left of the woman she used to watch Egyptian movies with.

"...asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tsivanu l'hadlik ner shel Hanukkah."

She wrote to Tewfiq about this holiday. They were the same kind of person- Tewfiq and her mother. Both proper, from an era a little removed from the present. Unfailingly polite, no matter what their feelings might be.

Dina writes to Tewfiq a lot, although she has never been much of a letter writer before. It is nice to put her thoughts on paper. She wonders about bus ticket prices to Egypt.

Chapter Text

For Zelger, the fourth night is very much the same as any other night. He sits outside Dina’s cafe with his radio playing Michael Jackson and smoking. It is evening, but not yet dark. The street is bathed in the reddish orange light of the desert sunset. For a moment, everything glows.

Dina exits the building, locks it, and looks over at him, bathed in smoke and sunset. “Why do you like this kind of music?” She gestures towards his radio, whose sounds are different than anything the band ever played. “Do you ever listen to Oum Koulthum, Yigal Bashan….anyone like that?” 

“No way,” he says. “They’re so old. This type of music- it’s the future!”

“Hmmm,” says Dina, skeptically. “Where is the heart in this garbage? Where is the story?”

This is the longest conversation he has ever had with Dina. From what Papi tells him, she is a very complicated person, and he does not really understand her even though they work together. “It’s not about the story,” he tells her. “Listen to the rhythm, the energy. It makes you feel alive, right?” 

Dina rolls her eyes. “Whatever you say, kid.” She turns to leave. 

“Hag sameach!” Zelger calls after her.

“Hag sameach,” Dina replies, walking away. Happy holiday.

Chapter Text

Walking home from a rehearsal with the band-he was not expelled after all- Haled sees a candelabra in the window of one of the few Jewish houses in the neighborhood, and he thinks of that town.

What had become of the young man who heard the sea? Of the sad woman with the far away eyes in her empty apartment?

He remembers talking to Papi about his arranged marriage. It happened just as he said. Haled is married now, but he and the girl do not understand each other at all. It is not her fault, it was their respective families, and tradition. 

Sultanah had not wanted this anymore than he did. They stay out of each other’s way- he plays with the band and she studies for her medical school degree. He mentioned Bet’Hatikva to her once, but he did not explain it well. He looked in an atlas when the band arrived back in Egypt, (where had they even been anyway?) but he could not find it. Perhaps it had never existed, and it was simply a mirage, the town and all its players, just a creation of the desert heat.

“And what happened there?” she asked.

 How could Haled describe the stillness of the desert nighttime in that isolated place, where everything waited? 



Chapter Text

Anna stands in a crowd of other soldiers on the sixth night. Spending holidays at base always sucks- there is always the feeling of missing out on something at home. She wants to be with Zelger, Papi, and Julia, to play dreidel and get wine drunk.

But she could not get out of having to close this weekend. “Are you are devoutly religious, Ben David?” (Anna’s last name) her commander asked her. “Are you telling me this holiday has great significance to you?” 

It did not work, and here she is. Her army base has one huge menorah, outside of the dining hall. They do not use real fire in this one, instead each arm has a plastic flame on top of it, and they turn another one on each night.

She does not think of the band, that came and went six months ago. Anna is only looking forward. Four more months and then done with the army. Every spare moment Anna is applying to colleges, because she is determined to get out of Bet’Hatikva. The town's name means, "house of hope." It is not. It is stifling, and she will die waiting for something there.

What will become of their relationship, when she is off at university, Anna cannot say. Of course she will call him more than Amina calls Tzachi back home, but her future is going to be elsewhere, and if Zelger does not want to come, then, well- the fifth candle flicks on, and it reminds Anna of blowing out candles on a birthday and making a wish, but in reverse.

"Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam…”

The army rabbi says the final prayer before they get to go eat- slightly better food that usual because of the holiday.

I wish to get out of here, amen.

Chapter Text

They celebrate all eight nights together- Itzhik, Iris, Avrum, and baby Aviv, who is almost a year old now. Once Iris would have complained- “What does that old story have to do with us anyway? When was the last time we were even in a synagogue?” but when he took the menorah from the closet, and set it on the table, she said nothing. Iris is nicer now, it seems, or maybe he is simply doing less to annoy her. 

Either way Itzhik is glad- he loves his wife and it seemed that for awhile they would divorce but after that night with the band, something changed- with both of them. He has a job now, as a security guard, and she seems less tired. 

He wants to write to those band members and tell them that they managed to fix their marriage, that he and Iris were not so dysfunctional as they appeared on that night. 

How was the concert in Pet’Hatikva, with a P? Did that man ever finish his concerto? Itzhik can still remember the beautiful tune that he played in their living room, the aching longing of the notes that he brought into existence which then faded into silence. 

"This music is a gift from God," said his father in law, and it had been.

Chapter Text

It has been a beautiful Hanukkah, but then everything is beautiful when you are in love, as Papi is. It has been half a year since he and Julia skated together in the sea of neon colored lights, and everything is wonderful. Suddenly his job is not dull anymore, and every winding street in Bet’ Hatikva is new and lovely. 

Papi wishes he could have thanked Haled more- where is that guy now? They should all go to Alexandria, for a visit he, and Julia, and Dina too, because there was something between her and that general from the band, though of course, she has never said anything about it. She started playing different music at the cafe, old Arab stuff, and sometimes her eyes look so far away, but what can he say to make her feel better? She would only snap at him.

They close the cafe together, in silence. Business has been slow, because of the holiday. Everyone is at home. 

Suddenly Papi says, “Do you want to come have dinner with me and Julia? It is not really anything fancy, but for the last night...”

“Since when do you cook?” Dina responds, and without waiting for a response, she says: “Okay,” A pause. “Thanks, Papi.” 

“...she-asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh. Amen.”