Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah and I think I can safely say that I am the only one in Seosan who will be lighting the menorah. Actually, that’s not quite true. Last night I met a software programmer visiting on business who happened to be from Jerusalem. I asked him how he felt about spending Hanukkah in Korea. He told me it doesn’t matter where you are, but to just enjoy the time with the people you’re with. To that I say La’Chaim!
Though there won’t be any latkes or brisket this year, being Jewish in Korea isn’t too bad -a least once you accept the fact that there will undoubtedly be some sort of pork/pig product in nearly every meal you eat. Unlike the States, religion is topic that comes up frequently when speaking with Koreans, even if you’ve just met them for the first time. Normally when I tell people I’m Jewish they initially respond with a quizzical look, then I try to explain it a little more, sometimes drawing the Star of David in the air on a piece of paper. I can tell they understand because normally they will say, “Einstein!” in a very excited voice, referring to, of course, Albert Einstein, the great physicist and thinker, and apparently the only Jewish person Koreans seem to recognize. This is both a good and bad thing. One the one hand, people assume you are intelligent and exceptionally good at math, which is flattering. On the other hand, being compared to Einstein is a lot to live up to, especially when one considers that I couldn’t calculate myself out of a paper bag (how I got into said bag in the first place is beyond me).
So tonight I will be lighting the candles alone, but all the while knowing that deep down, I’m not really on my own. All around the world people will be reciting the same prayers, acting out the same ceremony, and singing the same songs. Even Einstein would agree. When you’re celebrating a holiday in foreign land, everything is relative.
Related Listening: “One Big Holiday” – My Morning Jacket