Celebrating Hanukkah In A Palestinian City : Parallels American Jewish college student Amelia Wolf spent Hanukkah last year in Ramallah. As the holiday approached, she was lonely — until her Palestinian hosts got wind of how she was feeling.
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Celebrating Hanukkah In A Palestinian City

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Celebrating Hanukkah In A Palestinian City

Celebrating Hanukkah In A Palestinian City

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah. Last year, a young American Jewish woman celebrated the holiday in Ramallah, a Palestinian city on the West Bank. Few Jewish people go there, let alone live in Ramallah, as Amelia Wolf did for a semester. Up close to the conflict, she vacillated between feelings of empathy and frustration with both the Palestinians and Israelis. NPR's Emily Harris has her story.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Amelia Wolf grew up celebrating Hanukkah in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by family, including her father, an outspoken Rabbi. Israel was part of her education.

AMELIA WOLF: The sort of uncontroversial version of Israel being the culmination of Jewish history in a way, in nine or 30 years of Jewish day school, I don't remember ever hearing the word Palestinian.

HARRIS: But she heard it at home. When Wolf was in grade school, her dad got shouted out of a Jewish community event for protesting Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Someone even pelted him with ice cubes.

WOLF: It was horrible. I started crying. I didn't know about the ice cubes until the next day when a classmate said like there was a crazy man who like crashed the rally, and like my mother threw ice cubes. And he was so proud.

HARRIS: Fast forward a decade - Wolf began learning Arabic and wanted to study abroad. She found a program run by the New York-based Bard College out of West Bank University, and she moved in with a Palestinian single mom in Ramallah. Wolf did not always tell Palestinians that she is Jewish. For example, she didn't want to draw attention to her religion when she heard Palestinians question the Holocaust.

WOLF: What was really hard about that was that even the people who do know I'm Jewish, and the Americans on the program who know that that's not why the Holocaust happened, they didn't say anything either.

HARRIS: Palestinian students frequently clashed with Israeli soldiers near campus, which was sometimes evacuated due to teargas. When Wolf went to Israel to visit family or friends, she walked along with Palestinians through an Israeli military checkpoint with narrow, fenced-in pedestrian lanes. It always made her angry.

WOLF: This one time I was just waiting for a long time and there were these really like mostly old men and women. And I finally get through and it's this 18-year-old soldier, and his shoes are kicked off. And he's got an iPhone. I've seen girls doing nail polish.

HARRIS: This frustrating experience added to her understanding of Palestinian attitudes.

WOLF: I never met anyone who wasn't furious with Israel or who doesn't want to throw a stone. And I think that this is - this is a Jewish value, too - that when we see injustice, we should be angry, and we should try to repair it.

HARRIS: Wolf wants an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. A growing number of Palestinians support an alternative - one state in which everyone is equal. Many Israelis fear one democratic state incorporating Palestinians could end Jewish self-rule. Wolf wrestles with this.

WOLF: The idea - like emotionally, not logically - that this first expression of Jewish self-determination in over 2000 years would then have to fail for there to be any sort of fairness - like that makes me sick.

HARRIS: This time last year before the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, Wolf felt lonely.

WOLF: I was feeling really sad about the idea of lighting a menorah all on my own on a holiday that's specifically supposed to be public.

HARRIS: She wasn't going to go to Israel to celebrate as she did on other holidays. And in Ramallah, she didn't think it would be a good idea to put a menorah, the traditional candleholder, in the window as is custom back home. Her Palestinian host mom and neighbors figured out that Wolf was unhappy, and they gathered to watch her light the Hanukkah candles.

WOLF: And they all listened to me, super patiently for me, and like trying and in broken Arabic to explain the story of Hanukkah, which is actually a story of resisting occupation and also about resisting assimilation.

HARRIS: Something she believes both Jews and Palestinians have the right to do. Emily Harris, NPR News.

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