Posted by: viaprograms | December 17, 2010

Holidays Abroad

VIA volunteers usually stay in-country for the holidays. We asked our current volunteers how they celebrate in a new culture and new surroundings. Below Jonas Crimm, a VIA volunteer at a middle school in Xining, Qinghai, China, describes lighting Chanukah candles on the hillside above a Buddhist monastery.

Buddhist monastery viewed from above

On the way back from the county town on Sunday, I stopped at a small town called Lajia (Ragya) as I’d heard there was a beautiful monastery located nearby. Lying above the Yellow River, the monastery was nestled in a small side valley under stupendous glowing-red pinnacles of sandstone. The monastery itself was beautiful, and felt alive – all of the assembly halls were full of monks, most were young (under 20), and new chapels were under construction on the hillside. Nevertheless, a reminder of the monastery’s former size was evident from the crumbling walls of mud, which sat on the hillside above the complex.

The monks and pilgrims were extremely friendly as I visited the temples and walked the beautiful kora, which led up into the jumble of red rock pinnacles above the monastery. At the kora’s midway point, I decided to climb up a hillside above the monastery to do some more lesson planning. I reached a grassy ridge top and sat down.

Then it hit me: this was a perfect place to do Chanukah. Spectacular views, remoteness, spiritual aura…what more could one want? The only thing missing was a lack of daylight, but as for that I was out of luck; come nighttime, I would be on the sleeper to Xining, and candle lighting on the sleeper would not be the best idea. I took out the hannukiyah and candles and had a go.

Chanukah on the hillside

Chanukah in Lajia, like most of those events and situations I’ve imported from home to the plateaus of Qinghai, was all the more beautiful and meaningful for its unlikeliness. How many Jews have celebrated Chanukah in Golog? How many Jews have ever even been to Golog? But regardless of the incongruity and unfamiliarity of the place, the culture, and even the time of day, celebrating Chanukah on a hillside above a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the yellow river, ice-choked, winding sinuously below, threading its way into the distance between ochre and gold-colored hills dappled with grazing sheep and yaks – celebrating Chanukah in Lajia somehow just felt right.

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