This past June, we lost our home and almost all of our belongings when Kilauea Volcano, on Hawaii’s Big Island, erupted. A lava river ran through our Kapoho neighborhood, destroying the entire community and all of the beautiful places we used to swim, surf and walk. We had no advance warning, because the flowing lava unexpectedly changed direction and had become fast moving. After we were woken up in the middle of the night by the National Guards with loud horns and given only hours to evacuate, I carefully wrapped the sterling silver Sabbath candlesticks, my most treasured possessions. They had been passed down to me by my mother and given to her by hers. My nana had purchased them from an antique dealer relative that had specialized in Russian antiques.
In those first dark days, after it was confirmed that our house and 400 other homes in the community were gone, buried beneath 30 feet of lava, there was a moment when I questioned my faith. My Hawaiian friend Ahualani said, “We are only the stewards of the land. As the volcano goddess Pele rebirths the land, so be it that all lives changed by her flow will be reborn too.”
During this time I have found strength in reflecting that our Jewish ancestors were often forced to flee from oppressive rulers, leaving homes and often their countries with only the items they could carry and their jewelry hidden inside the seams of their clothing. Thankfully, we were not the victims of racial prejudice, only of a force of nature. History has shown that the Jews have always carried on, creating new communities, rich with culture, replacing the ones they were forced to leave.
We were fortunate to find a temporary rental home by the ocean in Hilo, in which to grieve and heal. In September, Mother Nature again showed us her superpowers by sending Hurricane Lane to the Hawaiian Islands. Mercifully, it veered off and didn’t hit us directly, but we were inundated with over thirty inches of rain in three days. The beach nearby was covered with debris. Entire trees, uprooted by the storm, were carried down from the mountains to the ocean by the Honolii Stream, which in the time of the storm had become a raging river.
One day soon after, my husband and I were walking along the beach looking for treasures. He picked up an interesting piece of driftwood left by the storm surge and said, “I’m going to make you a menorah.” Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about Hanukkah or the two menorahs we had left behind, in our haste to evacuate. One of the menorahs was traditional, purchased in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. The other was from Israel, a gift from my brother and sister-in-law and featured upside down gymnasts doing handstands. Like many Jewish families, each of our children wanted to light the Hanukkah candles. When they were young and not good at sharing there was a menorah for each.
I am looking forward to celebrating the miracle of Hanukkah and creating new memories with our driftwood menorah. We have told our children, who have now gone back to college, that although we are grieving, we like our ancestors, are a resilient people and their home is wherever we are.