It was Wednesday night in Palolem, the sixth night of Chanukah. My new roommate Daniel and I went to the Beyt Yehudi for the candle lighting. After staying for a little while to enjoy the singing and jam session, Daniel prompted us to leave.
“Leave? Why? I think they’re about to serve a meal.”
“But we want to go to this restaurant where you can order steak.”
There are not that many places in India where you can get beef, given the Hindu reverence for the cow. However, the state of Goa, being an ex-Portuguese colony, is largely Christian, and thus beef is often available at restaurants.
“I don’t eat steak– I’m a pescetarian, remember?”
“Come on, we will have steak, and you can order fish.”
I didn’t know who “we” was at this stage. To my surprise, and in what seemed like another recurring coincidence, Daniel had somehow become friends with the couple who Marios and I had seen on the train on the way to Goa, and then had also sat at a table with in the pub the night before.
Just before leaving for the restaurant, Daniel said quietly to me that he had forgotten their names, and wanted me to ask them. I in turn told him that I had also met them before, and having also forgotten their names, I didn’t feel comfortable asking them. When we got to the restaurant, I suggested, without providing much of a reason, that we all exchange email addresses. That allowed us to rediscover their names. Shauli and Shoham. They had been in India at least six months already, mostly in the North. Shoham spoke English with a slight London accent, rather than a regular Israeli accent. I asked her about this, and she explained that she had spent a few years there as a child. Shauli was moderately tall, and was quite thin, a typical characteristic of a guy who has been travelling in India for a while. He also had a thick (but not long) beard, another characteristic fitting that profile. Later on, Shauli would show us a picture of himself not long before he left Israel. He was unrecognisable. His pre-India appearance was clean-shaven, reasonably solid build, and a buzz cut on top. In Israel he had been a combat pilot in the air force, flying F-16s. Now, far removed from that, he looked like a total hippy, carrying around his flute, which he played intermittently.
Daniel, Shauli, and Shoham all had good spoken English, and when in my company, they more often than not conversed in English for my benefit, although I never requested them too. In fact, I didn’t mind when they spoke in Hebrew, as it was good practice for me, and when possible, I would make an effort to use Hebrew too. Otherwise, I was quite good at speaking English with people who speak it as a second language.
At one stage, Shauli and Shoham were discussing in Hebrew something about the beauty of the Chanukah Menorah lighting ceremony as done by the Breslover shaliach at the Beyt Yehudi. I made some unmemorable comment, and then Shauli said something surprising to me, in English..
“But you know, in a way, I don’t like Chanukah that much” he opined.
“You don’t like Chanukah? What’s not too like? There’s no fasting, the food is delicious, mmmm latkes, sufganiot, and there’s no prohibitions against anything…”
“Yes, but it is about the Maccabees…I don’t like the Maccabees.”
“Oh, I think I know where you are going with this. I’ve thought about this before, although I don’t think I’ve ever discussed it with anyone. I can see how, from a certain point of view, not mine by the way, but some people who are some kind of post-modern revisionists might twist it this way…they might frame the Maccabees as the Al Qaeda of their time. You see the Greeks, they were occupiers, but they weren’t occupiers like the Romans were. The Romans occupied through brute force - they weren’t interested in the cultures of the lands they occupied. However, the Greeks were very interested in Judaism, from an academic point of view, not a religious one. But at the same time, they were trying to get the Jewish people to fuse their own culture with Greek culture. Thus the Greek occupation was as much intellectual and cultural as it was physical. And this was not always forced, but many Jews at the time embraced the Greek culture, which they saw as more modern and liberated – Greek culture and thinking was the most ‘modern’ of its time. The Maccabees took a stand against this cultural fusion or assimilation, “Ah, they were sort of anti-globalisation?”
“Yes, in a way, they could have been seen as an early version of it” I continued, “And they didn’t just fight the Greeks, but also other Jews they saw as cultural collaborators….And while I don’t believe they were terrorists, I can imagine some revisionist moral relativists framing it that way.”
“That’s very interesting, but this isn’t why I don’t like the Maccabees” Shauli stated.
“Then what is it you don’t like?”
“In Israel, I support Hapoel. I hate Maccabi. They are our rivals” he laughed. In Israel, the most dominant sporting association is Maccabi, which is named after the Maccabees. Hapoel (which translates as ‘the worker’) is the next most dominanat. Both organization have professional teams in various sports in a number of cities throughout Israel.
“Do you support Hapoel in football or basketball?”
“Both…. You name it, if they are playing it, I support it. In any sport, I support Hapoel, and hate Maccabi”
“Ok, that’s the strangest reason I’ve ever heard for not liking something.”
“Yes, I know,” conceded Shauli, who was smiling broadly.