L ooking back, I think that was the first year I truly experienced Chanukah. Since then, Chanukah hasn’t been the same — but you know what? Neither has life….

I was 19 then, maybe 20, and I left Eretz Yisrael to learn in a yeshivah in New York for a while. One day during Chanukah, when the snow was piled up on the freezing sidewalks, a friend and I were invited to the house of a well-known rosh yeshivah for a private party — two Israelis who were a bit out of place and needed a little warmth from home.

We were two bochurim, foreigners, and somehow we got to the Rosh Yeshivah, who himself had grown up in Eretz Yisrael and was an acquaintance of my friend’s parents. He understood our situation and went out of his way to invite us over for a festive supper that his rebbetzin prepared for us. We met in his beis medrash, where we went over to the Rosh Yeshivah and deferentially introduced ourselves. We walked him home, and, having encountered several roshei yeshivah during our learning years, braced ourselves for what was coming next. We expected to be peppered with lomdishe questions such as what the Chanukah mitzvah was — the hadlakah or the hachanah — but we were pleasantly surprised. The Rosh Yeshivah realized that this wasn’t the time for halachic conversations. He practically danced his way home and spoke with us about ourselves, showing genuine interest in us. We felt warm inside, despite the freezing temperature.

There was another surprise once we reached the Rosh Yeshivah’s house. The Rebbetzin was cheerfully standing outside the house, waiting to greet us. Before we had a chance to wonder why she was waiting for us in the frigid cold, she called out, “Oh, Dani, I’m so happy you brought them!” She then addressed us in her American-accented Hebrew. “You know, all the guests that my Dani brings with him are so interesting, so nice. Come inside, don’t stand in the cold!”

More than ten years have passed since then and I still feel the burn of my blushing cheeks; I imagined that my face was lit up like the neon billboards in Times Square. How awkward — how could she call this venerated rosh yeshivah in his seventies “Dani” in front of two bochurim? I was sure the Rosh Yeshivah wanted to die of embarrassment. Ribbono shel Olam, not only are we in galus in America, but we also have to undergo such bizyonos!

I suddenly realized that the Rosh Yeshivah didn’t seem perturbed at all. On the contrary, his natural cheerfulness only seemed to intensify. He turned to us with a big smile and made the formal introduction. “This is Rebbetzin Sherry, she’s the real rosh yeshivah here. She’s the mother of the yeshivah — she was zocheh to be like Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel, and Leah together. You’re young bochurim, but soon you’ll be in shidduchim — may you merit wives so righteous!”

While he turned to take off his kapote, I whispered to my friend, “Is this what Americans are like?” We figured we should just take it all in stride — but didn’t realize that this was just the promo; the full story would soon unfold. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 689)