We spent Hanukkah with Karen’s family in Los Angeles, a big city with all the big city things—movie theaters and freeways and tall buildings. The only reminder that we were in the desert was the light, an intense white light that is completely different from what we’re used to on the East Coast. I always notice it as soon as we step out of the airport terminal—it feels as if we’re stepping into a different version of the world.
We took a side trip with Karen’s sister Aimee to Joshua Tree, a national park about three hours east of LA. At Joshua Tree, there was no city to hide the desert, which was everywhere and everything: the intense white light, the rocks piled into small mountains shaped by the wind, the strange Dr. Seuss vegetation spread out over vast distances.
There was a road, the occasional car, but most of what fools us into thinking that we’re living in a human world was gone: no houses, no stores; nothing to buy.
It seemed like the perfect place to spend a part of Hanukkah. The Maccabees had moved through a landscape a lot like Joshua Tree, hiding in caves, carrying on that era’s version of asymmetrical warfare. The Jewish religion sometimes reflects that landscape, too, it seems to me, in its stark absolutism and its obsession with time and timelessness.
But more than anything else, Joshua Tree felt like the right place to be because, in the desert, light feels alive, and Hanukkah is the festival of light. It celebrates light as a miracle, an embodiment of the human yearning to reconnect with the rest of the world.