My husband, M, lived in Israel for two years while attending Yeshiva. It's been about two years since he got back and he misses it more than ever. Every time we go to the mall we get a little taste of what he misses so much. Our local mall has 7 kiosks run by Israelis, most of them positioned near each other. The calls of "Shalom, achi!" and sales pitches flood us as we pass by. While I understand a lot of Ivrit, I am still pretty shy and most definitely not comfortable to converse b'Ivrit. M on the other hand can speak an almost flawless Ivrit. So we always stop to chat with them as we pass by, invite them for a Shabbos meal, and offer help with anything they might need.
One of the guys, R, actually called M up a few weeks ago to inquire about mezuzot for his new apartment. M collected a few and went over one night to help R hang the mezuzot.
A few weeks ago, M decided he wanted to do something for the Israelis to bring them a taste of home. They are all in America without their families and no Jewishness around them. Our original plan to bake sufganiot didn't work out as planned, but luckily a local business brought in a shipment from Beigel's in NY. We ordered tin chanukiot and colored chanukah candles from NY, photocopied the brachot, and wrote out cards out that said "Chanukah Sameach!" with our names and phone number.
We were expecting snow storms starting on Friday and lasting through the weekend, so Thursday night we packed up all the goodies and drove our reindeer to the mall. Our first stop was R, since he was familiar with us. He couldn't believe it. We stopped by each kiosk passing out the gifts. The last thing we pulled out at each stop were the sufganiot.
The Israeli kiosk neighbors pulled in closer to watch the show. The people in the stores nearby watched with interest. As we handed out the goodies the Israelis were shrieking with excitement. Chanukiya! Aizeh chamud!
They started singing Chanukah songs, the men shook M's hand and the girls hugged me. One group insisted on taking a picture with us. Many of them hadn't even thought about Chanukah. Almost every single Israeli said they had to call their parents to tell them they would be lighting a chanukiya this year. And almost every single Israeli asked us if we were Chabad.
M was friendly with one of the men that sold Dead Sea products ("Seacret"), Y. Every time M would pass the kiosk A would try to reel him in to buy something for his wife. M got away with it by saying I was very picky about smells, etc. In the middle of all the excitement last night, Y pulled M aside to ask which scent I liked better. M said he didn't know so A shoved a few tubes of lotion under my nose. He went into his whole sales pitch about supporting Israel by purchasing their products. We were laughing that even at a time like this Y could be so determined. We asked if he had read the NYT article on Israeli mall workers and he laughed. The next thing we knew, Y put a set of products into a bag and said "Happy Chanukah!". He threw in some manly mud soap for M too.
We distributed 15 chanukiot and about 2 dozen sufganiot, but the reactions were priceless. Everyone was so excited and happy to have that small taste of home, it felt nice to be the ones to cause that happiness. A few even promised to come for a Shabbat meal too.
post script: After we left the mall some friends of ours went. Each kiosk stopped them to ask if they knew Stam & M. The couple decided we must go to the mall waaaay too often, until the found out what had happened earlier in the evening.