Chanukah in Israel
It's been more than three months since I came to Congregation Rodef Sholom. For more than three months, I've been living here and learning from you about being Jewish in America, learning how Israel looks from the other side of the world and trying to bring the Israel culture I love so much into our temple - not an easy mission. After three months of working, learning and experimenting, I decided to take a break and go back to my roots and my beloved home. I went home to take a deep breath, to see all the people and places I love, and to return to America and Rodef Sholom with a lot of motivation and new ideas.
While I was in Israel I remebered once again how special the holidays are, so in the spirit of this holiday season, fresh from Israel, I present:
One fact for every day of Chanukah in Israel you (maybe) didn't know about:
1. The meaning of the name - Chanukah means to celebrate something new, usually a building. When someone is moving to a new home, in Hebrew we call the new house celebration Chanukat Bayit. The name of the holiday comes from this Hebrew word for 'dedication' or 'consecration', which refers to the rededicaiton of the temple after reclaiming it from the Hellenistic Greeks of Syria and re-opening it as a Jewish holy center in the 2nd century B.C.E.
2. Chanukah atmosphere - In Israel, Chanukah is the main holiday this time of year. You can see Chanukah decorations and menorahs in almost every city across Israel. You can find big menorahs in the Tel Aviv port and in Rabin Square.
3. Community Candle Lighting - Many cities invite all the citizens to a community candle lighting every evening in the city center.
4. Christmas in Israel and Multiculturalism - If you're in Israel and still want to feel some Christmas spirit, the best place to go would be Natsrat, an Arab city in Israel that has a large Christian population. You can find Christmas atmosphere in other mixed cities (cities that include large populations from different faiths) as well as Jaff and Haifa. I visited this year in Jaffa, and in Haifa which offers a festival of mixed holidays ("the holiday of all holidays") and that was great!
5. Chanukah gelt - Israel is learning a lot of things from America; unfortunately, giving gifts at Chanukah is not one of them. In Israel, this time of the year is known as Chanukah alone, not as part of a bigger holiday season, and therefore there are no gifts involved. However, inspired by Chanukah chocolate coins, we developed our own tradition of giving pocket money to the kids by parents or grandparents.
6. Sufganiot - While in the U.S. the food which symbolizes Chanukah is latkes, in Israel the holiday is much more famous for its jelly donuts (or in Hebrew, sufganiot).
7. Chanukah songs - Except for the food and lights, Chanukah in Israel is also famous for the many holiday songs. Chanukah has more than 10 secular but traditional songs (by that I mean songs that we traditionally sing during Chanukah but are not necessarily prayer-based). After saying the blessing and lighting the candles, almost every family starts a string of songs that can last for more than 30 minutes. Fun fact: I can guarantee you it's almost always in the same order (in my family, we always start with Yemey H'chanukah and then Maoz Tsur). Click here for a selection of Chanukah songs.
8. The big shows - Chanukah is famous for its music and songs, not only around the table. Kids in Israel know this holiday as the time of the year with the biggest shows for kids. The most well-known of them is the Pestigal - a musical show for kids including many Israeli singers and actors, that started back in 1981 and has kept its status as a big hit ever since. Sad fact: I never got to actually go to one.
9. One for next year? - Chanukah only lasts 8 nights, but we shall not forget the shames (helper), so in dedication to the ninth candle here's one more fact: Chanukah in Israel is my favorite holiday! So after having a great Chanukah in Israel once again, I'm glad to be back and I can't wait to find out what Chanukah looks like in California.
P.S. Despite the holidays, these past few weeks have been a very difficult time in the political arena. If you have questions regarding Israel, if you want to hear about the recent events from the perspective of an Israeli or if you just want an excuse for a coffee date - I'm always here and happy to meet up and talk! You can always reach me [email protected].