Each year Jews celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah which is often called the “Jewish Christmas” because it occurs in December. If you happen to be in Israel during Hanukkah you will be lucky enough to share in this special celebration. Unlike Christian holidays the date of Hanukkah changes each year because of the Jewish lunar calendar. This year, 2017 the eight day Hanukkah holiday falls on the 12th to 20th of December. In Israel Hanukkah is a week-long school holiday but there are no days observed like Shabbat so all attractions and stores remain open as usual. There are many special events put on to keep Israeli school kids busy and to entertain locals and visitors alike.
What is Hanukkah?
The Hanukkah holiday celebrates an event which took place in the 160sBC. During that time Palestine was ruled by Greek-Syrians and Jews were persecuted. Jews were forbidden to worship, many were murdered, scrolls were burnt and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. A small group of Jews rose up against their oppressors and fought back in the “Maccabean Revolt.” The Jews were victorious and proceeded to restore the Temple and rededicate it. Part of rededicating the Temple was lighting the Menorah (a seven-lamped candelabra) which had to remain lit eternally. When the Maccabees came to light the Temple’s Menorah they found that only a small jug of the required pure olive oil remained. The oil should have been sufficient only to light the lamp for one day. However a miracle occurred and it remained lit for eight days by which time more oil had been found.
To commemorate the events of Hanukkah Jews light candles on an eight-armed candelabra (called a Hannukia). On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit and each successive night an additional candle is lit until all eight are lit. In addition there is a 9th candle in the middle of the Hanukia which is used to light the others. The symbols of Hanukkah are light, oil, the hanukiah and the dreidel – a spinning top.
How is Hanukkah celebrated in Israel?
Bearing in mind the symbols of Hanukkah you will see a lot of fried foods (commemorating the miraculous oil) in Israel during Hanukkah. The most famous Hanukkah food is the doughnut or sufgania. This is a round doughnut with no hole in the middle but instead it is filled with jam. Every café, restaurant and kiosk will be selling sufganiot. These days there are many different kinds of sufganiot, from chocolate to alcohol flavored! An estimated 24 million sufganiot are eaten in Israel each Hanukkah. The symbol of light and the hanukia can be seen in Israel during Hanukkah. Each Israeli household displays a hanukia on the windowsill.
Special Events in Israel during Hanukkah
During the Hanukkah holiday in Israel there is a plethora of theatrical productions, musical shows, concerts and dance productions geared towards families. The most famous of these Hanukkah shows is the Festigal, a spectacular extravaganza of bright costumes, comedy, music and dance. Top Israeli performers often appear in the Festigal. The Festigal is held annually in Tel Aviv. A more recent addition is Motek Shel Festival which is the same idea but geared towards a younger audience.
Special walking tours of Jerusalem and the religious city of Bnei Brak are organized so that you can see the many hanukiot displayed in the windows of private homes. This kind of Hanukkah tour takes place at night and includes walking through neighborhoods where many hanukiot are displayed.
Lighting of the Hanukia
Each city has a large hanukia set up in a public square. The hanukia is ceremoniously lit on the first night of Hanukkah. On the subsequent nights of Hanukkah the city’s hanukia is often lit automatically. The most famous of the candle lighting ceremonies you can see takes place next to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year on the first night of Hanukkah a torch Relay starts in the city of Modi’in and travels to the Western Wall in Jerusalem where the giant hanukia is lit.
Museums during Hanukkah
Most museums hold special themed exhibits or workshops during Hanukkah. Science museums often hold demonstrations of light experiments. Other museums display artistic variations on the hanukia or hold kids workshops where they can create their own hanukia, spinning top or candles. You will definitely find special events and activities relating to Hanukkah at to Children’s Museum in Holon; the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv; the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Bloomfield Science Museum holds an annual MakeLight exhibition.
In addition there is the Museum of Edible Oil Products in Haifa which naturally ties in with the Hanukkah theme. The Hasmonean Village recreates the Hanukkah story each year; the Ein Yael Oil Festival is held in Jerusalem.
Hanukkah Parties in Israel
Of course the Israelis party whenever there is a good excuse! And Hanukkah is no exception. You will find bars, pubs and clubs across the country holding Hanukkah parties throughout the holiday.
Holiday of Holidays Haifa
The Haifa municipality holds special events on weekends throughout December. The Holiday of Holidays activities and shows celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid al-Fitr.