With the setting of the sun on Sunday, our first Chanukah in Israel came to an end. We really enjoyed the week and are looking forward to Chanukah here next year. We also learned how to make the holiday more special when we return home. It has been a great experience!
What is so different you may ask? Well the most obvious difference is the fact that almost everyone here is celebrating with you. Chanukah is everywhere! There are gigantic menorahs throughout the city and small ones on some of the light poles. Everywhere you go people are wishing you “חנוכה שמח” which means Happy Chanukah. There are even special Chanukah sales! It didn’t feel the same as Christmas back home; we always find that overwhelming with all the lights and the songs and the commercials all the time starting as early as Halloween. Here Chanukah is visible but in a more subtle way. Don’t get us wrong; we have nothing against Christmas. It is just difficult sometimes that it is so in your face.
Another major difference are the sufganiyot, which replace the familiar latke back home. It is not that no one makes latkes, but rather the food of choice for Chanukah is the sufganiya. What is a sufganiya? It is a fried doughnut that has some type of filling inside. The traditional filling is jelly, but there is a wide variety (chocolate, butterscotch, vanilla to name a few) depending on the bakery. Every bakery has them though and in Jerusalem there are bakeries everywhere. So as you go about your daily business, you see tables covered with these doughnuts. Without our food processor or a grater, we were unable to make latkes here. Thankfully, a friend made them and they were delicious! And of course we had many sufganiyot!
The mitzvah of Chanukah is to publicize the miracle that happened during the second temple period. Therefore, we don’t just light the menorah, but we make it visible to the outside world. At home, we place our menorah near a window so that people can see it as they pass by. This is also very common here, but the other option is to actually place it outside. To make it safer and to protect the lights from any wind, there are boxes that are specially made for the menorah. Adam and I purchased one so that we could put ours outside on a ledge near our kitchen window. To light the menorah, some people use candles like we do in the States, but a lot of people here use oil. Adam and I decided that it would be nice (and Israeli) to try the oil. We bought pre-measured oil cups with wicks to make things easier for us. Unfortunately, these cups did not fit in the menorah that we brought with us. Rather than forfeit the opportunity to use the oil, we decided to purchase a new menorah. We went to Ben Yehuda street where there are a number of Judaica stores. We found the one we bought in a tiny store run by a very nice woman. The cost was a little higher than we originally intended to spend, but we got one that we liked. There was a bit of a misunderstanding at first; we saw the same menorah for a lot cheaper after we had purchased it. We both were very upset since we thought we had gotten cheated. Out of character for us, instead of cutting our losses and beating ourselves up over our mistake, we went back to the store to ask the woman what was going on. After a short conversation in broken Hebrew and broken English, we figured out that the menorah we had purchased was silver-plated. With that additional information, we realized that the price we paid was fair. Before we headed home, we stopped by the other store and found out that the cheaper menorah was made out of nickel. So, we got a good product for a fair price. I felt bad about the entire situation for about a day, but it really turned out fine. We built trust with this woman and plan to take our friends and family to her store when they visit. We can vouch for her.
The other main difference is how much Chanukah was a part of our week. At home we tend to light the candles, eat dinner while they are burning, and then we go back to grading, planning, studying, etc. Because our time was more flexible here, we were able to make the holiday more special. On the third night, we decided to go to the Western Wall. We like going there at night because it is peaceful and not very busy. We took a small bus to the Old City and made our way to the wall. It was a chilly night, but it was a wonderful experience to be there. There was a large menorah at the wall, and Adam and I both had a chance to say some prayers. It was the first time we had gotten to the wall since we arrived on this Fulbright adventure, so it was extra special. When we were finished, we walked home. It was drizzling slightly, but it was nice walking and talking together. Adam took me home along one of his running routes. On our way we passed some consulates and a petting farm place that had goats and ducks. We stopped to look at the animals a bit. One of the ducks was making a lot of noise and one of the billy goats came over near us, not to see what was going on but rather to chew on the metal door. It was really fun!
On the fifth night of Chanukah, Adam and I went to Ra’anana to have a small Chanukah party at the Rosensweigs. After a whole bunch of traffic and a few errands (one of which involved visiting the Dreschers from West Hartford), we got to the party about an hour late. We got to watch as each of the Rosensweig children sang the Chanukah blessings and lit their menorahs. Gifts were then distributed (even to us, much to our surprise), and then we sat down to a delicious meal with the Rosensweigs, Chaviva, and Anat’s mother and step-father. This party is where we had our first and only latkes of Chanukah. There was the standard potato, corn, and broccoli, all of which were super amazing! After stuffing ourselves, we cleared the table and played a traditional game of dreidal. I can’t remember the last time I played. We played for M&M’s which were consumed by every member of the game, but especially by the youngest Rosensweig. Then, Anat’s mom and step-father distributed some candy to everyone, and then gave us a ride to the bus station. Before we left, Lionel (Anat’s step-father) gave me a book that he wrote about the rocks on the beaches of Caesaria. It is always wonderful to meet a fellow geologist! It really was a wonderful time! 🙂
The next evening we had a get-together with many of the Jerusalem Fulbrighters. We met at a nice restaurant and had a delicious meal. Adam and I, being so in the Chanukah spirit, brought some Israeli dreidals that I bought. “More dreidals?” you might ask. “Don’t you have enough?” I have lots of American dreidals, but do not have Israeli ones! As many of you know, the dreidal has four Hebrew letters on it: נ , ג , ה , ש . The letters stand for a Hebrew phrase that states, “A Miracle Happened There.” Since we are in Israel where the miracle happened, the letters are all the same except for one. So, Israeli dreidals have these four Hebrew letters: נ , ג , ה , פ. This means that “A Miracle Happened Here.” It is very cool! We bought two for ourselves and some for our niece and nephews. We brought a few to the dinner, and everyone enjoyed spinning them. For some of the Fulbrighters it was the first time in a while; for others it was their first time. It was nice to be the one to spread some Chanukah fun.
The hardest part about Chanukah here is the same difficulty that we face with all holidays, both Jewish and American. We miss our family. We have always made sure to see our family for the holiday, and Adam decided that this time didn’t have to be different. On the second night of Chanukah (which was a Sunday), we video chatted with my parents while we lit candles. They happened to be at my brother’s house, so the kids and my grandmother got to be there as well. The next night we did the same thing with Adam’s Dad. It for sure was not the same, but it was very nice.
The fact that our Chanukah week was filled with lots of activities was mainly because Israeli life is designed for it. Everyone has parties, kids have time off from school, etc. The lesson we have learned from the experience is that when we are back in the States, we have to consciously do something for the holiday. We shouldn’t just rely on the synagogue party for our joyful experience, we shouldn’t light the candles and then go back to work as soon as possible. We need to have parties with friends and play dreidal. We need to decorate our home (like my brother Josh) with dreidals and menorahs. We need to share the light of the holiday with all that we know. I no longer want to down play Chanukah. Every year I tell my students that Chanukah isn’t that important, and to be honest it isn’t when compared to Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Christmas. But it is important, and I need to treat it so. A miracle happened here, and it is time to celebrate. It took Israel to teach me that.
Until next time…
Some pictures that we collected throughout the week from our travels around the city and from our parties. Enjoy!