The Chanukah HolidayChanukah is a time when the city comes alive with celebration. Unlike other holidays, there are no obligations on Chanukah other than the candle lighting, so the way people choose to celebrate varies greatly by individual. Many families choose to make Chanukah parties. Presents are a common custom, but in Israeli families in particular are not always seen as essential.
Celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem
Chanukah is a time when the city comes alive with celebration. Unlike other holidays, there are no obligations on Chanukah other than the candle lighting, so the way people choose to celebrate varies greatly by inpidual. Many families choose to make Chanukah parties. Presents are a common custom, but in Israeli families in particular are not always seen as essential.
Powdered-sugar jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot are all the rage on Chanukah, with bakeries working around the clock to produce as many as possible. Recent years have introduced a greater variety of sufganiya flavors, including caramel, chocolate, vanilla cream and butterscotch.
One of the best ways to celebrate Chanukah in Jerusalem might be to simply stroll down the streets in old, evocative neighborhoods where hundreds of candles are burning brightly in windows or even in glass cases by front doors. (The most traditional Israeli families, especially in small neighborhoods, use these glass cases.) The Jewish Quarter of the Old City and Nachlaot are two such neighborhoods where the lights illuminate streets that are otherwise in shadow, evoking the sense of being in a space that is beyond the boundaries of time.
Rituals and Customs of Chanukah
The most important ritual of Chanukah is, of course, the lighting of the eight-branched menorah. Each day another candle is added, until all eight candles shine together on the eighth day. Menorahs are set up either by windows or outside in glass cases, because a large part of Chanukah is that one must “publicize the miracle” that God wrought for the Jewish people. The candles must be lit after sundown, with the exception of Friday nights, where the Chanukah candles are lit before the Sabbath candles so as not to violate the Sabbath.
It is customary to eat foods fried in oil on Chanukah, in celebration of the miracle that was performed with oil. Another custom is the dreidel, a top embossed with letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Various meanings are attributed to the dreidel and its letters: some believe that the Jews, forbidden by Antiochus from the study of Torah, got together to learn Torah and used the dreidels as a cover if any soldier were to come by. If asked, the Jews could claim that they had in fact come together to play a game!
Since Chanukah is such a festive time, many events in honor of the holiday take place throughout Jerusalem during the entire week. In the next section we’ll include some suggestions of things to do and places to go on Chanukah in Jerusalem.
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