Hanukkah in Israel is an important and iconic festival, widely celebrated and marked by many symbolic events, customs and, of course, foods. The Festival of Light, Hanukkah is an eight day festival, a celebration of hope and freedom, and, whilst not a festival in which businesses shut (like a Shabbat) is a time of festivity across the country. There are lots of national events in Israel over Hanukkah, whilst traditional foods such as sufganiyot (donuts) and latkes can be seen everywhere, and special Hanukkah tours can allow you to explore at this magical time. In 2016, Hanukkah will be celebrated from December 24-January 1, lasting for eight nights.
The candles of the Menorah at Hanukkah in Israel by RonAlmog on Flickr
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The festival of Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem
during the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century BCE. Upon re-entering the Temple, it was found that there was only enough oil for the menorah which was supposed to be lit every night, to last for one day. Sourcing new oil would take some time, and the miracle of Hanukkah was that the oil burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle and this is why Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days.
If you are in Israel during Hanukkah, firstly, enjoy the food and festive spirit. Usually falling late in December, often at a similar time to Christmas, the foods start to be seen in shops and supermarkets across the country from early in the month. Oily food symbolizes the miracle of the oil and especially popular are sufganiyot, donuts cooked in oil, and potato latkes, fried in oil.
Sufganiyot donuts popular at Hanukkah in Israel by Avital Pinnick, on Flickr
One symbol of Hanukkah you will see across Israel in private homes and public places are Menorahs or Hanukkiahs which are miniature versions of the original Menorah from the Temple. These are displayed traditionally in the homes of Jewish families and are lit every night of the festival, with an extra candle added each night. Most hotels and restaurants will have Menorahs on display, and walking through religious areas such as the Old City of Jerusalem, it is amazing to see all the different designs of Menorah on display in the windows of homes. Also magical is how the Menorahs manage to end up in so many places – fly on an El Al flight, for instance over the festival and you might see and electric version light up when it becomes dark (obviously candles aren’t safe in an aircraft!)
Special events in Israel for Hanukkah include an annual relay race of torch-bearers from the city of Modi’in in the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem to the Western Wall, the last remaining wall of the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem’s Old City. Runners relay torches through the streets, passing the torch to the Chief Rabbi who lights the first candle of a large Menorah.