Religion & Beliefs

Next Year in Jerusalem

When you walk outside in my neighborhood, you can tell that there is a holiday coming; not because of the snow on the ground or the many versions of Silent Night playing on repeat in the malls. It isn’t because … Read More

By / December 11, 2009

When you walk outside in my neighborhood, you can tell that there is a holiday coming; not because of the snow on the ground or the many versions of Silent Night playing on repeat in the malls. It isn’t because of the glittery Santas hanging from lamp posts or the white lights draped on anything that will stand still. There are decorations, but they are subtle–menorahs line the street lamps and jelly doughnuts line the windows of storefronts, but the houses are decorated with nothing more than the usual orange trees. Songs hailing Judah Maccabee are lacking from the radio, but it is clear: Hanukkah is here.

Kids don’t have school next week and there was even a talent show in my Ulpan this week, replete with juice and jelly doughnuts. (Ulpan is an intensive Hebrew school that draw Jews and non-Jews alike from every corner of the earth). No drunken holiday parties where you mistakenly kiss your co-worker and no secret Santa gift swaps. Honestly, the biggest difference between Hanukkah in the US and Hanukkah in Israel is the lack of Christmas. Christmas of course still takes place here. Moreover, it is celebrated in the spots that matter, Bethlehem and Nazareth to name a few, but both holidays are celebrated out of respect for their roots…and the jelly doughnuts. Growing up in Northern Virginia, my brother and I were the only Jews in our elementary school. When Hanukkah came around, we felt pretty left out. It’s not like we were watching all the non-Jews and their candy canes from afar, but Christmas pretty much overwhelmed the senses from October through January and left my brother and I wondering why Judah and Christ weren’t on the same level. My mom made an appearance in our school every year around the middle of December. She brought plastic dreidels, jelly doughnuts and gelt. She taught our classes how to play "dreidel" and each year showed us how to make hannukiot from celery, peanut butter and pretzels. She gave Hanukkah a good name. As the years went by, more and more Hanukkah songs made it into the winter assemblies and as my brother and I got older, we gained more allies in the Hanukkah department. It was a big year in our house when we bought an electric menorah to put in our window. We lived in a neighborhood of non-Jews and many were not terribly pleased that we were there. The electronic menorah was my parents’ version of public Judaism. So, back to Israel. Hanukkah is not Christmas–not in the United States and not in Israel. Hanukkah celebrates the amazing miracle of oil lasting for eight days. It’s a great excuse for Israelis to eat foods laden in oil and spend more time than usual with their families, but life basically proceeds as normal. When looked at side by side, the Hanukkah miracle in no way compares with leading the Jews out of Egypt and through the desert to reach the Promised Land. The latter equals no school AND no work. Despite having to work, Israelis do have some fun with Hanukkah. Jelly doughnuts and latkes are everywhere but it is the bakeries that are the real show. Smells of everything from dulce de leche to hot chocolate to the traditional jam filled sufganiot invade your nose, and all will folds in the face of frosted goodness. There is no doubt–Israelis pride themselves in their doughnuts.  Some people take trips, some revel in knowing that latkes can suffice as dinner for eight nights in a row. Most gather for dinners and lighting the menorah. Our family isn’t giving gifts this year, thankful instead for health, happiness and love.

Next year in Jerusalem. Oh wait, wrong holiday.